Over the past few weeks I have been using some of my spare time to few the fasinating four part documentary of the Dunedin Study, 'Why am I?' This was a landmark study that has closely studied the lives of 1042 pepole born in Dunedin in 1972 onwards. http://dunedinstudy.otago.ac.nz/
The major quesiton of this study- 'what really makes us who we are'?
The findings of the study that were shared ask some real questions for education and learning in New Zealand school. A topic that my blog has centred on regularly has been the essential nature of the Silverdale Learner assets (represented by our puzzle pieces). Whilst this thinking is highlighted in the study, an area that grabbed my attention was the importance of our children's first years.
The study (highlighted in episode three) really considers the essential nature of wrapping support around our children. A direct statement from one of the researchers was that nuturing for children is the water and sunshine.... what is in the environment when our children are growing up?
The Dunedin Study is directly challenging the life long argument of nature versus nuture.... by stating that our environment can influence how our genes operate. A finding from the study is that a positive upbringing will benefit everyone- it is the best foundation for a happy life.
What implications does this have for education?
We want (need) to have our school to be about learning and fun! A place where children are exposed to a wide range of experiences relevant and meaningful to their lives. For example, two of our junior teachers are currently investigating what a 'mindful' classroom can look like....
The Minstry of Education's recent policy direction has been strongly influenced by neoliberal forces, and an attempt to 'cherry pick' the best ideas from countries around the world seen as being world leaders. An obvious example is the Finnish education system (Masters level teachers and Pisa results), Singapore (use of technology and initial teacher education) and Canada (communities of learning).
What we seem to be missing is the level of thought to consider how this would translate to a New Zealand context and the philosophy, systems and structures that underpin the successful education systems in these countries.
Let's take one example..... in Finland students train for up to seven years to become teachers after rigorous entry screening. This is a result of a culture in which teachers are trusted and in which becoming a teacher is seen to be a prestigous profession. However it is in the start to Finnish children's lives that most fascinates me. The Finnish government provides parental pay for the first seven years of a child's life and trains parents in the skill of being 'the first teacher'. I would like to suggest that this is a huge part of what leads to success for Finnish children later in their lives (as would the Dunedin Study).
I look forward to considering the findings of the Dunedin Report and how they can influence decisions at Silverdale Normal School and national forums I am involved in regarding teaching standards and initial teacher education.