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Education system needs solutions

By 'Alapasita Teu May 03, 2022

Young people are the future, and a good education is a passport to the future, apparently. If that’s true, there’s a lot to worry about considering the current state of our compulsory schooling system.

Our longstanding decline in educational achievement isn’t anything new. Consecutive governments and policy makers have failed to pay close attention to the needs of our compulsory schooling sector.

Reports of declining literacy and numeracy levels among 15-year-olds have recently resurfaced. Naturally raising concerns around the state and the future of compulsory education. According to the latest PISA report, our educational achievement levels of Year 11 students in science, literacy, and numeracy have been declining over the past 18 years. New Zealand students have dropped in the ranks for all three subjects, particularly noticeable in maths; dropping from 4 out of 41 countries, to 27 out of 78 countries.

Literacy and numeracy skills provide the basics for participating and functioning in modern day societies. Considering the poor educational achievement levels of secondary students in core subjects like maths, this raises questions around the purpose of education today. Our longstanding decline in educational achievement isn’t anything new. Consecutive governments and policy makers have failed to pay close attention to the needs of our compulsory schooling sector. Teacher shortages, burnout amongst our educators, declining rates of educational performance of primary and secondary students across absolute and relative indicators all point to a declining education system that requires urgent attention and solutions.

We now have an excellent opportunity for those at the helm of our education sector to examine what has been lost throughout both the pandemic and the past 20 years and build on what has been gained.

The pandemic put the gaps in our schooling system on full display, from the digital divide to resourcing issues that left some learners behind. Teachers’ workloads were also increased to make up for missed learning throughout lockdowns. Our ongoing COVID-19 recovery has focussed primarily on health and economics. I would argue education is a vital component to the conversation. We now have an excellent opportunity for those at the helm of our education sector to examine what has been lost throughout both the pandemic and the past 20 years and build on what has been gained.

The recently released Literacy, Numeracy, and Communication Strategy signals positive work by the Ministry of Education to address our literacy and numeracy woes. Strategies and policies are necessary but have often proven to simply be that—words on a paper with no real practical outcomes for the frontlines. Our COVID-19 response and education system history have taught us that centralised bureaucracies do not—cannot—provide all the answers. Nor can policies delivered in charismatic communication outputs that fail to deliver good outcomes. If we consider that the proof is in the pudding, what are we baking? Our recipe seems to produce worsening reading, writing, and numeracy levels.

More than ever, there is a need to consider solutions like decentralisation and amplifying the local voice.

It is time for those in charge of our compulsory education sector to start thinking outside of bureaucratic parameters. More than ever, there is a need to consider solutions like decentralisation and amplifying the local voice. We need to give autonomy and authority back to those who know their local schools, communities, and students best. The future of our tamariki deserves precisely that—our best efforts to ensure a well-functioning education system that performs and delivers positive outcomes for all learners.

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