Bleak Pacific future as NZ education slide backwards
By Pacific Guardians
20/12/2013 – Exactly a year ago in October 2012, Prime Minister John Key told a Pacific gathering, at National MP Alfred Ngaro’s South Auckland office, that “education” will lead Maori and Pacific people to a better life.
It revolves around “change” he said, which at times will require some tough love. Everything he repeated, “hinges on education”.
He was confident that Maori and Pacific people will eventually succeed in that pathway because “[Pacific] families definitely have the motivation for their kids to do better but they don’t always have the skills. So over time, that all moves and what happens is they see their uncle or aunt down the road who goes to university, gets their degree and do really well and they realize if they get an education, they can too. So the cycle changes but it takes a long period of time,” said Mr Key.
But “change”, he emphasized, “is hard and many things need to work together” including a dose “of tough love” every now and then.
He added, “If you don’t sort of do that, you won’t eventually get there. But if you do the job properly and you roll the clock forward a couple of generations, let’s be realistic about these things, the logic should be that in 30, 40, 50 years time, Maori, Pacific, and Pakeha should all be achieving at the same level.”
But barely one year has passed since Mr Key’s South Auckland speech, and an international standards report called Programme for International Student Assessment (P.I.S.A.), has downgraded New Zealand’s education system.
Labour leader Mr David Cunliffe in an exclusive interview before the Christmas break told the Niue Star he wasn’t surprised.
“Without being unkind, National’s record with education is not that great. They haven’t done anything other than that really stupid idea of Charter schools,” he said.
“The latest P.I.S.A. results from the O.E.C.D. show that we’ve slipped right down the table, and teachers tell me it’s just nonsense as results are not even standardized across schools.”
He promised that under a Labour government, “we want teachers focused on the learning of children and we know we need to put more resources into schools especially those in the more challenged areas.”
The 2012 P.I.S.A. survey is carried out every three years by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (O.E.C.D.), and compares the performance of just over half a million 15-year-olds, from 65 countries representing 80 per cent of the global economy, across reading literacy, maths and science.
Its results released earlier this month showed that since 2008, New Zealand has had a decrease in student performance where maths it has dropped from 13th to 23rd out of the 65 countries, in science it has dropped from seventh to 18th, and for reading, it fell from seventh to 13th.
Also happening at the same time, is New Zealand having one of the fastest-growing rates of inequality – that is, the wealth gap between the rich and poor is getting bigger and bigger.
The P.I.S.A. result was significant enough that Speaker of the House, Mr David Carter ruled on Wednesday, 4th December 2013, to be so important that parliament should deal with it urgently. It forced a snap debate in parliament.
At the coalface, New Zealand Post Primary Teachers’ Association (P.P.T.A.) president, Ms Angela Roberts, said in a media statement that the reason for the poor 2012 P.I.S.A. result is because the John Key government failed to take-on international advice.
She said the O.E.C.D. adviced countries, after the 2009 P.I.S.A. results, to focus on the importance of addressing socio-economic inequality in schools.
But the New Zealand government, said Ms Roberts, chose to focus on a number of initiatives that were “based on ideology rather than evidence – stripping funding from the public schooling system and syphoning it into private projects.”
She added, “It’s fascinating that this government seems pretty obsessed with the results, but doesn’t pay any attention to the policy advice.
“O.E.C.D. advice shows countries with successful education systems address inequality, invest in teachers and have stability in school funding. In New Zealand we have $10 million a year stripped from schools through the quarterly funding system, large class sizes and 270,000 of our young people living in poverty.
“It’s not just about the data, it’s what you do with that data and for three years the New Zealand government simply ignored the evidence,” said Ms Roberts.
Ms Judith Nowotarski, national president for the New Zealand Educational Institute (N.Z.E.I.) agreed.
“Across the board New Zealand’s performance has dropped on all the scores and this is something that the government should be ashamed of. It shows its policies are nothing short of disastrous.”
She pointed out that O.E.C.D. countries with higher level of equality also have better achievement outcomes for all students.
“Eighteen per cent of New Zealand children now live in poverty and the student achievement gap reflects the impact that poverty has on students’ learning.”
But education minister Mrs Hekia Parata told parliament during the Wednesday snap debate, “This survey isn’t a surprise and we’re serious about fixing it.”
In an earlier statement Mrs Parata said, “The results confirm that our students who are achieving at the highest level are comparable to the best in the world – but the whole education system needs to be better geared to support all of our students to succeed.”
She added, “the decline in performance is not the result of one factor, but the combination of a number of long-standing system issues to which this group of 15 year olds has been particularly exposed.”
However, Ms Nowotarski said the minister’s reasoning is misleading.
“The Minister is being misleading when she claims that this decline is a long-running trend. By far the biggest drop in achievement has occurred since 2009.
“For five years the government has been obsessed with collecting unnecessary and irrelevant data when it should have been focused on making a difference for students.
“This government’s obsession with data combined with no solutions for failing education policies has been a disaster for many New Zealand children. Instead of working with teachers and schools to improve education, the government has been hell-bent on dismantling our public education system.”
She went further to say the big drop in New Zealand’s student achievement in recent years “is a direct result of a failure of this government’s education, economic and social policies.”
All of these developments put a damper on John Key’s solution for Pacific people moving out of poverty. That is because the way to a better life that was pointed out to them by Prime Minster John Key last year, was education. A system that has now been found to be in dire straits and in need of some serious fixing.
But make no mistake; Mr Key knows exactly what he was talking about when he announced his education solution last year.
He knows what the world of the low-income earner looks like. His description of that world in October 2012 could not be faulted.
Said Mr Key, “If you take the economy, it is by far the hardest on lower income people. The reason for that is if you go and look at lower income New Zealanders, generally they are less skilled. So firstly there is quite a risk they will lose their jobs in a downturn. So you typically see manufacturing a whole lot of construction work, things like that will start turning down. And so that has a big impact.
“Secondly, they don’t often have one big income earner in the household.
“The family income could be $50,000 but that’s made up of both parents working and earning $25,000 each say. So if one of them loses their job, their overall income is a lot lower, a lot faster, and they have bigger families. This is true all over the world, it’s not unique to New Zealand but if you were to walk around South Auckland and ask, ‘what do you reckon about that nice National government?’ A few of them are going to say, ‘They suck’.
“And that’s not being disrespectful to us, it’s just the world that they live in, they’ve got less work, less overtime, someone’s lost their job. So the bottomline is we wish we could fix that and we are rapidly working hard to try and do that, and relative to a whole lot of other countries we’re doing better.”
However, just one year later, the pathway prescribed by Mr Key that will lead Maori and Pacific to a better life instead, is leading them into dangerous waters.
Labour’s education spokesperson Mr Chris Hipkins highlighted in the parliamentary snap debate on Wednesday where the government got its priorities wrong.
“I’ve been talking to teachers and they’re saying the government is so focused on constantly measuring the problem that they haven’t got time to teach the kids,” he said.
He elaborated on the Labour Party’s solution that involves “concentrating on programmes that work. We will extend Reading Recovery so all children who are falling behind in their reading can catch-up.
“We will also develop a Maths Recovery programme and improve professional development opportunities so teachers can improve their skills and help more of our kids.”
The Green Party’s Catherine Delahunty added that teachers weren’t getting enough professional development.
And she has a point, as that appears to be the secret to success for Shanghai who topped the 2012 P.I.S.A. results in all three areas.
Shanghai’s education system prioritises investment in teaching staff.
Jiang Xueqin, deputy principal at the Tsinghua University High School in Beijing, told CNN that Shanghai’s education system invests in teaching staff by offering training and high salaries.
“The teachers are very well-paid, very professional,” Jiang said. “The Shanghai government will spend a lot of resources in making sure that each teacher is well trained, has opportunities to go abroad, (and) has opportunities to learn from the best teachers.”
He also said, “A lot of it is that the students are engaged in learning. The parents, the students, the community are engaged in making sure their child succeeds.”
Other countries whose performance improved in P.I.S.A. this year, such as Brazil, Colombia and Poland, implemented policies to raise the quality of teaching staff by increasing requirements for education licenses, providing incentives for high-achieving students to enter the profession and ongoing on-the-job training, according to the report.
Prime Minister John Key ‘education-based solution’ to lead Pacific islanders in Aotearoa out of poverty can work. But the education system on which it is based needs fixing otherwise the stark reality will be very different to the one promised.