28 Mar 2014

Educators keen to learn from summit

7:10 pm on 28 March 2014

An event billed as the World Cup of Education kicked off in Wellington on Friday, with strong warnings against school testing and a call for more enthusiastic support for New Zealand's education system.

The International Summit on the Teaching Profession at Te Papa has attracted nearly 400 education ministers, union representatives, teachers and principals from 25 nations.

US Secretary for Education Arne Duncan (standing in centre) watches as a waiata is performed.

US Secretary for Education Arne Duncan (standing in centre) watches as a waiata is performed. Photo: RNZ / John Gerritsen

The summit is focused on ways of improving education and has been hosted in New Zealand for the OECD and the global federation of teacher unions, Education International.

The most important VIP is the American Secretary for Education, Arne Duncan. The United States does not perform as well as some other countries in international tests, and Mr Duncan told Radio New Zealand he is not here to tell everyone else what the solutions are.

"We come here with a real sense of humility and want to learn. There's so much fantastic work going on here in New Zealand and across the globe, it's a chance for us not to come and say here are all the things we're doing right, but here are things we want to get a lot better at that can learn from folks from here and some of the other countries."

Mr Duncan said the New Zealand initiatives he is interested in learning more about include our early childhood education system and the way our schools use IT.

The OECD's deputy director for education and skills, Andreas Schleicher, had high praise for New Zealand, telling the summit on Friday that it has an excellent education system which is the best in the world at reflecting the diversity of its population.

Education Minister Hekia Parata also spoke at the event, urging New Zealanders to start backing and celebrating the education system like they back sports teams.

"We're motivated to support them and win and that's the culture we have to create in this country. Back our teachers and our principals to win."

But Fred van Leeuwen, the head of Education International, addressed the summit with words of warning.

"We are in the middle of a great global debate about the future of education involving two educational visions. The first one is grounded in the understanding that without highly qualified, self-starting and motivated teachers there is little chance of all children getting the education they deserve.

"The second vision is sustained by the illusion that education can be delivered more cheaply and efficiently by the private sector - preferably by fewer, less-qualified, staff and a liberal dose of one-size-fits-all online programmes."

Mr van Leeuwen's speech highlighted tensions between some governments and their teaching workforce over education reform.

Though the summit is aimed at sharing good ideas in education, it is also clear that New Zealand's teachers and principals will be gathering intelligence about controversial overseas policies they fear will be introduced in this country.

The summit finishes on Saturday afternoon.

Foreign delegates to summit were welcomed to Te Papa's marae on Friday.

Foreign delegates to summit were welcomed to Te Papa's marae on Friday. Photo: RNZ / John Gerritsen