NZ’s curriculum fails the test
We’re in that season where political parties constantly roll out policies that reflect their vision for New Zealand. This close to the election, few ideas remain unclaimed, but here’s one that’s free to a good home. It’s a cost-neutral way to narrow inequity in student outcomes, raise academic achievement, and take an hour a day off the average teacher’s workload. If it sounds too good to be true, it’s because it comes with a catch: Implementing it will involve difficult conversations that take in a review of the evidence and end in a consensus among those who create our national curriculum.
Evidence here and overseas shows that much of the drag on our educational outcomes is generated by the very framework designed to improve them.
Our stripped-back 2007 New Zealand Curriculum, however, leaves course content wide open for interpretation.
This month, Dr Nina Hood published her findings from a survey of 523 teachers across New Zealand. The paper, titled “Variable in/by design,” quantifies the ways the lack of a content-rich curriculum and inadequate support for teachers undermine the promise of equal educational opportunities for all.
“International research,” she writes, “routinely finds that those countries or provinces that deliver a comprehensive, content-rich curriculum which ensures that students acquire a broad general knowledge, achieve higher and more equitable student outcomes than countries with skills-based or more open curricula.”
Three out of four find and develop their own instructional materials… They are, essentially, continually reinventing the wheel.
Our stripped-back 2007 New Zealand Curriculum, however, leaves course content wide open for interpretation. New Zealand now has one of the widest achievement gaps in the English-speaking world between those who are disadvantaged and those who aren’t.
We also have some of the hardest-working teachers. Three out of four find and develop their own instructional materials—often paying for materials themselves—and a quarter spend at least 6 hours a week finding and developing them. They are, essentially, continually reinventing the wheel.
And even if those materials are all high quality, “their impact will not be as great if they are not part of a carefully sequenced learning experience,” Nina writes. This is far from guaranteed. In fact, more than a third of the teachers reported no clear progression in curriculum content, and more than half said that students are not consistently learning the same things.
Will the content-rich framework many educators hope for emerge, or will teachers be left with a rebrand of the same failed approach?
For 16 years, we have had a national curriculum that declines to prescribe what knowledge all children should have access to beyond some high-level directives. What do the people teaching our children think of how it’s being delivered?
“It is the blind leading the blind,” one of the surveyed teachers responded.
Another said, “I have begun accessing the Australian Curriculum as they are leading the way in creating and sharing resources which align with the science of learning—explicit, systematic, and progressive.”
The current “refresh” that New Zealand’s curriculum is undergoing comes with promises that its deficits will be addressed. But will the content-rich framework many educators hope for emerge, or will teachers be left with a rebrand of the same failed approach? Whatever the next government’s vision is for education, this is a question they will have to answer.go back