The Christchurch quakes have thrown up ground-breaking opportunities to accelerate the rate of education innovation.
Ministers like opening schools, not closing them: ask Trevor Mallard. But as the present Minister of Education Hekia Parata argued a year ago, for obvious seismic and demographic reasons there has to be major post-quakes rationalization of education provision in Greater Christchurch after the devastating earthquakes of 2010-11.
The quakes threw up earth-shaking challenges and ground-breaking opportunities for education leaders and boards of trustees to look more clearly to the future as they build 21c learning communities fit for the second decade of the third millennium.
Renewing or reconfiguring learning environments because of seismic, technological or demographic disruption is a challenging process. Closures and mergers are tough on children, parents and teachers though, as the Mallard closures show, many soon embrace fresh beginnings, difficult though the transition may be.
But crisis and change also provide positive opportunities for leaders to engage their wider learning communities in the design and use of new learning environments and activities which will better equip 21c learners with the skills to navigate to the future.
The Ministry of Education has committed an investment of up to one billion dollars over a decade to develop greater Christchurch as a leading education community.
In the words of the Ministry’s Shaping Education document “the impact of the 2010 and 2011 earthquakes… has also been the catalyst for much creative thinking. The consensus seems to be: yes, we have lost much, but these events also give us an opportunity, as we renew, to rethink how we do things in education.”
The original prospect was that 13 Christchurch schools would close and 18 could merge. Five Aranui schools would also combine into an education “cluster”. The announcement was a cluster bomb for many parents, teachers and learners.
The aftershocks are still being felt. After consultation some changes were made: for example, Chisnallwood Intermediate was removed from the Aranui “superschool” plans. But the main thrust remains and now it must be implemented well.
It would be a pity if the timing and initial handling of the education recovery and renewal strategy has inoculated some school communities against real opportunities to accelerate some necessary changes, earthquakes or no earthquakes. All learning communities, from early childhood to post tertiary, should be open to shaking off the remaining 1950’s vestiges of Yesterday’s Schools educational arrangements and adapting to a mobile and connected age.
Christchurch is an exciting test-bed for the future of education throughout New Zealand. Post-quakes renewal, demographic changes here, in Auckland and Hamilton, and well as leaky building and ICT issues nationwide, have accelerated transitional and new education building designs incorporating safety, adaptability, UF broadband, energy efficiency, weather proofing and future proofing.
The current seismic swarm in Central New Zealand will reinforce that many of these are national issues which demand long term strategic thinking.
This has already been articulated in the Ministry’s Christchurch design brief for recovery and renewal work which is not just to repair earthquake damage but to produce schools that would have flexible teaching spaces that can be expanded or reduced depending on requirements to support the learning activities of individuals and groups.
Now is not the time to paper over the physical and metaphorical cracks in education in the region. It is an opportunity to build deep and strong new foundations for differently configured learning communities. After early input from education professionals and students there needs to be built-in learning by design and construction which meets evolving learning practices.
In the face of rapid change people tend to adopt one of two stances: either they look to the past to what has worked historically and do more of the same; or they look to the future and develop new solutions which use the changes as a springboard.
Many people will resist change if they are not actively engaged in it. But in the words of Marvin Weisbord: “People will support what they help to create.” After a shaky start, success in implementing education renewal initiatives in Greater Christchurch will depend on how well education leaders across the learning spectrum engage their professional colleagues, their boards and their wider communities.
Providing a timely platform for this engagement is Education Leaders Forum 2013, to be held in Christchurch on 28/29 August, with the theme Building 21 Century Learning Communities.
ELF13 will be part topical forum and part education safari to the future, with visits to innovative learning spaces and workplaces, to show the similarities between modern earning environments and modern earning environments in terms of teamwork and technology.
In the words of William Gibson “The future is already here-it’s just not evenly distributed”. Participants can learn from the future as it emerges and embrace it rather than reflecting on past experience and reacting.
Education site visits include Clearview Primary, Lincoln University’s School of Landscape Architecture, St. Margaret’s College, St. Thomas’ New Technology Centre, the new CORE Education Building and UC’s Hit Lab. Innovative workplaces include Schneider Electric’s Vision Room, showcasing energy sustainability, the Enterprise Precinct and Innovation Campus and The Stronger Christchurch Infrastructure Rebuild Team.
Major Sponsors of ELF13 are Schneider Electric and the Ministry of Education-Schools Infrastructure.
Contributors include Mark Osborne, CORE Education; Prof Christopher Branson, University of Waikato; Dr Andrew West, Lincoln University; Hon Nikki Kaye, Associate Minister of Education; Jasper Van der Lingen, Sheppard & Rout Architects Ltd; Gillian Simpson, St Margaret’s College; James Petronelli, Clearview Primary School; Robin Staples, Southern Cross Campus; and John Rohs, Aranui High School.
Education Leaders Forum 2013 provides quality thinking time for education professionals and board members to escape the tyranny of urgent day to day concerns and focus on the important longer term strategic perspective.
Note: This Perspective by Lyall Lukey, the Convenor of Education Leaders Forum 2013 Building 21c Learning Communities held in Christchurch on 28/29 August, was first printed in The Press on 20 August 2013. For feedback and links to ELF13 presentations and videos visit Education Leaders Forum 2013