2021 may have proven to be only slightly less challenging than 2020. If only because some disruption and tumult were expected. All sectors of education continued to make adjustments to their practices, embed new processes and look to long-term solutions. FLANZ is also developing to handle future challenges.
New Zealand’s universities continued to invest heavily, mostly in human capital, in order to provide alternative modes of accessible learning. With the best of these curriculum adjustments and refinements, we have witnessed interesting combinations of blended provision to meet the needs of ākonga (learners). Less enlightened institutions have seen simply a duplication of effort. This has given rise to that expectation the faculty continue to deliver face-to-face lectures in the traditional sense, and to provide bespoke online versions alongside. For many, this has meant doubling workload. In the university sector, it is clear that it has been faculty and learning and teaching support staff who are doing most of the flexing. Once the international recruitment markets open up post-pandemic, it will be interesting to see who decides their services have been appropriately rewarded.
The tertiary vocational sector continues to transform itself as part of Te Pūkenga. Challenges presented by the global pandemic may appear to be absorbed effectively, if only because everything is already in flux. The relative lack of dependence on international students across the sector, and closer connections to industry providers, also means flexibility can more easily accommodated. The polytechnics are learning to cooperate with each other, rather than to compete for students. As Te Pūkenga’s newly announced Operating Model takes shape, there are early signs that there is room for greater flexibility afforded to students. Although it remains disappointing to see the documentation supporting ‘course statements’ still uses 1980s language. Advocating language for learning outcomes wedded to intellectual outcomes (cognitive) despite the clear policy priority for vocational (psychomotor) and bicultural capabilities (interpersonal). Old pedagogical assumptions persist as they do in the University sector.
The compulsory school sector, from K-12, continues to wrestle with the challenge of sustaining provision and managing resources. Unlike the post-compulsory sectors, which can arguably drop specific courses or programmes, encourage ākonga (learners) to follow alternative pathways, we expect schools to maintain as much of a complete curriculum as possible. New Zealand schools may have arguably suffered less that some other countries, losing fewer days of on-site learning compared to countries with more disruptive patterns of closures, but the challenge of ‘lost learning’ remains. While international think-tanks discuss ways for ākonga to catch-up on lost learning, including the idea of extending the school day! Kaimahi continue to need thoughtful and sensitive leadership to avoid a mass exodus from the classroom, and government need to ensure its focus on digital equity and access is sustained.
The success of Private Training Enterprises (PTE) in navigating these troubled times has varied depending on the sector they serve, the competition they face within that sector, the nimbleness of their leadership, and the digital literacy of their staff. English language providers, for example, continue to struggle with a lack of inbound students. Where they might have expected an annual enrolment of over 25000 students in recent years, this year they have seen next to none. University language departments may continue to pick up the slack as smaller PTEs leave the market or go into ‘hibernation’. 2021 has also seen several specialist PTEs struggle to adjust to the movements made by some Industry Training Organisations (ITOs) to create alternative channels for professional accreditation. This is something we are likely to see more of in 2022 as the Reform of Vocational Education (RoVE) continues to unfurl.
FLANZ has finished its 2018-2021 strategy cycle in relatively good shape. Despite the disruption to the 2020 scheduled bi-annual conference, and the modest financial hit that resulted, the April 2021 FLANZ Conference proved successful. Hosted over two days at the Kelburn campus of Te Herenga Waka – Victoria University of Wellington, the agenda included online submissions from colleagues in Australia and Singapore, as well as participation from satellite campuses around New Zealand. Over 140 attended across the two days, in person or virtually.
November this year we saw a partnership with ODLAA in Australia to coordinate a series of webinars timed to join in with European and US based Distance Education Weeks. This initiative is the Asia-Pacific Online and Distance Education week. FLANZ hosted two webinars during the week, focussed on discussions of equity and accessibility. We have continued to produce bi-monthly newsletters, bringing together news and events from a range of national and global partnerships. The Journal of Open, Flexible and Distance Learning continues to attract high-quality submissions and to produce two solid issues each year. We now have a single consolidated website that brings together all of our activities at https://flanz.org.nz
As we embark on our 2022-2027 Strategy, which will be reviewed at the AGM by members in April 2022, we can promise to reflect the good practice we see across all sectors of Education at a time when flexibility is now an expectation rather than an aspiration. We aspire to generate more opportunities for the wider community to engage with each other in 2022.
Happy New Year to you all on behalf of FLANZ.
Dr Simon Paul Atkinson
President of Flexible Learning Association of New Zealand
Mā te kimi ka kite, Mā te kite ka mōhio, Mā te mōhio ka mārama
Seek and discover. Discover and know. Know and become enlightened