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Chalking up more failures in education

The adage that “success has many fathers, but failure is an orphan” appears to have a murky provenance.

Sometimes attributed to George Washington, others claim it was the son-in-law of Benito Mussolini who coined the phrase and it was then adapted by John F. Kennedy in a speech following the Bay of Pigs fiasco.

But whatever its origin, it seems particularly apt when applied to New Zealand’s education system.

As has been previously canvassed in this column, the writing is well and truly on the blackboard [or should that be whiteboard these days? Whatever]: what has been sold to us for many years as one of the best education systems in the world appears to be well and truly failing our kids.

How else to interpret recent data that shows just 56 per cent of Year 8 students are at the expected level for reading, and just 35 per cent for writing?

Well, if you’re of the same mind as Labour leader – and recent Minister of Education – Chris Hipkins, perhaps you don’t see a problem, as suggested by the apparent education priorities Hipkins enumerated in a speech last weekend when he opined that schools should be focused on teaching students “21st century skills like problem solving, creativity, teamwork, adaptability and resilience alongside core basics like reading, writing and maths”.

Those of us who see those last three as essentials and the other skills as beside the point if Janet and Hone caint reed rite ore uze numbres good, however, have every reason to be alarmed.

The government’s decision to ditch decades of the ideologically driven unscientific ‘whole language approach’ in favour of the evidence based ‘structured literacy’ method of teaching reading and writing is a good start.

But as news reports from the past few days indicate, it’s not just students whose education desperately needs to be salvaged; their teachers are also struggling with basic subjects in the classroom.

The findings of a study by the Institute of Economic Research [IER] that analysed the school qualifications of primary teachers who started work between 2017 and 2022 are alarming.

“In maths, an average of 25 per cent of new teachers employed between 2017 and 2022 had failed to gain an Achieved level endorsement at Level 1. This means, on average, a quarter of all new primary school teachers who attempted could not pass at a basic level, the compulsory maths required of 15-year-olds in New Zealand,” the report said.

“If that result is concerning, then the science results are alarming indeed: people who were new primary school teachers between 2017 and 2022 had failure rates in Level 1 science, averaging 58 per cent. That is, most new primary school teachers who attempted failed to pass at a basic level the compulsory science required of 15-year-olds.”

The Teaching Council of Aotearoa New Zealand reckons it’s got the answer, though – “radical system changes” that the government needs to make the “necessary financial commitment” to implement.

Perhaps that is the case.

But given that the Teaching Council is the professional body for teachers and touts itself as ensuring “quality teaching and high standards by registering teachers, setting and maintaining professional standards, and ensuring teachers are competent and fit to practice”, is it too cynical to suggest that, have presided over the precipitous decline in student [and teacher] achievement, it might not be the best outfit to lead the required change?

1 COMMENT

  1. We use to have TEACHER COLLEGES THAT WORKED VERY WELL. But LABOUR WITH H. CLARK IN CHARGE FORCED THE COLLEGES TO AMALGAMATE INTO THE UNIVERSITY’S. As stated by the TEACHER COLLEGES it was the beginning of the END. PEOPLE HAVE SHORT MEMORIES.

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