New Zealand's education system is ranked amongst the top five in the world and this is remarkable considering our multicultural society, high levels of child poverty and limited funding (we spend less on education as a percentage of GDP than most OECD countries). All the countries ranked around New Zealand also pay their teachers considerably higher salaries.
New Zealand class sizes are also amongst the largest in the world with the OECD average at 21 students per teacher at primary level.
So what enables our education system to overcome some real barriers and perform so well?
1) A creative and holistic approach to teaching and learning.
Since Clarence Beeby New Zealand has developed an approach to teaching that is related to the needs of children and not primarily focussed on standardized assessments. The current New Zealand curriculum supports schools in shaping a school curriculum that meets the needs of their children and the wider school community. The curriculum also recognizes that Values and Key Competencies are as important as the learning areas.
2) A broad curriculum.
New Zealand teachers are taught to integrate the curriculum and recognise the interconnections between the different learning areas..
3) An Inquiry Approach to teaching.
This approach is an essential part of teaching practice in New Zealand and is a teaching and learning cycle that focusses on evidence based strategies that are assessed and modified, through self and peer review, to suit the needs of learners.
4) Great teachers.
Most Teacher training involves a high level of practicum where pedagogy is regarded as highly as curriculum knowledge. New Zealand teachers are very well regarded internationally for their innovative and independent approach to teaching.
5) A culture of collegiality.
"It takes a village to raise a child" is a truism. Schools that operate as a community where parents and teachers support each other in meeting the needs of children and great ideas are shared is a common culture in New Zealand Schools.
The New Zealand Institute uses internationally recognized data and indicators to produce a report card on New Zealand's social, economic and environmental performance. Education gets one of the higher marks.
All that is great about our quality public education system is being attacked and dismantled by this government and, despite public and professional protests, mainstream media have largely ignored the reality and in many cases have colluded with the government to denigrate our teachers and our schools.
It is the goodwill and professionalism displayed by our teachers that has allowed quality teaching to continue through a barrage of attacks, but the cracks are beginning to show and after the latest budget we will see even more indicators of decline.
I have attempted to list the hits endured so far and I am open to including any I have missed.
- $25 million cut from Ministry of Education budget.
- Flawed National Standards introduced without a trial or evidence base.
- Curriculum narrowed by focus on literacy and numeracy and advisors sacked from other learning areas like science, technology and art.
- Funding for Technology teachers at intermediate schools cut.
- Class sizes increased to 1:27, 6 more than OECD average.
- $35 million given to private schools.
- Charter Schools introduced despite limited evidence of success elsewhere and based on an agreement with a political party that only achieved 1% of the vote.
- Operations grants not increased to keep up with inflation restricting the ability for schools to pay school support staff.
- Schools punished for not embracing National Standards by having professional development denied.
- Schools and teachers are blamed for underachievement while factors like poverty are ignored.
- The new Education Ministry head (appointed by the National Government from England) refuses to collaborate with the education union NZEI on professional matters.
- Residential schools for children with behavioural needs are being closed.
- Health Camps are being closed.
- Schools that question government policies are threatened with having their boards sacked and be replaced by commissioners.
- Expectation that schools should only provide healthy food wiped.
- Funding for fruit in low decile schools cut.
- Performance pay for teachers to be introduced despite models used in other countries have caused a decline in collegiality and have not improved student achievement.
- PPPs (private, public partnerships) introduced to build schools despite Treasury advising there was little value in this approach.
- Teaching qualifications will be a post graduate qualification yet students in a fourth year of study will not receive government support and students will have to cover all costs themselves.