LAUNCH OF OPEN POLYTECHNIC DISTANCE LEARNING PROGRAMMEEducation
"I am very pleased to be here " is something Ministers are meant to say at most occasions - and certainly at launches.
In this case, that's not just convention. I truly am pleased to officially launch this distance learning programme as I believe that this is one of the routes education must take in the future. And I am equally delighted to launch an innovative and practical way of attracting new and older graduates into teaching.
Over the last 2 years we've seen the equivalent of the population of a town the size of my electorate's main town of Masterton starting primary school - around 16,000 more children. To cater for this growth, plus last year's lowering of pupil to teacher ratios, new teaching positions have been created. We now have an additional 2,300 teachers employed in schools relative to two years ago.
Suddenly those headlines you probably noticed last year screaming "teacher shortage" make sense! Obviously, employing those extra 2,300 teachers has scooped up almost every relieving teacher, many qualified teachers who were working in other fields, and plenty of overseas teachers. Now we have to look at other strategies to encourage the qualified and quality teachers we need into classrooms.
Your new programme is an excellent example. I believe that we need a wide range of people with different points of view in our schools. As well as enthusiastic and committed new graduates we want to see people who have a bit of experience of life elsewhere - people maybe in their 30s and 40s who want to take a new direction and see teaching as an opportunity to make valuable contribution.
A programme like this enables people who wouldn't otherwise have the opportunity - whether through family circumstances, job, or far-flung location - to get into teaching. I suspect you could probably show me an enrolment list featuring people from towns most of us have never even heard of! That kind of variety and enthusiasm is going to enhance education in our schools.
The other big change coming through our education system is the advance of technology. I met recently with Professor John Tiffin and Associate Professor Lalita Rajasingham from Victoria University on the subject of technology advances in schools and tertiary education. They are recognised as world experts in the development of communication technology, and it was interesting to hear their expectations of where things are moving to in the next five to ten years.
They saw it as important that we encourage schools to network and share teaching and learning experiences much more than they are now - in other words, more distance learning. I have seen distance learning and technology used particularly in the South Island where various isolated schools have developed joint programmes. But it's going to be much wider than that.
In the next three to five years, for instance, people will be able to get a degree from Harvard through the Internet. Visiting English education consultant Ruth Sutton has suggested schools will very shortly have to be ready to respond to the first student who says she won't be in to school on Thursday mornings because she's enrolled with the Internet Polytech for geography! And just this morning there was news of interactive revision programmes for School C on the Net.
If our traditional tertiary institutions don't wake up to this upcoming challenge they will eventually be redundant. So too will schools, except for the pastoral and 'socialising' element of education. I am pretty sure tertiary students will soon be asking why they cannot be funded 75% of the cost of a course they can access through the Internet, rather than being funded only through traditional mainstream tertiary institutions.
The possibilities of the Internet, with the explosion and globalisation of knowledge and learning, will overwhelm us unless we learn to see this technology as a tool, rather than a threat.
This project between the College of Education and the Open Polytechnic is an example of how we can use professional distance learning to enable many more people to train. We are going to have to do more of this - if institutions like yours don't, then people themselves will find alternatives, again possibly through the Internet, or through 'intranets' that Professors Tiffin and Rajasingham also talked about. They invented the term "virtual university" and are involved in setting one up throughout Asia.
They talked about "anytime, anywhere" education, and in essence this is what this project is offering. In their case, they are teaching masters and doctoral students in clusters in Taumarunui, Taranaki and Hawaii - all are linked together. Your programme, I realise, does not have the same sort of technological links - but it is recognising the needs of the future, and using different resources and techniques to meet the needs of new kinds of students.
Though shortened courses in teacher education for graduates and mature students started only this year, we are already receiving good feedback. The schools where these students are doing their practical training report that they're really enjoying these teachers. Schools find that they have a mature approach, they're committed, enthusiastic, and performing well. Some of those students will come from Wellington College of Education - and I am sure that same enthusiasm will flow through from this new programme.
Before I finish, I'd like to take this opportunity to correct some of the mis-information on tertiary education that has arisen out of the recently-leaked paper.
The tertiary review, promised in the coalition document, will comprehensively review the provision of tertiary education in New Zealand. It will include looking at ways to improve participation in post-compulsory education and training, and at the funding, structural, legislative, ownership and administrative arrangements of the sector in order to improve the quality, quantity and range of tertiary education in New Zealand.
Improving participation in post-compulsory education and training, both for school leavers and for people of all ages is our objective there. It is also what this programme is all about. I look forward to hearing some of your success stories, and welcome the one hundred or so new teachers your joint course will have ready for New Zealand schools next year. I think this reflects a renewed interest in teaching as a satisfying and rewarding career, and I am glad to see it.
I commend Wellington College of Education on your initiative in enlisting the skills of the Open Polytechnic to deliver teacher education to new groups of New Zealanders. I wish you all - tutors, students, College and Polytechnic - the very best for this new programme.