It’s bad enough driving to work on a wet morning on a wet Monday on a wet motorway without having to flick on the radio and listen to an educational leader complaining about how wrong it is of Ministry of Education CEO, Lesley Longstone, to draw attention to the fact that the New Zealand education system has flaws which challenge its claim to be a world class system.
In the Foreword to the MOE Annual Report, Lesley Longstone paints a picture that is thoughtful and based on analysis of the facts. Unpalatable that might be to some, but until the problem is articulated the solution is unlikely to follow. The willingness of the MOE CEO to put it clearly is to be applauded.
Essentially, her argument is this. New Zealand achieves high results with a significant proportion of its student population and these students are predominantly Pakeha and Asian. In this respect the system is world class. This generalisation masks the fact that there are in our system Pakeha and Asian students who are not getting good results. That’s how generalisations work.
Now the other generalisation is that with Maori and Pasifika students, our system is not getting good outcomes and in this respect our education system is not world class. It is clear in the Foreword that her time in the New Zealand system has led her to believe that the issues that this raises are of such a proportion that we can simply lay no claim to being a world class system overall.
I have pointed out that our system is bipolar for a long time and was once rapped across the knuckles for doing so. But the facts have been there for a long time and PISA among other surveys continues on further analysis to show just that.
In a different analysis delivered to a West Auckland gathering convened recently she is reported By COMET Auckland to have described it in these terms:
“Lesley Longstone’s boldest remarks were about the overall quality of our education system. Before she arrived in New Zealand, she understood our education system to be excellent, with a tail of underachievers. After looking at the data, has revised her view and believes our system is fair with pockets of excellence. When we disaggregate the data, international results for Pakeha are among the very best in the world. But for Maori and Pasifika we are on par with the worst in the OECD. Our education system is at bottom in the OECD in its ability to mitigate against poverty and poor education outcomes. It matters for all of us because it has both social and economic implications. Data from the USA says the impact of the tail of underachievement in our education system is equivalent to a permanent recession.”
There is a consistency in this and I am quite clear in my mind that she is right. How can a world class education system continue to produce the following outcomes:
- 21% of students leave the system prior to their 16th birthday;
- Truancy runs at high levels (10%, 30,000 a day – there are a lot of figures tossed around for this);
- 50% of people who start a tertiary qualification fail to complete it;
- Educational outcomes for Maori and Pasifika students (groups that are rapidly increasing proportionately in our school system) are clearly and dramatically behind those for Pakeha (a diminishing group) and Asian (a growing group).
The fellow complaining about Longstone’s analysis of course adopted the Finnish Default argument saying that a recent visitor from Finland had noted a number of features in our system that he was impressed with and wanted to consider their place in the Finnish way of working. This is absolutely how it should be. But one, two or even a dozen swallows do not a summer make. I have studied the Finnish system closely and it is unlike ours in a large number of very fundamental ways. We could do well to take note.
Finland has the smallest gap between schools of any system – perhaps it is us that should be asking them how to it is so. None of the other higher ranking systems other than the Anglophone ones have the rather negative outcomes listed above. A world class education system delivers sound educational outcomes for all its citizens.
Intellectual honesty and a willingness to face the reality of the situation is the only sane way in which we might get improvement in our education. To continue to do the same thing and expect different results is simply a clinical diagnosis of madness.