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.
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.