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What is it we are learning?

Reading, writing, and maths – they’re the bread and butter of education, yet they receive nowhere near enough time investment during school hours.

So it was a relief to hear National announce an education policy “shake-up” this week and a further pleasure to hear Labour suggest the two parties could work together to reach a bipartisan consensus on a solution to improve foundation skills for children.

In his announcement, National Party leader Christopher Luxon said his party would require primary and intermediate schools to teach students for at least one hour a day on the topics of reading, writing, and maths lessons.

Considering there are about five classroom hours per day, putting aside three hours for the basics seems to be a no-brainer.

After all, these are the building blocks for lifelong learning.

Luxon also said National would rewrite the school curriculum so that it was “very definitive as to what knowledge needs to be taught in any given year”, rather than it being presented in three-year bands.

Former teacher and Education Hub founder Nina Hood agreed change was needed, and Checkpoint that the current curriculum played a role in unequal learning opportunities for many kids.

“At the moment, we have a curriculum that does not have a lot of content in it,” she said.

“So that means that it’s up to individual schools, up to individual teachers to determine the content that they’re going to teach beyond very broad prescriptions in each of our curriculum areas.

“The result of this is that some children come out of our education system knowing a huge amount, having built up a broad range in skills and competencies, but not all students have had access to that knowledge and to that skill development.”

On the other hand, she was not convinced by National’s proposal.

Learning was not linear, she said.

“I do worry about the idea of being really prescriptive at an individual year basis.”

My schooling, which began just after the turn of the millennium, was structured and effective.

Lessons were centred around core competencies which also included the arts, sciences, and technology, but were built on a solid foundation of basic skills.

In Year 1, school days began with handwriting practice, maths, the writing of one-sentence diary entries, and reading circles – often led by community volunteers or parents.

The approach to my education was holistic and engaging, and regular testing painted a clear picture of what I was doing well and what needed improving.

If you weren’t keeping up with the standards in the early days, you repeated the year, or in cases like mine, you got some extra help outside of the classroom.

It was harsh, but reaching a standard of basic skills each year was non-negotiable.

Without this lock-step approach, kids fell behind.

With it, they were given another chance to build a basic skills foundation.

The downside to this approach is that it fails to acknowledge the complexities of diverse classrooms and the enormous pressure put on teachers to command a classroom full of kids with different learning abilities and challenges.

It penalises kids for things out of their control.

What New Zealand needs isn’t just a curriculum shakeup.

It needs more resourcing to implement it effectively.

Grace Prior
Grace Prior
Grace Prior is a senior reporter at the Wairarapa Times-Age with a keen interest in environmental issues. Grace is the paper’s health reporter and regularly covers the rural sector, weather, Greater Wellington Regional Council, and coastal stories.

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