Saturday, July 30, 2022

Michael Johnston: Crying fowl

The chickens of negligence have come home to roost – but they’re not welcome in the Henhouse of Education.

As we wrote in Insights last week, in a pilot of new literacy and numeracy assessments for NCEA, only two thirds of assessed students met a basic standard of adult numeracy and reading ability. Only one third met the standard in writing.

But rather than taking responsibility for a failing system, the Ministry claimed that its own study was flawed. They weren’t alone. A conga line of influential educators assembled to explain away the dismal data.

Their most credible argument was that, because the pilot had no personal consequences for the participating students, they didn’t take the tests seriously. But even if all of the success rates come up by ten percentage points when the tests are run for real credits, a quarter of our young people will fail in reading and numeracy, and more than half in writing.

The thing is, we didn’t need the Ministry’s pilot to tell us that we have a real problem with literacy and numeracy. Many data sources, including international tests like PISA, have been sending warning signals for nearly two decades. Even if the commentators are right and things are not as bad as the Ministry’s pilot suggests, it’s disappointing that their first instinct is to be defensive.

We need urgent reform of the way in which these key skills are taught at Primary School. For far too long we’ve allowed ineffective methods of teaching to prevail.

Sadly though, without pressure from ordinary New Zealanders, the Ministry and its educational allies are all too likely just to keep kicking the problem to touch. It will take sustained pressure from parents, employers and those educators who know how much better things could be, to make a real difference.

The implications for the lives and wellbeing of our young people are profound. Literacy and numeracy are not just ‘academic’ skills, they’re crucial prerequisites for all kinds of life opportunities. Our prisons are full of people – mostly young men – who can’t read or write.

There are many pressing problems facing New Zealand, but none more urgent than the decay of our once great education system. Every time a young person leaves school without basic literacy and numeracy, it is a travesty. As democratic citizens we must all shoulder a share of the responsibility for that. We must demand much better and demand it loudly.

Dr Michael Johnston has held academic positions at Victoria University of Wellington for the past ten years. He holds a PhD in Cognitive Psychology from the University of Melbourne. This article was originally published  HERE


Steve said...

Well our young school leavers may not be able to read or write but they can explain in great detail the myriad diversity of the gay and transgender alphabet salad. So progressive ….. particularly if you’re seeking a future as a midnight loiterer on Queen St.

Robert Arthur said...

Teachers need to be selected for their own knowledge levels and ability to build and to pass on. Instead pro maoriness and enthusiasm for te reo seems to ba a major selection factor. Objective types, likely to be able at maths, science and English, are discouraged by the prospect of having to battle for yeras against all pervasisve easy going contrived maori culture. Disbandment of the infiltrated Teaching Council would be a good start.