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Putting ākonga at the centre

When NZIST was established, one promise was the creation of a vocational education system that puts learners at the centre.

A shift was expected from having learners fit their lives around the system, to one where learning fits around people and their world. It’s a journey that will take some time, and the first step we’ve taken is to start a new conversation with learners.

“A traditional approach has been to develop a programme or service based on what we think will work best, and expect that it will meet the need,” explains Debbie Preston, Learner Journey Workstream Capability Lead. “But often when we do this, what we develop is not built in a way to best meet the needs of the people we want to serve.

“What we’re going to do is flip it around – we will seek to understand what people need and want, then we will build it; and then we will have more confidence that it will meet their needs because the people that we’re serving will co-design it with us.”

A significant focus in developing NZIST’s operating model will be on learners – including prospective learners and those who have been traditionally under-served, such as Māori, Pasifika, and learners with disabilities. NZIST needs a much greater understanding of their unique needs to ensure a system can be designed to put them right at the centre.

The Ākonga at the Centre workstream is now underway. Debbie and the team are currently establishing a forum of staff from across the network to join in the co-design process. 

“What I really enjoy about this work is meeting the amazing staff across the subsidiaries and transitional ITOs as well as working with other NZIST workstreams. For example, through working closely with the Partnerships and Equity workstream, we have ensured the establishment of a network forum that gives effect to Te Tiriti o Waitangi. We have woven a critical bicultural framework with human centred design, drawing on Kaupapa Māori principles, further working towards equity in outcomes for Māori.”

Forum members will co-design an engagement programme that reaches right across and into our subsidiaries, transitional industry training organisations. (ITOs) and broader communities to gather the information we need to gain deep and wide learner insight.

“Before we can design anything, we must understand at a deep level what our learners need,” says Debbie. “Our current learners have perspectives on this, as do prospective learners and those who may not have made it to day one or even considered tertiary learning. We have staff, many with years of experience, who understand understand the barriers that they’ve not been able to remove in the past. And there are whānau to hear, along with others in the community. We will engage in a nationwide programme, codesigning with subsidiaries as well as ITOs.”

Debbie intends to lead a deep and wide engagement programme to get the broadest perspectives possible. “We will be doing wide engagement in social and shared spaces and deep, targeted engagement such as through focus groups with specific audiences. We’ll engage with Māori, those in remote locations, different life stages, ethnicities, residency statuses, ages, financial backgrounds … we’ll work to get a mix across the country.”

The work of the Ākonga at the Centre workstream will help inform the development of NZIST’s future operating model, which is planned to be fully in place in 2023.

“Once we’ve heard from all the different learners, and modes of learning we will compile the common enablers that are empowering learners to progress and succeed – we want to capture and build on these strengths. We’ll also identify the common barriers that need to be removed through the new operating model.”

The significant data, information and insight gathered through this deep and wide engagement programme will also be shared more broadly across the system, including with the Tertiary Education Commission, the Reform of Vocational Education programme, the Ministry of Education, New Zealand Qualifications Authority and anyone else who thinks they will be able to utilise it.

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