Why the decile system is an unnecessary handicap

by Pete

Long term readers will know I returned to Auckland recently, somewhat against my will as part of a compromise: I can work anywhere, but my wife got offered a very good job that was part of achieving?her life goals. ? I say, returned to Auckland, because I pretty much grew up here.

Both my wife and I are products of South Auckland “decile one” schooling. ?She went to Manurewa, and I am a fine product of Mangere College.

In the years down in the south, my two boys went to a fantastic school with top notch staff and a very, very good principal. ?But, as happens in pockets of New Zealand, it is part of culturally homogeneous area. ?Personally having?grown up among Maori and Pasifika culture, it always amused me, from playcentre, kindy and school, that when Te Reo or other culturally mandatory components of the curriculum?came along, they often?had to go find someone on the marae to come help, because nobody at the school had any usable background.

Seeing a 98% Pakeha kapa haka group, where the 2% is like Vietnamese, was extremely funny – to me.

When we returned to Auckland, one of my objectives for my kids was to do the unimaginable and stick them into a decile one school. ?Well, that’s not entirely true, but when circumstances dictated that it became the obvious answer, I felt that this was going to be a good thing for them. ?The world simply isn’t like the European?enclave where they were born. ?They need to meet and learn about other cultures – why not deep end them into the same kind of school that mum and dad went to?

Mind you, it wasn’t just any school – they go to one of the prestigious Manaiakalani schools here in East Auckland. ?Academically, they are both blossoming, like their ?mum and dad did before them. ?Because we know from first hand experience that a decile one school that is run by good teachers and managed by excellent managers are great places to learn.

Much has been written about the Manaiakalani Trust and it’s partnership with Google as they bring digital schools to “deprived” areas. ?They have pushed the school WiFi into the whole community for kilometers in all directions. ?Once you’re on the school network, your school tech?works on the Internet at home too. ?Take a bow Spark, Vector and ASB for assisting with this infrastructure.

My kids are tech kids, and they are blossoming in that environment. ?The Manaiakalani credo is Learn, Create, Share. ?And what critics and cynics will see as schools just goofing off with gadgets, the actual hard educational outcomes are undeniable. ?Tech, clued up staff and parents and a larger community have a buy-in here that’s producing excellent results. ?And other schools, both here and elsewhere in the world are keeping a close eye on them hoping to replicate this success.

I attended their 7th annual film festival at the Extreme Screen at Hoyts last night. ?Keeping in mind, these are mostly primary and intermediate kids, I did them a disservice by not expecting too much. ?The cluster also has a complete Maori immersion school, as well as a special needs school with about 180 kids tended to by 160 staff.

What I saw blew my socks off. ?Here, apart from one high school, kids aged 5 to 12 had produced around 100 short movie projects that were being shown at Hoyts all day, non-stop. ?In the evening session, the one I attended, a broad selection?were shown.

Check this one out ?- less than 3 minutes of your day

Film Festival Header

There is a lot of community pride in East Auckland, and the Manaiakalani schools tap into this.

Parents are clambering over each other to make sure their children attend one of the cluster schools, and the disproportionately onerous cost of coughing up for netbooks and other tech for families with many children is being met with strong commitment – the parents can see their kids stride ahead.

In the end, Manaiakalani are trying to unlock the use of tech in schooling in a way that acts as an amplifier rather than a distraction or a useless toy. ?Traditional classroom models are challenged, with pods, team teaching and an emphasis on engaging?kids with fun while the information just pours in. ?And in case you think this is done in some sneaky underhanded way where they get to learn without noticing, they all know exactly why they are there, what they are doing, and how it is working form them. ? The kids themselves are some of the greatest ambassadors.

The film festival was great, and I found myself whooping and clapping energetically – the energy is infectious.

One more movie, it won’t embed. ? Great fun, and only 2 and a bit minutes. ?You can watch it here.

As Hekia Parata is in the news today talking about Decile ratings being a blunt funding tool, the reality is that in the larger community, decile ratings are considered to be the same as what you can expect the school to perform like academically. ?Low decile is expected to turn out bad education.

Many low decile schools are breaking through this perception barrier, and the Manaiakalani schools are showing the way.