Friday, January 6, 2023

David Lillis: Education is in Big Trouble

The Current Refresh of our National Secondary Curriculum

By now most of New Zealand’s public is aware of co-governance, Three Waters and efforts to normalize the Treaty of Waitangi as central to much of New Zealand life and society. In this multi-cultural nation that we have become, it is critical that we respect Māori, and value the good things that Matauranga Māori has achieved for Māori over centuries, but stand firmly against any movement that attempts to place one ethnic or cultural group above others. Our entire society cannot, and should not, be re-configured to enforce the world view of one small, self-identifying minority. Nor should we give ourselves over to the notion that traditional knowledge is somehow the equal of modern science.

How many of the general public are aware of what is happening in education right now? We should be deeply concerned about the refresh of the national curriculum currently in progress within the Ministry of Education and related organizations. The proposed new curriculum is referred to as Te Mātaiaho: A draft Te Tiriti-Honouring and Inclusive Curriculum Framework. We are told that Mātauranga Māori will sit at the heart of the learning areas and that key competencies, literacy and numeracy, will be woven explicitly into each learning area. (Ministry of Education, 2022a)

The New Zealand Curriculum is being refreshed in a phased approach over the next four years so that it honours Te Tiriti o Waitangi, and is inclusive, clear, and easy to use. Ministry of Education (2022b)

We are told that a refreshed Te Tiriti-honouring and inclusive Curriculum Framework will be introduced. The Framework will include a whakapapa, a Vision for Young People - written by young people, for young people, and a purpose statement calling us to action with key shifts to ensure equity and inclusion for all ākonga (Ministry of Education, 2022a).

The respectful inclusion of mātauranga Māori is a deliberate feature of the Understand-Know-Do structure that helps ākonga understand a dynamic and evolving knowledge system unique to Aotearoa. (Ministry of Education, 2022a).

Here are three short videos. There are many others, but please listen to these three:

In the last of these videos, Mera Penehira asserts that effectively the curriculum has failed Māori and that we need a curriculum that wipes out inequities in education outcomes for Māori and Pacifica. Vaughan Bidois asserts that we cannot get there without Te Tiriti. Graham Smith asserts that we now have new ways of bringing people together and that the new curriculum will be a game changer. It most certainly will be a game changer!

The entire initiative very frightening indeed, especially the dishonesty whereby we are being led to believe that a Treaty-based curriculum is for everyone and that all of us must get on board. The arrogance and, indeed, deceit and bullying of those three activists and others in forcing a retrograde agenda on all students in New Zealand, regardless of social, ethnic or religious background, for decades to come is more than astonishing and we must now stand up to them and to a Ministry of Education that is complicit in perpetrating a highly-dangerous falsehood.

The Kaupapa Statement

Here is the ‘Kaupapa Statement’, from the Curriculum Refresh:

We are refreshing the New Zealand Curriculum (the NZC) to better reflect the aspirations and expectations of all New Zealanders. The refresh will adorn our ākonga with a 3-strand whenu (cord). This korowai will be layered with huruhuru (feathers) representing who they are, who they can be, their whakapapa, and their connection to our whenua (lands). The whenu tying it together is made up of whānau (family), ākonga, and kaiako (teachers) working as partners to use and localise the NZC. The refresh will ensure that the NZC reflects diverse ways of being, understanding, knowing, and doing. It helps us inclusively respond to the needs of individual ākonga, who are at the centre of all we do. Ākonga will be able to see their languages, cultures, identities, and strengths in what they learn at school. This will empower ākonga to go boldly into an ever-changing future and contribute to local, national, and global communities. This vision will primarily be realised by kaiako and school leaders, in partnership with iwi and their school communities. However, it will be important for all New Zealanders to be part of this journey and help create multiple pathways towards equity and success for all ākonga. Ministry of Education (2022c)

Sorry - but the refreshed curriculum certainly does not better reflect the aspirations and expectations of all New Zealanders. Quite clearly, the agenda is to empower one ethnic group and bully everyone else into submission and we must not allow ourselves to be taken in by the accompanying misleading and, frankly, dishonest rhetoric.

My Perspective

For the record, earlier in my life I taught at several high schools with large enrolments of Pacific and Māori, spent five years as a part-time tutor at a university physics department, worked as a quantitative researcher and statistician in education and finished my career as Senior Academic Manager at a tertiary, degree-granting institution with large numbers of Pacific and Māori students. I respect people of all cultures and always got along well with minority students and also with Pacific and Māori teachers, several of whom (both former students and teachers) remain as friends of mine - many years later. I have no dispute with any culture, religion or ethnicity.

Again, sorry - but the curriculum refresh panders to activists from a small minority and must be resisted at all costs. If we fail, then several generations of New Zealand students, from all backgrounds, ethnicities, religions and cultures, are going to have this agenda forced on them every day of their primary and secondary education. Pacific students, Asian students, Pakeha students and indeed, Muslim immigrants from North Africa and the Middle East, including those fleeing violence in Syria, the Ukraine and parts of Africa, will be forced to absorb the language and traditional knowledge of one self-identifying ethnicity and cultural group as a significant part of their primary and secondary education.

We are told that the current curriculum disadvantages Māori. Does it? Why? Where is the evidence? Māori underperformance in education does not emerge from the curriculum, but instead results mostly from unfavourable socioeconomics. If the curriculum disadvantages Māori, then does it not also disadvantage Pacific students and others? Why only Māori?

The issues for Māori and others are not hurt and pain because of denigration of mātauranga Māori, but rather the validity of indigenous knowledge, including mātauranga Māori, embedded across an entire curriculum, but especially as an alternative to modern science that can be taught in science class.

When I was an education statistician in our public service, indeed I performed various analyses (e.g. multiple regression models) that identified socioeconomics as the strongest predictor of education performance in New Zealand. Of course, I included school decile (a quantitative measure of the extent to which a school's students live in low socioeconomic or poorer communities) in those analyses. In addition, I analyzed equivalent anonymized data from the UK (passed to me by Professor Daniel Muijs, then of Southampton University). Always, socioeconomics emerges as a significant predictor of performance (and, indeed, underperformance), while ethnicity becomes largely non-significant. That was also the finding of Marie et al (2008), specifically in relation to Māori.

The Post Primary Teachers Association essentially confirms this finding, noting that students of low decile schools (from low socioeconomic catchments) perform much less well than those of high decile schools (from high socioeconomic catchments):

The decile system is used to identify the distribution of the children from the lowest socio-economic families and to target resourcing to schools which have high proportions of these students. These families tend to have parents with more limited educational qualifications and years of schooling, low levels of family income, more crowded homes and are more likely to arrive at school with health and learning deficits. Post Primary Teachers Association (2022)

We may or may not agree with the stated intent of the curriculum refresh to honour matauranga Māori, but should not the primary aims of any curriculum be to support learning for all and enable students to acquire and develop the knowledge, know-how and skills that will enable them to compete in the domestic and international marketplaces? Never should it be the function of a national curriculum to support the nation’s constitution, treaty or other founding document or, indeed, to ensure equality of outcomes. Instead, the objectives should be the support of equality of access and opportunity and to underpin first-class education that enables students to learn and succeed.

Non-Scientific Ideas Presented as Science

The NCEA Reform and Curriculum Refresh engenders non-scientific ideas in our national science curriculum through the presentation and teaching of myths. For example, the NCEA Chemistry & Biology Glossary introduces the idea of “mauri” within the domains of biology and chemistry, as follows:

The vital essence, life force of everything: be it a physical object, living thing or ecosystem. In Chemistry and Biology, mauri refers to the health and life-sustaining capacity of the taiao, on biological, physical, and chemical levels. NCEA Chemistry & Biology Glossary (2022)

Teaching students of science that a special force exists within inanimate things constitutes willful neglect of duty on the part of Government and the relevant Ministries, compromises the education of future students and will bring our national science curriculum and, indeed, the entire NCEA system into disrepute.

Of course, in daily life today we don't take myths and legends as truth but we do recognize that they are important for the descendants of indigenous people and are part of the great history of mankind. However, we are coming dangerously close to teaching such concepts as truth to young and impressionable children within our revised national primary and secondary curriculum.

Te Reo and Mātauranga Māori in the Curriculum?

Only good can come of teaching our children to respect the views of others. Some class time devoted to Te Reo and Māori culture and history will give all New Zealanders a greater appreciation of Māori culture, their history and their very significant contributions to the New Zealand of today. It stands to reason that we should also introduce students to Pacific cultures, Asian cultures, African cultures and the cultures of Islamic immigrants from the Middle East.

Both Te Reo and Mātauranga Māori should be treasured and preserved. However, imposing large proportions of class time to Te Reo and Mātauranga Māori to all learners, especially if presented as science, must be opposed, given other demands on children's lives and given a noticeable decline in New Zealand’s recent academic rankings relative to those of other nations (see, for example, Long and Te, 2019). Our children must acquire not only qualifications, but the skills and knowledge that are obligatory if they are to compete in tomorrow’s New Zealand and international marketplaces.

And why must we admit only one kind of traditional knowledge for our curriculum? What about Pacific knowledge and values and Somali myths and religious beliefs dear to immigrants from Eritrea?

Specifically, mātauranga Māori is the body of cultural knowledge of Māori living in the islands of New Zealand. It includes observations about the world, and these observations are often interpreted in terms of myth. Other populations in New Zealand also have their traditional knowledge, derived from the knowledge systems of their societies of origin. Similarly, their traditional knowledge embodies non-scientific dimensions, and often include false ideas, but no one expects these ideas to be taught as science. Lillis and Schwerdtfeger (2021)

Systemic Bias and Racism as Justification for Radical Change

The assertion of systemic bias or racism as a cause of disparity, and thereby providing justification for major policy and legislative change, is evident in domains other than education; for example, in public health and employment in the sciences and academia generally. However, the extent of systemic bias within these domains is difficult to determine objectively and could only be evaluated through research rather than anecdote. Possibly, in many jurisdictions systemic bias acts in favour of minorities, rather than against them, but indeed we must be vigilant in identifying bias and countermanding it wherever it occurs.

Though bias in the past has led to inequities today, not every disparity reflects racial bias in the present. Lillis and Schwerdtfeger (2021)

Nor should disparate outcomes provide a sole justification for significant change that clearly is intended to benefit one group disproportionately, when other demographic groups are also disadvantaged. Thus, not only Māori have poorer outcomes in education, but also Pacific people and, reviewing the official statistics on health and wellbeing in New Zealand, we see that Pacific people are even more disadvantaged than Māori on certain indices (Lillis, 2022). But Pacific people will not receive a dedicated health ministry within the foreseeable future and nor will anyone else who is non-Māori.

Focus on the Real Causes of Inequity

I repeat what I have said before - labels such as racism, systemic bias, conscious and unconscious bias and colonialism have some traction. However, not only may such labels be applied without justification, apart from anecdote, but possibly they may detract from our efforts to address the real causes. The true agents of disparity, principally socioeconomic in nature, may lie largely outside the jurisdictions of education, health and science, and we have duty of care to address those causes.

Finally, conferring special privilege to one ethnic or cultural group will not repair inequality; nor will consuming scarce resources to address structural racism and bias if these factors are small, or in practice no longer present, and if the core structural and systemic problems lie elsewhere.

We must resist the curriculum refresh with all our might. Future generations of New Zealanders are depending on us.


Lillis, D. A. and Schwerdtfeger, P. (2021). The Mātauranga Māori – Science Debate

Lillis, D. A. (2022). Our Prioritised Health System and Pacific People

Long, Jessica and Te, Mandy (2019). New Zealand top-end in OECD's latest PISA report but drop in achievements 'worrying'

Marie, D., Fergusson, D. M. and Boden, J. M. (2008). Educational Achievement in Maori: The Roles of Cultural Identity and Social Disadvantage. Australian Journal of Education. 52: 2, 183-196. Article first published online: August 1, 2008; Issue published August 1, 2008.

Ministry of Education (2022a). What is changing with the refresh of The New Zealand Curriculum?

Ministry of Education (2022b). Refreshing the New Zealand Curriculum

Ministry of Education (2022c). Refreshing the New Zealand Curriculum

NCEA Chemistry & Biology Glossary (2022). Ministry of Education.

Post Primary Teachers Association (2022). NZ Schools: The decile system NZPPTA background paper.

Dr David Lillis trained in physics and mathematics at Victoria University and Curtin University in Perth, working as a teacher, researcher, statistician and lecturer for most of his career. He has published many articles and scientific papers, as well as a book on graphing and statistics.


Anonymous said...

We are in a desperate situation. But who is in a position to address the issues and turn things around?
It is hard to believe we are here and facing this and so many are asleep and don't realise it is happening right under their noses.
Perhaps there needs to be a concerted assault on the reputation of journalists as they are the ones who should be reporting and analysing the situation.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for making this available David. I knew it was bad but not how bad. If we as a country do not challenge his process, we are as much to blame.

Martin Hanson said...

Excellent article, David, and thank you for raising the alarm. But on one, very minor, point I must disagree.
You say that “only good can come of teaching our children to respect the views of others.”
I think it’s important to distinguish between someone’s worth as a person, and his or her views on particular issues.
For example, I have zero respect for the biblical fundamentalist view that the Earth is less than 10 000 years old, and that living organisms were created in their present form by divine intervention.
I have met several such people, most of whom I respect as human beings, considering their biblical views as quaint, idiosyncratic, and generally harmless (except when they attempt to brainwash young children, whose ‘intellectual immune systems’ have not yet developed to resist such nonsense).
Johann Hari put it neatly:
“I respect you as a person too much to respect your ridiculous beliefs.”
The distinction can become more difficult in extreme cases, such as the radical Islamic belief that women should be stoned to death for adultery, and that the penalty for apostasy and homosexuality should be death.
Though I don’t know any such individuals (they are vanishingly rare and, it is to be hoped, absent, in New Zealand), I’m certain that if I were to come across such an individual, I’d give him (yes, it would be a ‘him’!) a very wide berth.

Anonymous said...

How ridiculous. Teach the kids how to read, write and do maths. Any other religious or cultural stuff should be done within the home or cultural groups outside of school. . We are not 1940s germany or are we?

Robert Arthur said...

I cannot understand the emphasis on economic status and related school achievement. The nature vs nurture argument has now been won, with, as all farmers knew all along, nature having an almost unsurmountable influence. From the observation of friend's children it is obvious a huge amount of ability is inherited (although there are exceptions). Persons with well paid jobs tend to be persons of ability and have children ditto. The reverse applies. The notion that flooding the low socio economic with money will raise their abilities and achievements to match the rest is a nonsense. Similarly placing all in the same class and advancing together simply creates frustration and consequent non attendance. Flooding all with te reo and contrived matauranga crap and wallowing in maori culture is presumably supposed to boost confidence, attendance levels, and maori performance generally. But the sharpest if not the most enthusiastic learners will prove not to be maori, a further cause for loss of confidence. With suitable material, nurturing in the real world is more likely to have a positive outcome than nurturing in the stone age world. (as demonstrated by Ron Mark).
The methods of the 1920s where students were retained at their level is more appropriate. The less ableare less or not dispirited. The able majority on whom the future of the country depends, and including the high IQ highly industrious Asians, can then get on with regaining the educational achievement levels necessary for progress in the real world.(And to sustain the welfare system so extensively utikised by maori)

Dave Lenny said...

With 31 years experience in NZ secondary schools - mostly in heavily multicultural schools where Samoans were often the largest ethnic group -and ten years overseas where none of the pupils were European, I am entirely sceptical of and quite cynical about education initiatives focussed on bicultural learners’ alleged identities rather than what has to be learnt, especially when these initiatives are presented as some kind of magic bullet but without objective evidence of successful outcomes or any clear statement as to what a minimum level of success would be, while the meta-studies and empirical findings of people such as Professor John Hattie are ignored.

Teachers of science and maths especially should be vigorously resisting the destruction of their subjects.

How long will it take before these educational ideologues notice the widening gap between NZ pupils’ Pisa and NCEA outcomes and seriously reconsider their dogmatism?

K said...

Our daughter tells me her 8 and 9 yo at primary have about 20 maori stuff in their curriculum. Which of course means 20% less of 'other' stuff.
Next year 30%? Who knows...

Mudbayripper said...

Who the hell is waving the big stick, that allows the grown-ups to submit to this collective insanity. Weather in education, or every other government department including the Main stream media and the corporate world. When does sanity prevail.
The only explanation I believe.
By far the majority of the racist lunatics inbeded into positions of power at all levels in all areas of societal influence, have themselves been indoctrinated with a postmodern Marxist ideology over many years.
They, and their are many, absolutely believe this is the way forward.
Those of us with some connection to logic and sanity, have been totally blind sided over the last election cycle and are ill prepared to slow down, let alone stop its trajectory to complete democratic cultural and societal break down, as is the intention.

Mudbayripper said...

Have just watched the video links in the article David.
I'm speechless.

Gaynor Chapman said...

I think the most under reported story of 2022 is the myth- busting if the efficacy of the jewel in the crown of balanced literacy-the much vaunted Reading Recovery (RR).This is an early intervention developed by New Zealander Marie Clay(1985)to help children who are having difficulties in reading after a year of formal reading instruction.
RR is not only used widely in NZ but in tens of thousands of schools across the US and elsewhere and until this year considered by many 'the most effective remedial intervention available'. A multi-million dollar America research project by Henry May,in a longitudinal study study found that 3rd and 4th graders(9 and 10 year olds)who participated in the RR were worse off than children who had not had the intervention!
This brings into question the whole of the prevailing balanced literacy in schools since RR was an offspring of it.
The wrong ideas included a belief that children learned to read, sort of naturally the way spiders spin webs,by being immersed in a literature rich environment. Clay 1991 claimed also 'the reader relies mostly on the sentence and its meaning and only some selective forms of words'.But brain research,this century has found definitively that children learning phonics activated the brain circuitry used in reading.Those who learned in whole word methods did not.Children who cannot discover the sound system independently and are denied explicit and systematic instruction in phonics are at severe risk of a reading disability.
Many media have picked up on this victory for intensive phonics(Structured Literacy) this year including 'Sold a Story'a US Public Media podcast. The 'Economist'reported how low-spending state of Mississippi has a disproportionate success in reading. They began teaching intensive phonics.
This relates directly to NZ's poor educational achievement of Maori and Pacific
students.Like US black students this group would benefit tremendously from more a more phonics centered reading curriculum as do most students.
Here is the answer to inequity.'The Herald' this week has featured literacy but the message of the victory needs to be discussed in more widely popular outlets.
The debate over how to teach reading is I believe the fundamental skill of all schooling and cuts across the socioeconomic excuses given by some educationalists for educational failure.
Teaching reading without intensive phonics needs to be seen as malpractice.

Robert Arthur said...

Hi Gaynor
When I started school in the 1940s the first thing learned was the phonic alphabet. Not only does it seem to not now be taught directly, but maori pronunciations are mixed in to bamboozle students. My wife was a reading recovery teacher. I observed a few sessions and was convinced she would have done far better with the old phonics. Marie Clay worked the con of the century. Well paid recovery teahers worked/work expensively one on one to try and undo the damage, but as they also largely shunned/shun phonics often little is acheived. Phonics has the great merit of working in reverse; enabling words to be constructed. However the woolly MC method suits the non objective type of persons who now predominate in teaching because of the preference for teachers with woolly pro maori attitudes.

Anonymous said...

My nine and seven year old, who attend a Catholic parochial school, were recently told at a compulsory kapa haka class: “Maori is the most important language in New Zealand.”

My response: “That’s why 90% of the English words in current usage are transliterations from the Maori, right?”

When everyone present — including thr brown supremacist pidgin hobby language aficionados—speaks and understands English the point of the pidgin hobby language again was?

Robert Arthur said...

Incidentally, I doubt David's opening statement. It may apply to the tiny minority who read BV, but I think the degree of ignorance of the total population today is incredible and grossly underestimated. I suspect very few could explain He Pua pua, or the structure of 3 Waters etc. Despite information of sorts everywhere, the average person is far less informed than 90 or 100 years ago when they all read reasonably balanced newspapers. Now few receive or fully read newspapers and these assiduously avoid drawing attention to, or objective comment on, the insidious maorification and maori takeover generally. The power of prospective cancellation is immense and far reaching.
I have quoted previously the example of the much publicised recent rezoning as it applied to a 1920s Auckland suburban street of mostly middle aged well paid professionals. Despite the publicity, and potential very drastic effect on their expensive properties and lifestyle, only 2 of 25 owners had any grasp of the rezone conditions. The degree of understanding in more working class areas would likely be even more abysmal. I have no reason to believe the population somehow and for some reason keep themselves more informed on other matters of potential great moment. Especially as, with the limited info made readily available, these are not immediately so obviously likely to seriously affect them (although will).
Whilst the PIJFund is available, or political parties are likely to pay for advertisement, the msm are unlikely to adopt an objective critical stance, even as they sense the certain change of govt. The maori economy is now huge and boycott by that alone would be a disaster for msm..

Necia FRANCE said...

Recently on this Website, Caleb Anderson has given an excellent critique of the revised NZ School History curriculum, due to be introduced this year. He found it to be heavily weighted towards anti-colonialist ideology, & likely to have long-term effects on social harmony. It urgently needs rebalancing, but has received minimal public attention.
This proposed ‘refresh’ of our current Secondary Schools Curriculum, like our revised History Curriculum, underlies & nurtures Labour’s ongoing co-governance agenda. Since all main right-of-centre parties have opposed co-governance, it is vital that this issue be given prominence in their election manifestoes this year.

AlanG said...

The lunatics have truly taken over the asylum, which would not be too bad except in this case they are taking over the hearts, minds and educational future of our children. How are our children supposed to succeed, innovate, invent, and prosper when we are hamstringing them. The sad thing is that the truly gifted, and those with wealthy enough parents to buy their way out of the public system will still succeed, but will probably bugger offshore ASAP. While the remainder will be left wondering why they can't read, write, spell, do basic maths or get a serious job.
Who is doing this????
Who are appointing the experts???
Why is the media not reporting it??
Why hasn't National gotten hold of this and promised a new broom to sweep out all those responsible and to rescind the woke refreshed propaganda?
I was going to have my say but see that this was only open for comments until 2 December.
This is absolutely crazy, crazy stuff.

Mudbayripper said...

Dear Erica,
Hope you have had an enjoyable break from the pressures of political office over Christmas and new year's.
Bye chance, recently l came upon information regarding the New Zealand education curriculum refresh. This ideological policy will be inflicted upon the most innocent and vulnerable members of our society this year, I believe.
Please, I beg of you. Where do you and the National party stand on this outrageous indoctrination of children, already struggling to cope with basic learning.
Freedom of thought and expression are the basic cornerstone of a modern democracy. Coercion of young minds is unacceptable.
I've included a link to the new policy, although I'm sure you're fully aware of the text.
I would appreciate a reply to my concerns. I have grandchildren of whom I hold
great fear for their future's

Hi Geoff

Thanks for getting in touch. We are working on education policy at the moment and I’m aware of what’s been going on with the curriculum. National will follow and evidence based pathway - we want to know that any changes being made or that have been made are rooted in research and evidence. With our plummeting levels of literacy and numeracy we have an urgent turn around job to do and that will require a back to basics approach to both areas. I’m hoping we will be releasing policy in the next couple of months.

Kind regards

Erica Stanford

Above is an email exchange between myself and the National party spokesperson for Education.

Greg said...

"the PPTA confirms that......students of low decile schools perform much less well than those of high decile schools", -REGARDLESS OF RACE !
That implies that all races that attend low decile schools have the same problem.
So why are "we" making it a Maori race issue ?

Anonymous said...

Regrettably the first video link has been taken down. I've listened to a little of the others and, not unlike Geoff above, I am truly aghast. At least one of them refers to the 'Four Articles' of the Treaty, which is an indictment of the intellectual rigour and understanding of those that created it. All the talk of 'Aotearoa' the 'Crown /Mana Whenua partnership' and the totally Maori centric views underscores the revisionism, motivations and complete indoctrination planned. It's utterly outrageous, and we are truly doomed if this proceeds.

Anonymous said...

Imagine how many, many teachers feel. For the last two years (as lockdowns and authoritarian measures for covid were enacted) - we have been force-fed this steaming pile of nonsense. Professional development in my school has consisted of standing around and being told I am some kind of villain because I'm white - while self-identified Maori teachers sing kumbaya and talk in platitudes.

I for one will minimize all of this nonsense in my classroom down to the tiniest amount I can do and still maintain employment.

Don said...

OOPS! All this mumbo-jumbo Te Ao being jammed down our throats must be having an effect on our command of our own wonderful language. While agreeing with all that David says (after 50 years of secondary teaching service) should not the action described be an educational refreshMENT?

terry handcock said...

maybe this is why people aren't sending their kids to school and also the popularity of home schooling.