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Leaked Curriculum Rewrite Emails: Necessary Whistleblowing, or Breach of Trust?

by Rebecca Thomas

Recent leaked emails regarding the English curriculum, disclosed by RNZ, have spotlighted significant lapses in the curriculum rewrite process, sparking debates about transparency, ethical whistleblowing, and the robustness of our educational framework. As educators who strive to remain critical and balanced, we must consider multiple perspectives.

Necessary Whistleblowing or Breach of Trust?

On one side, the leak has brought to light serious concerns about the curriculum development process. It has revealed potential overreach by the Ministerial Advisory Group, lack of diverse voices in the writing team, and apparent dismissal of Treaty of Waitangi considerations. These are issues that arguably needed public scrutiny.

However, leaking confidential emails is a serious matter. It breaches trust within the Ministry of Education and could potentially hamper frank internal discussions in the future. There's also the risk of information being taken out of context, or misunderstood when not presented with full background (I did say I was trying to remain both balanced and critical).

The Process: Where Did It Go Wrong?

The real issue at the heart of this controversy is the apparent deviation from established curriculum development processes. If proper procedures had been followed, including transparent consultation with subject associations, teachers, and other stakeholders, there might have been no need for a leak in the first place.

A robust, inclusive process should be able to withstand public scrutiny at any stage. If decision-making is sound, diverse voices are included, and proper protocols are followed, then even leaked communications should not reveal anything particularly damaging or controversial.

The Way Forward

This situation offers valuable lessons for the Ministry of Education and other government departments:

  1. Transparency is Crucial: Regular, open communication about the curriculum development process could have prevented much of this controversy.

  2. Stick to Established Processes: There are reasons why consultation and diverse representation are built into curriculum development. Bypassing these steps inevitably leads to problems.

  3. Foster a Commitment to Your Employees: An internal culture where concerns can be raised and addressed effectively reduces the likelihood that staff will feel compelled to leak information.

  4. Remember that Public Education is a Matter of Public Interest: Decisions should always be made with the understanding that they may (and perhaps should) face public scrutiny.

  5. Mistakes Create Opportunities for Learning: If mistakes are made, acknowledge them openly and take corrective action promptly.

While the ethics of leaking confidential information remain debatable, this situation underscores a more important point: processes for curriculum development should be so robust and transparent that a leak would not reveal anything surprising (or alarming) to the public.

Steps for Rebuilding Trust and Moving Forward

In light of this controversy, Minister Erica Stanford and the Ministry of Education need to take decisive action to regain the confidence of the education community. Here are five concrete steps they should consider:

#1 Immediate Transparency:

  • Issue a comprehensive statement addressing the concerns raised by the leaked emails.

  • Publish a detailed timeline of the curriculum development process to date, including decisions made and rationales behind them.

  • Invite an independent educational body to audit and report on the curriculum development process.

  • Publish these audit reports to ensure accountability. #2 Pause and Reset:

  • Temporarily halt the current curriculum rewrite process.

  • Announce a thorough review of the procedures that led to this situation.

#3 Stakeholder Engagement:

  • Organise a series of hui with educators across the country to hear concerns directly.

  • Establish a diverse advisory panel that includes teachers, subject associations, and education experts to oversee the curriculum development process.

  • Host quarterly Q&A sessions where the Minister and senior MOE officials address questions from educators and the public.

#4 Process Overhaul:

  • Develop and publish clear guidelines for curriculum development that emphasise transparency, inclusivity, and adherence to established educational principles.

  • Create a public-facing dashboard that tracks the progress of curriculum development, allowing stakeholders to follow the process in real-time.

  • Develop a 'Curriculum Development Charter' that outlines principles and processes for future curriculum work, to be adhered to regardless of changes in government or ministry leadership.

#5 Most Importantly - Cultural Responsiveness:

  • Reaffirm commitment to the Te Tiriti o Waitangi and bicultural education.

  • Ensure Mātauranga Māori is meaningfully integrated into the curriculum development process from the outset; building on the whakapapa of Te Mātaiaho authentically and sincerely.

By implementing these steps, Minister Stanford and the MOE can demonstrate a genuine commitment to transparency, inclusivity, and proper process. This approach can help rebuild trust with the education community and ensure that future curriculum development is conducted in a manner that inspires confidence rather than controversy.

Lesson Learned

The road to rebuilding trust may be challenging, but it's essential for the integrity of our education system. By acknowledging missteps, taking corrective action, and committing to openness and collaboration, the Ministry can turn this crisis into an opportunity for positive change. This approach can set a new standard in how we develop and implement educational policy in New Zealand, showcasing our nation's commitment to transparency and innovation in education; inspiring other countries.

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