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Talk-ED: Being better at Rugby just won't cut it!


The headline read “Maori in Oz: Living the Good life”.  The article[1] detailed a Maori family who had shifted to Australia for the “good life” – well, at least a better life.  And that is what a University of Waikato study found and is reported in this article.

There are about 130,000 Maori living in Australia with about a third of them having been born there.  In 2011 there were more Maori in Queensland than in Northland apparently.  Not only that, the study claims that they are also likely to be better educated than those who stay in New Zealand.  Now, of course, there are many issues in comparing a sample of 130k in another country with the larger group who remain in New Zealand and in illustrating it with the story of one family, the study with just a little more evidence should be questioning what we are doing in Aotearoa New Zealand.

This blog has often dwelt on the issues of equity in New Zealand education and as with equity in the US and the UK and Australia (let’s not forget that!) the issue seems to stubbornly resist efforts to do something about it.

I would be reluctant to think that there is in New Zealand still a solid block of disbelievers who construct a view of New Zealand as the land of equal opportunity and a blessed country where we are all New Zealanders first and the accident of our heritage simply that.  But perhaps there is.  There certainly are those who while not staunchly believing the rosy glow of Shangri La view are something that approaches being apologists for the situation.  Explanations are offered, excuses are made, when-you-take-into-account- following-factors arguments constructed but still the indicators remain unchanged.

There is a process involved in addressing such issues.  First comes acceptance that there is an issue and then comes an understanding of it.  This is followed by an honest attempt to consider responses and solutions and the application of these to that little part of the education world that is within our orbit and influence.  Now comes the crunch – we have to really want changes to occur and accept that it is not necessary that in a country of a large number of “winners” there need not be “losers”.

Worse is the inactivity and failure to respond to the challenges in light of the fact that we know what to do.  There are in New Zealand many examples of programmes and approaches that are successful in providing more equitable opportunities.  We know a lot about the positive impact of bilingualism, the benefits of culturally inclusive teaching, the development of programmes that produce equitable academic results and so on.  Perhaps there is required a Royal Commission to bring all this together and to give it a status as the basis for action.

It galls me when Australia is described as “The Lucky Country” which implies that New Zealand is not.  We have so much going for us not the least of which is that of scale.  We could pretty well draw up a list of the names of the students who need that bit of extra help, the additional resource and the concerted help of the appropriate agencies.  And acting on this is the key to making New Zealand great and “the luckier country”.

Andreas Schleicher (Deputy Director OECD) who featured prominently in this blog recently has now returned to his home in Paris.  He has reflected on his experiences in New Zealand and especially on visiting three schools where the kind of education that brings equity was being practiced in schools that reflected best practice internationally.  He concludes…

For as long as I have been working with New Zealand there has been talk about equity.  But the results from PISA show that the school system is still far from delivering equity, in terms of moderating the impact of social background on learning outcomes.  Disparities are, if anything, on the rise.  The challenge for New Zealand lies in moving towards a culture of improvement, framed around not where schools are today but how they are advancing.  This is about attracting the most talented teachers to the most challenging classrooms and getting the best principals into the toughest schools, it is about developing diverse and differentiated careers for teachers and principals that recognize and reward improved pedagogical practice and the kind of professional autonomy in a collaborative culture that makes school systems cohesive.  It is about making sure that every child benefits from excellent teaching.[2]

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