Norman Kirk, had a simple theory when it came to happiness: "All Kiwis want is someone to love, somewhere to live, somewhere to work, and something to hope for."
Hope is an ontological need. We cannot live without it. This is not the shallow hope of buying a lotto ticket but genuine hope: the belief that the world / my life can be better and it is accompanied by having some ability to influence achievement of that.
All people have the right to hope.
The nearest concept to hope in Te Ao Maori is Mana. I am not talking about the word used to describe the odd rugby player but mana is an essential value of being human and a generative power for development of individuals and groups. The processes of colonisation have diminished mana. Our processes must enhance mana.
Mana and hope are not the same but share similar characteristics in their role in our lives.
Mana and hope are abstract concepts brought to life by concrete actions. To sustain hope we need to be able to influence the world around us. By acting respectfully, valuing the contribution of others, looking for the positives in a relationship, we enhance mana.
To build the skills to enable us to shape our future we engage in learning The processes of learning also need to be processes that enhance mana.
Learning thrives in an environment of positive relationships-mana enhancing relationships.
Learning thrives when it makes connections to and builds from what we know already.
So CEC is about understanding whanau and community aspirations, and finding the tools to make those aspirations a reality in an environment that enhances the mana of all involved.
We want to strengthen the engagement of communities with education; because it enables choices. Not just the choices offered by education institutions but the choices aspired to by whanau/families and communities.
It is political in that at its core is the desire to empower whanau and communities to exercise more control over what happens to them. To achieve that it will inevitably disrupt some of the current order.
So CEC does not have a blueprint of what we should do. We are engaged in a process. It sets some boundaries - its field of endeavour is learning and how to grow it and those who benefit should be those whanau and communities with the fewest choices.
CEC unashamedly seeks a better world. To give tools that enable people to achieve their aspirations. It does this in a manner that enhances the mana of all involved
Disruptive social innovation describes a way of tackling social problems that requires engagement with communities to design a project or service that actually addresses their needs and interests. It disrupts more traditional ways of doing projects (i.e. planned for a couple of years, top-down and expensive and by the time things get going the problem has often changed) and the process is visionary, adaptive and highly collaborative.
The Connecting Education and Communities (CEC) project aims to disrupt disadvantage by strengthening the connections between communities and education. The project works with innovative, locally-led initiatives that drive the impact of CEC in each community through vision, adaptation, and a commitment to collaboration.
There is, however, more to disruption than just saying you are disruptive. We encourage each of our groups to intentionally apply some disruptive principles to their community development work, namely:
Engage with people at different parts of the project who have different ideas Getting a team of specialists together or relying on the same old faces is unlikely to produce innovation, simply because they are likely to stick to the approaches they already know and are familiar with. We encourage the CEC groups to use co-design to harness the knowledge and creativity of 'everyday people' in their communities to generate solutions.
Aim for a flat, rather than heirarchical structure Our CEC groups are necessarily flat structured - mostly because they don't have the resources to employ lots of people and establish a giant heirarchy. As Mia Bunge points out, this is to their advantage, as having strong leaders and an entrenched heirarchy can be incredibly narrowing for any innovation culture.
Have a good grasp of what it is you are trying to change Before joining CEC, our groups need to show they understand what effective community engagement looks like (or have experience in engaging whanau and communities) and seek out data or evidence that helps them understand the situation/s they are dealing with.
Start thinking at a systems level Our CEC groups form an (important) part of a bigger picture in their community. They are not one-off, isolated projects but instead interact and collaborate with other partners, projects and communities who are also tackling children's disadvantage. Click here for a fun 3 min youtube clip on the importance of systems thinking.
Have a "to do" philosophy. Get ideas out of heads and into a testing, prototyping and implementing cycle. We encourage our groups to use a design thinking process of test/iterate/ideate/test/iterate/ideate (and repeat!).
Disruption sounds a bit hairy - but once you get into the nuts and bolts it really isn't that tricky. And we promise that none of our change agents are harmed in the process!
Nadine Metzger provides evaluation support for the CEC project.
Strengthening the ‘voice’ of the community in education has the potential to lift achievement levels, particularly for those currently not well served by the education system.
When we look at the big picture, we see that in international comparisons, the NZ education system is characterised as generally high performing. Look slightly deeper, however, and we see a large minority of children, most who are disproportionately from poor, Māori or Pasifika families, who experience significant disparity of achievement within the system. What do we mean by “significant disparity of achievement?” Well - according to a February 2016 report from the OECD, it means the poorest 25 per cent of our students are more than six times more likely to perform poorly in maths than those from the richest 25 percent.
The NZ education system is strong on treating people equally. Education is compulsory, everyone has reasonable access, we have national formulas for the size and quality of facilities and national staffing ratios. Everyone is entitled to the same ‘dose‘ of education. What the research shows is that our system is not strong on equity. This means the outcomes from our system are very different for different groups of people. Our system does not work for everyone and there appears to be a deepening socio-economic divide in our schooling system, where well off kids are far more likely to do well at school than are poor kids. For more on this crisis in school achievement, see the New Zealand Herald’s Political roundup on our unequal education system.
To start to address inequity we look first at the spread of achievement within the school then whether the school is providing the support to those who need it most. This ‘analysis of variance’ that all schools should be doing is a powerful tool for reducing inequity, provided schools then respond by investing in extra support for those who need it. Unfortunately, this is often difficult and can be costly. An equitable school community would have to place a high value on shifting resources to those who need it most. As a result of shifting these resources, often some other students will not get everything they want. Most schools struggle to manage the local dynamics that result from this type of decision-making.
The rationale underpinning the NZ system of school governance is that local boards of trustees and school principals will make better resource distribution decisions than a central authority. The local team will be in a better position to respond to local needs and allocate resources to where they are needed. The Government does this roughly with the school decile funding system and the assumption is that then school communities will make finer grained distributions locally. But nearly 30 years after “Tomorrow’s Schools” and the introduction of boards of trustees, many of our school students are still underachieving. This suggests our school communities are not very good at being able to re-allocate the necessary resources.
Education success does not just rely on the distribution of resources. Apart from the in-school factors, we know that education success is related to parents’ (particularly mothers’) level of education. This seems to stem from parents having had some success in education and then expecting their children to have the same or better. These parents also know how to support their children to engage with learning and meet that expectation. They feel confident when dealing with their children’s schools. When that confidence, expectation and support is shared across a community it acts as a powerful expectation on the performance of the school. These parents are also likely to be strong advocates ensuring that their children get their share of the school resources.
We have a system that favours strong, educated and assertive families and communities. This explanation behind education success also, in my view, explains why our system is low on equity.
The Connecting Education and Communities Project is trying to build that same level of expectation and support for families who are most likely to have low education levels, low expectations of what school can offer and low skills in negotiating the school system. We want to strengthen the community voice in schools when the distribution of resources is being decided so that all our children have equitable access to resources. We want to assist the creation of a self-reinforcing system that builds both the expectations and the skills of the people in our school communities. Ultimately, what we want to do is build expectation and capability across the whole community.
Will it work? Our experience suggests that building CEC at a community level is the most effective for sustained change. As always, there is lots to learn along the way, which we will share as we go along through our website and this blog.
*Author: Jim Matheson is the CEC project leader.
My role is to work with communities on strengthening their engagement in education. This often means helping communities build consensus on overall goals. This includes help with aligning of activities, developing advocacy services and facilitating effective working relationships between the community and its education institutions. I am an education consultant whose work focusses on improving education for all. I work with communities, education institutions and governments in New Zealand and the Pacific on analysing education performance and developing workable solutions for improvement.
The trickiest thing about education is that it is complicated. That’s also why I enjoy it - I like the mess!!!