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Dr Muriel Newman

Education in Need of Reform

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The performance of New Zealand school children in international tests has been falling over the years. Meanwhile, countries like Singapore have gone from strength to strength.  To address this paradox, I asked a leading Professor of Education in Singapore to explain what makes their education system one of the best in the world.

But first, some background.

The Programme for International Students Assessment (PISA) was established by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) in 2000 as a world-wide three-yearly study of the educational achievement of 15-year-olds. PISA test marks, which are scaled to an OECD average of 500, provide comparable data on student success in maths, science, and reading, to assist countries to improve their education policies.

In that first test in 2000, New Zealand came second in reading, third in mathematics, and sixth-equal in science. But over the years, we have dropped dramatically, with a 42 point fall in maths from 537 in 2000 to 495 in 2015, more than any other country; a 20 point fall in reading from 529 to 509, more than all except three other countries; and a 15 point fall in science from 528 to 513, more than all countries except eight.

The obvious question is what are the policy changes that could have caused our decline?

In fact there have been three major changes since PISA began – the introduction of the National Certificate of Educational Achievement (NCEA) in secondary schools from 2002, the replacement of the traditional knowledge-based curriculum with a new ‘progressive’ approach in 2007, and the adoption of National Standards in primary schools from 2010.

The NCEA replaced New Zealand’s traditional examination-based education system with a new system modelled on Scottish vocational qualifications, which applied competency based assessments to academic subjects. Between 2002 and 2004, School Certificate was replaced by NCEA Level One, University Entrance by NCEA Level Two, and University Bursary by NCEA Level Three.

Each NCEA qualification requires students to gain 80 credits, obtained through passing a mix of competency based unit standards – graded as ‘achieved’ or ‘not achieved’ – and achievement standards, derived from the New Zealand Curriculum and graded as ‘excellence’, ‘merit’, ‘achieved’ or ‘not achieved’. While some units are internally assessed during the year, others require external examinations.

However, the transformation of knowledge and academic learning into assessable competencies, has led to concerns that while students may succeed in mastering the tasks needed to achieve their unit standards, they may not be acquiring the background knowledge necessary for a deeper understanding of the subject. And that may help to explain our decline in the PISA tests, where students not only have to demonstrate an understanding of skills, but they have to be able to apply the knowledge to solve real-life problems.

The new “progressive” primary and secondary school curriculum, introduced by then Prime Minister Helen Clark in 2007, is thought to have made the problem worse. Strongly ideological, the new curriculum aimed at removing elitism from the education system, by replacing the traditional knowledge-based syllabus, with child-centred systems focussed on skills and competencies.

National Standards, on the other hand, were introduced by John Key’s Government to lift achievement in the literacy and numeracy (reading, writing, and mathematics) of primary school students through more clearly defining achievement at each year level. The idea was that by improving information about student progress – whether a child is above, at, below, or well below the standard – those who need more support can be identified for additional help.

Of the three policy changes, the NCEA appears to have had the most profound effect on educational outcomes, with critics like Emeritus Professor Warwick Elley worried that it is “dumbing down” an entire generation.

While it sounds counterintuitive, the NCEA can profoundly disadvantage those students who learn more slowly than others, since they tend to get directed into easier subjects that teachers think they can pass, rather than being allowed to grapple with the tougher challenges that could ultimately lead them to higher levels of attainment.

And at the other end of the scale, top students can also be disadvantaged, often cruising once they have reached the required standards, rather than being extended to reach their full potential.

A further complication, relates to the use of computers in schools. The OECD is now finding that countries like New Zealand, that have invested heavily in information and communication technologies to help improve student achievement, have instead caused a decline in their performance in PISA results. This is especially the case amongst at-risk students, who they believe would benefit more from achieving a basic proficiency in reading and mathematics, rather than learning how to use hi-tech devices.

The reality is that to help young minds develop, students need to master basic skills before they can expand their capabilities. Relying on computers and calculators too early interferes with such learning, making it far more difficult for these students to master more complex tasks.

As the OECD’s director for Education and Skills, Andreas Schleicher said: “Technology can amplify great teaching but great technology cannot replace poor teaching.”

New Zealand’s PISA test results have identified that major problems do exist with teaching – especially mathematics – with a 2010 study finding that a third of new primary teachers could not add 7/18 and 1/9.

Another international five-yearly test – the Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS) – found that our primary school students are not doing too well either, with 9-year-olds finishing equal last in maths amongst peers in developed countries in 2012. Almost a half of the children tested could not correctly add 218 and 191, leading the Minister of Education to reveal that a third of students hitting high school did not know their times tables, and had only a limited knowledge of division.

One of the factors identified as contributing to an increasing failure in mathematics teaching, is the Numeracy Project, which was introduced by the Ministry of Education in 2001, as a nation-wide professional development initiative.

For instance, instead of memorising the nine-times table so that children know that 6×9 is 54, the Ministry of Education’s NZ Maths Easy Nines resource, outlines three different methods that children can be taught to work it out:

Method 1 – Using my 10 times table: 6 x 10 = 60. One group of 6 less: 60-6=54.
Method 2 – Down a decade and digits adding up to 9: It will be in the 50s. 5+4=9, so it’s 54.
Method 3 – Using my 3 times table: 6×3=18. Double 18 is 36. Add 18 and 36 to get 54.

Such strategies, however, leave many children confused, and critics believe that the project – which is still running – has made the situation worse by failing to emphasise the importance of rote learning in the teaching of maths.

Worse, alternative number strategies have also been included in NCEA Level One numeracy unit standards, where US23738 requires students to “Use numeracy strategies to solve problems involving whole numbers”.

On their website, the New Zealand Qualifications Authority states that to gain the standard at least three different strategies are required to answer problems involving whole numbers, and the example given is as follows:

Problems will involve one step of calculation to solve but in demonstrating the strategy there will be more than one step in the solution. For example, some ways of solving 156 ÷ 4 could be:

Method 1: 160 ÷ 4 – 4 ÷ 4 = 40 – 1 = 39
Method 2: 120 ÷ 4 + 36 ÷ 4 = 30 + 9 = 39
Method 3: 78 ÷ 2 = 39

Such approaches have confused children, teachers and parents alike – and have contributed to the decline in basic maths.

So what is it that Singapore, which came top in maths, science and reading in the most recent PISA tests, does that is different from New Zealand?

First of all, Singapore, with its population of 5.5 million has a compact school system with 450,000 students, 33,000 teachers and 369 schools. With human capital regarded as the country’s most precious natural resource, the government spends 15.1 percent of its budget on education – second only to Defence.

In comparison, New Zealand has a population of 4.5 million and a more diverse education system, with 2,538 education providers, 53,861 teachers, and 776,815 students – including 1,963 state primary schools catering for 452,240 students, and 344 state secondary schools with 272,227 students. Education is the third biggest item of government expenditure, behind welfare and health, and accounts for 17.8 percent of the budget.

This week’s NZCPR Guest Commentator, Professor Sing-Kong LEE, of the National Institute of Education at Nanyang Technological University in Singapore explains a key difference between our respective approaches to education:

“The philosophy that underpins the Singapore Education System is that every student learns differently and each has different strengths. Hence for those who are academically-inclined, they will pursue the academic pathways whereas those who are more hands-on in their learning styles can engage in a pathway where more applied learning approaches can be adopted. The key goal is to ensure that every student will be adequately prepared with certain skills that will enable them to be employable and self-supporting in their life journeys. If this can be achieved systemically, then social issues such as those caused by unemployment, can be minimised.”

In comparison, our Ministry of Education states: “We want every New Zealander to be strong in their national and cultural identity, be an active participant and citizen in creating a strong civil society, and be productive, valued and competitive in the world.”

So while the fundamental concept driving education in Singapore is that every student must be employable and self-supporting, in New Zealand, our goals are primarily cultural and social.

Professor Lee outlines the design of their system: “The education pathways begin with 6 years of elementary school and 4 to 5 years of secondary school education. After 10 to 11 years of education, students can choose a vocational pathway through the Polytechnic route or the academic pathway through the Junior Colleges. Students on both the pathways can have an opportunity to pursue university education at the end of their study based on good academic results and career choices. Of the annual student cohort, some 30% will enter university, some 48% will pursue Polytechnic education while the remaining students will pursue technical education at the Institute of Technical Education.”

With all students in Singapore having the opportunity to ultimately pursue a university degree, irrespective of the initial pathway they choose, ‘foundational knowledge’ of Maths and Science in particular, is regarded as a priority.  

Professor Lee has provided an excellent summary HERE of the key success factors of Singapore’s education system. In particular, he explains the crucial importance of a quality teaching force: “While good school leaders drive the transformation of the learning environment, empowering teachers to be innovative and creative as well as being nurturing to the students, it is the teachers who have the most intensive interaction in the classrooms and who would have the most extensive impact on student learning outcomes.”

He identifies that every component within the system, from policy development through the Ministry of Education, to teacher training and professional development, to school leadership and teaching, to parent involvement and support, is aligned to ensure that each and every student achieves the national goals of education. He calls this the “distinctive strength” of the Singapore education system.

Without a doubt, Singapore’s education system, which is tightly controlled to ensure the greatest possible success for students, highlights many options for improvement in New Zealand. However, the first step is to admit that the problems we have are deep and systemic. If we want to remain competitive as a nation, quick fixes will not be enough – comprehensive reform is what is now needed. That first step may be the hardest for our education provides to take.


Should New Zealand consider replacing the NCEA?

Vote x 120

*Poll comments are posted below.


*All NZCPR poll results can be seen in the Archive.

Click to view x 120


Without a doubt, and the sooner the better. It is absolutely amazing that it hadn’t been replaced years ago. Ursula
NZQA/NCEA have failed we need to use International standards. I get the ex students on my training courses. By OZ competency standards they are not competent. A large number of 40 year old Kiwis are no longer literate, as a much larger % of my generation are. The majority people now clutching degrees cannot think, analyse or use their imagination. SO WHAT CHANCE THEIR KIDS!! Rick
The sooner we cut out the ‘cultural’ crap and ‘one size’ fits all approach, and get back to the 3 basic studies, the sooner we start getting A grade smart kids. Lee
Reformed yes, but not just rushed after the seemingly newest development in Education. Only after proper GLOBAL research. New development is good and can really improve our education; but their are many basic principals in the “Old” School system which is very essential still today. I came from the ‘old’ school system were we did Mathematics by hand, therefore you needed to know your tables & UNDERSTOOD method you need to use . Then I were at University were we was taught the importance methods how to explain Mathematics to children with different abilities to understand it and are able to use it especially in everyday life also. I am living in NZ already 18 years, but chose to Homeschool my children, using the ACE program, because of the uneducated teachers in NZ. Anna
It was never other than a sad attempt to avoid facing the reality that not all young people are the same and not all young people have the same abilities. As a result, our ablest students are denied a proper knowledge-based education and any real challenge to extend their minds. John
NZ has needed to change our ‘learning’ procedures for many years – in fact, we knew the NCEA system would not work – almost as soon as it was introduced. Our country is full of ignorant young and mid-age people who the current system has failed – Why our jails are over-full and we are swamped with “homeless” people — They didn’t have a chance to learn the BASIC abc’s., hence being unable to work for a living wage. Is any politician/party brave enough to correct this so-bad education system that we have. Elayne
The most basic skills need to be taught in school, phonetics for reading well and the learning of times tables for Maths. Eira
NCEA has never impressed me in any way. This all started back when my boys were in college over 40 years ago, when I was told by the teacher for my youngest son that “nobody fails today. there are just different levels of passing” I told him that he was talking rubbish, and which ever way you looked at my son’s achievement at that time, it was a dismal failure!!! Got me so mad. Up to the present time, and I have had a lot to do with my granddaughters development at school. Just as well because when my eldest Granddaughter brought some maths homework for me to help her with, I discovered she so confused the she had no idea about the relationship between _ x and / problems. I became the tutor and got her and her sister back on the correct path. One thing we did do with them was to make them learn, by rote, their times tables. So yes it really needs changing. “Cultural indoctrination/brainwashing” also needs to be stamped out. I have difficulty being told things by the kids that are clearly wrong, but seem to be compulsory maori mombo jumbo that has no place in schools. One of the [problems is that this crap is getting in the way of education as I understand it. Neil
No brainer. Why wouldn’t you replace something that never worked in the first place. Graeme
My son is doing his NCEA Level One this year and is trying to get his head around this sort of crap. I am doing my best to help him with his homework, but the sort of thing he is being brainwashed with at school means we arn’t even on the same planet when it comes to solving the problems he is given. Just another example of some jumped up little wanker in a cushy government department inventing a pointless new idea to try and justify his job. Urban
Having seen the education of my children, my grandchildren and my great grandchildren the current NZ education is not education at all. To correct this stupitety we must replace NCEA, and get rid of the teachers union. They only think about filling their own pockets without concidering the children. Next is educating the teachers. Most are nice people but need to know the basic subjects. Johan
Most definitely. The first and most important change would be to get rid of the arrogant Minister of Education. Watching her in Parliament with her manner (or lack of same) really gets me wound up . I notice in the comments received that very few people referred to students as “kids” unlike the Minister. If students or parents wish to have their children learn about culture let it be at their expense and in their time instead of forcing all students to be subjected to racist propaganda , a lot of which is not factual. Teach them, as primary students, to read (test their comprehension) write, arithmetic ( including times tables ) all without mechanical aids. Plus a bit of instruction in manners and discipline would not go astray. When they get to secondary school then introduce computers when they know how to read them. Terry
The results in educational achievement could also be explained by more immigration of people for whom English is a second language and thus less success in understanding what is being taught. Huria
Also need to get rid of the emphasis on Maori language and Maori history. English needs to be the official language of NEW ZEALAND. Monica
Its origin alone should tell us that it is no good. Roy
It is dumbing down our children. Fraser
Yes but any new system must be much better researched than NCEA was. Singapore’s success would be a good place to start. Albie
As an ( ex) teacher under this system I experienced the change in an impeccable aim to do the best. It is a very clumsy system that felt like it was designed by aspiring idealists. Peter
NCEA is a perfect example of socialism by stealth. The Marxist left who have infiltrated our universities, education department and central government have had outstanding success in the dumbing-down of our country. Our public schools and universities are cesspools which are brainwashing young New Zealanders with garbage that offers no useful foundation on which to build a successful future for themselves or the country. Bring back the Cambridge System …. there never was, nor is, anything wrong with it. Steve
It is failing our children. Kathleen
The NCEA is an umbrella qualification within the framework of a National Qualifications Framework. It is important to not equate this aspect of its existence with the way in which students are actually assessed in given subject areas, The NCEA can accommodate both internal and external assessment. I would like to see a further strengthening of external examinations but I am perfectly happy with the NCEA as an administrative framework. To abandon it would be to return to the fragmented qualifications scenario that preceded the NQF. Barend
Stop dumbing down our kids with cultural nonsense. Mitch
The current system has proved to achieve poorer results than the system it replaced and a key deficiency of that system was the lack of quality training of teachers and has never been due to lack of funding. John
We absolutely MUST. Failure to do so will send us hurtling towrads third worldom. Mo
If it wasn’t broken before! Why did it need fixing. Barry
Like the Singapore system. Jim
Not until we are sure that what we are replacing it with does actually work. We need trial data that is realistic and it must be rigorously tested. We also need to consider and express clearly what the aim of the education system is. Ann
All kids need the basics. Bryan
Obviously it is failing so go back to what worked. Eric
Change to a system that examines the ability of students at all levels. Peter
Its not working for the large number of students who are finishing their school education seriously deficient in literacy and numerical skills currently. John
This “dumbing down” system has clearly failed. Maurice
Absolutely – a grand exercise in mediocrity! Glenn
The Education system is going backwards and has been for years it seems to be gettiong worse instead of better so the NCEA needs to go. Digby
Reading your articles would certainly make it seem so – urgently. Craig
Ahat a complicated way to learn maths. It takes longer and I can’t see the sense for it. Anthonyandlois
Lets get back to education. Warren
Go back to what we had before the introduction of NCEA. For all its flaws it worked and was a system everyone understood. Kerry
I always thought NCEA was whole lot of politically correct BS. Brent
NZ needs to remove that stupid tool of dumbing down Kiwi kids. Go back to the fundamentals in mathematics, get rid of new maths, teach rote learning of times tables, go back to phonetics in teaching English, teach kids how to hold a pen and how to write. Teach them about language and how to use it, increase vocabulary, encourage reading and examine understanding by way of comprehension lessons. These days kids are useless at maths, writing, comprehension and their language skills are pitiful. The majority have no idea how to express themselves clearly in terms of written language. Teachers need to have excellence in all aspects of language skills and basic mathematics capability. Every other subject is secondary. Whatever learning style applies to each individual needs to be addressed by applying different learning styles across an entire class in the early years of learning and once a child’s learning style has been identified, then classes can be divided into academic and hands on, with levels of intelligence further separated into streamed classes. Add into this system effective systems of examination. Eliminate multi choice and make the students learn to use language skills to convey their achievements. People entering the teaching profession need to be educated before they are inflicted on students. Dianna
What was wrong with the system we had, but no scaling of pass results as in the past. Simon
But with what? Some other nambypamby idea pulled out of yet another policy ANALysts arse? In that case, feck off. Mark
I have noticed deficits in my grandchildrens education in comparison with my own particularly in maths and english. Laura
The facts would indicate that something needs to be done – if the system is broke,fix it. William
The philosophy that everyone is a winner is doing the the country a great disservice. The development of a competitive spirit, a desire not to be last, and a solid grounding in fundamentals that give the individual the ability to apply reason to solve problems would seem to be urgently required. Michael
Teach the children how to be interested in willingness and how to learn. Theodorus
I am a former teacher, who was forced out of the teaching profession. I sought to widen my own education that was frowned on by a system which hates people who challenge it. I am sometimes called on to tutor children who haven’t learned to read or do maths. As your commentary states , the children learn to use technology rather than learning valuable skills. No calculator, no computer and they are ineffective. Education is not glamourous,;it can be fun. Teachers (and their trainers) have rationalised their way out of the basics. Teachers today have more ‘teacher only days’ and preparation time than we had. Still they are not teaching children what children need. Time to look outside the ‘education box’. Listen to what employers want and need. Forget what children want. Without that our whole society is declinind drastically. Peter
Absolutely .. it has been a disastrous experiment. Maddi
The whole Education System seems to need a shake up from Year one through. Laurel
I consider that NCEA is an experiment which is a failure for most students – a dumbing down of students. Brian
Gramsci must be nearly falling out of his grave with laughter, observing the success of his tactics to totally umdermine Western Society. He has succeeded beyond his wildest dreams. For those that dont know of Gramsci’s tactics he was a socialist/ communist who was violently opposed to Capitalism but was astute enough to reaslise that to destroy Capitalism head on would not work It must be done by srealth. He designed a scheme whereby academic institutions would be slowly invaded by like minded socalists who would teach their poison to students who, in many cases, would become teachers themselves and thus the poison woild spread. When the average person who has a modicum of common sense sees changes to a system like education that as recently as 2000 is producing very good results by world standards then being changed by some nebulous, crazy, way out system that leaves you scratching your head as to why, well wonder no longer, the dead hand of Gramsci is guiding the ship……to it’s doom. You can clearly see these tactics at work throughout the Western World. Some countries are affected more than others but all suffer to some extent. Our Asian friends are far more astute and appear to be aware of what is going on. There is only one way to avoid these traps folks. At this point in our history many of us fear that the situation is hopeless. Look at where NZ is being led on racial issues, on social issues, on health etc.etc. Unless we take drastic action it really is hopeless. The Conservative Party has been rconstituted under a new leader, Leighton Baker, a self employed building contractoe from Rangiora and a very down to earth fellow with great values and a wonderful family. We must get in behind Leighton and the Conservatives and their main policy plank of Binding Referendum. With Binding Referendum incorporated into the Law of the country we, the people, will be in control. The politicians will have to listen and take notice. The People will dictate the laws of the country. NOT VESTED INTERESTS LIKE IWI AND THE TEACHERS UNIONS. This will enable our politicians to enact the common sense will of the People without their own courage and morals being called into question. Time is running out for the New Zealand we all know and love. The Conservatives can prevent the collapse of society as we know it with Binding Referendum. Get behind them. Ronmac
Education in NZ, thanks to the liberal left, teaches few real challenges assisting students to learn processes to aid and resolve those many real every day difficult and unexpected issues and challenges. “Lets just give all the snowflakes a pass and they will feel better.” Many are ill-equipped for real life challenges thanks to ‘today’s NCEA philosophy in which they believe everybody must always be given a pass mark.’ contrary to real life – which is not like that! Stuart
Most definitely – and for Pete’s sake, bring back rote learning. At age 81 I can still recite my times tables up to 12 times. Geoffrey
We certainly need to do something different, when students can come out of High School not being able to read, and a percentage of teachers can’t do some maths that an 80 year old can do mentally! Ted
NECA has been a total loss and just made students uneducated. Russell
The education system needs an overhall of NCEA. This seems to be a play-way system and is producing students often with little or no academic qualification suitable for NZ or Overseas. We need capable students with a general achievement levels to even begin trying for the known Universities outside NZ. These perfect education and allow more knowledge to be bought home. Elizabeth
I was involved in Education as a student at Dunedin Teachers College & Otago University from 1961 & retired 12 years ago from being a primary school teacher & Educational Psychologist for 34 years. I know & understand the education systems very well & have no confidence at all in the present system; I believe it needs replaced though I don’t know of any person left in NZ who could produce a model that would fit my expectations! Cyril
Absolutely. I have been involved with regional school science fairs for many years and have seen the decline since NCEA was introduced. Mark
The education hierarchy have known for years that the method was inferior. Once again no one will admit they were wrong to introduce it and susequently students come out dumb. Rex
Too much ‘cultural’ concentration is being taught in our schools. Little or no Science at primary or intermediate level. Too much ‘admin’ stuff for teachers. Singapore’s Educational System could (should) be considered seriously. Sheila
We can not afford to let any more children down. A sound education is vital to thier futures. John
As a retired teacher who trained back in the 1950s, I taught the three ‘Rs’ as we were expected to do. In my later career we were flooded with change with programmes like education for tomorrow and NCEA, each one introduced with new methods and solutions to every child’s problem. I distinctly recall discussions with advocates for replacing learning times tables by using a calculator as it seemed wrong to me. Interesting to see Dr. Newman touching on this subject. I taught grammar and correct English usage and was told that it was unnecessary so long as you could be understood. Now I listen to NZ on Air National Programme announcers with their careless mispronouncing and poor grammar and shudder. At one time radio announcers set the standards. Computers are wonderful for broadening knowledge and learning, but not much use if you lack the reading ability to understand what is written and it is less able student who will be let down by not developing a love and ability to read. They will likely be the most likely ones to have not had the experience of sharing reading with a parent at a young age. The pendulum always seems to swing too far where change is involved. Chris
If our education outcomes are dropping back compared with those of other countries it is clearly time for a change of direction. If Singapore’s education system is so markedly better in serving its students then we should see what we can learn from that and give our youngsters a chance to be equally successful in the world. Rob
Mathematics especially and unnecessarily complicated – back to the basics of memorising times tables etc, etc. Barbara
As an employer prospective employees aren’t fronting with the basic skill for employment. Reading, writing, arithmetic they can’t even fill out a time sheet! Michael
There is so much we should learn from Singapore, i.e law & order, & obviously education. Our 21st century teachers have to teach 18th century values to our 21st century children, They are forced to teach theories as facts, when these theories cannot be proven. Our education system has taught our children how to do a haka, but they have no idea what it takes to be successful in the world in which we live to-day.. A.G.R.
Replace the NCEA along with the Primary Teachers Union, who cause all this problem as all they are doing is protecting there job, make it competitive & you will see results. Geoff
The old system was far from perfect but it was replaced by a dog in NCEA. Jeff
Most definitely yes. I ponder as to whether our poor teaching methods are the result of trial and error or the result of a deliberate dumbing down ! A dumbed-down populace is easier controlled, e.g. authoritarian Confuscianism and its obedience to higher authority currently being taught in some of our schools in readiness for future communist Chinese control ! Nothing substantial is going to change until the statists are out of the classroom at the highest level. I don’t think I will live long enough to say…… And don’t say I never told you so ! Good and bad or rational and irrational ideas always start at the top ! ) Don
We have to improve our basic level of education. Monty
But with what? Why don’t we let the free market decide? Larry
The whole education system needs a total review as it is obviously failing and was doomed to fail from the very start. Other countries threw the NCEA type system out because it failed but our dumb educational experts said no we think it will work. We need to get some rational thinkers making and running educational policy not just feel-gooders. Had a quick look at those maths examples. No wonder our NZ maths performance has gone out the back door. There is no logical rationale behind some of the methods. We need to get back to reading writing and arithmetic basics. The three R’s as they are called. Kevin
And improving the quality of our teachers. Tom
I consider myself fortunate that my school days were completed before calculators, cell phones and computers were invented. The teachers knew their jobs and could answer arithmeterical questions, were competent spellers and made learning interesting. A far cry from teachers I met when my children started school. Open classrooms, pupils left to choose their own subjects they wished to learn. This was in the primers. Young minds need constructive guidance at an early age and to do this they need to learn together. ie, the times tables. chanting them first thing every morning soon had all the class able to answer any question asked of them. Those days there was only the one way taught to do long multiplication and division. By the time I got to High School I felt well equipped with the basics to carry on my learning. This is in a complete reversal to the education my grandchildren are currently receiving. On asking my 12 year old grandson if he knew his times tables as yet. His reply astounded me. No, we have computers to do that for us. Thats when I could see our education system is failing. If children are not being taught the basics, what else are they missing out on. Dennis
Immediately. Colin
I have always regarded the NCEA system as inferior to what it replaced, even as far back as the “new maths” that confused many students when it was introduced. Ron
Go to the Baccalaureate system. Susan
Taught and examined to international standards. Francis
Time to restore proper testing of pupils ability and knowledge. Peter
Let the Primary schools rebuild their teaching strategies from 1980s and 1990s when they were at their peak before constant Ministry interference and lack of trust in teachers. Levonne
It is now 1`77 years since the signing of the Trreaty of Waitangi, and still we procrastinate with our children’s education. The Singapore system holds merit, but I say get (say) 6 top educational people together and ask them what is the best way to get the best out of our children’s education. Do it now, not just before the next election, or after, do it Now, and start off by teaching them the true history of New Zealand’s history, not the pack of lies which is politically expedient! Kevan
I think NZ needs to do more research into other systems used by other english- speaking countries in the the Commonwealth that have deliberately moved away from PC associated crap that NZ seems to be indoctrinated beliefs led by the Unions and teachers. Neil
YES! It’s a shambles. I’d like to see it “gone by lunchtime”. Martin
We definitely need to put in place the quarterly Ministry of Education meetings with a group of parents,this would allow better communications and systems developed. JC
Eliminate politics? And Unions which are dragging down the quality of education in this country. I had a poor teacher for maths at a NZ Grammar School about sixty years ago. That loss was never recovered…yet my son is a world-class mathematician., which more or less proves my point. It is the basic grounding in any subject which provides the foundation for life-long learning. Some of the current maths teaching is so daft and puerile that I t makes my lousy rotten teacher of all those years ago sound like a genius. The alternative maths example you have given make me cringe. Cultural garbage.? Can that too. Bring back Knowledge-Based learning. Noted in the UK and other places overseas that any discussions on literature and language is beyond the level of most visiting New Zealanders. This country’s educational product, apart from the few whose parents seek out and if necessary purchase an alternative plan, is simply going backwards downhill on quite possibly, a skateboard??? The standard of our newspapers is also sinking … errors , presumably nobody now sub-edits anything? Don’t reporters have to learn how to construct a sentence.? I fear for the grandchildren’s future., educationally, really I do. If NCEA has failed to produce results which will benefit the growing minds of our growing children, then maybe the time has come to rethink the whole process of syllabi, teaching, evaluating, and producing young people of holding their own place in this ever-changing world. Not just in downtown Nowhere Much in NZ??? Mabel
It has downgraded our education system and definitely disadvantaged the brighter students. Patricia
The existing system has proved now to be ineffective. When I was at grammar school in the UK back in the 50’s, we had two streams. Academic and practical but still an avenue to university. Mike
This curriculum not only benefits girls over boys, trying to change boys into girly creatures, it also significantly lowers the educational levels of both groups. See: http://www.americanthinker.com/articles/2017/03/


Cambridge is better. John
The problem in my view in NZ is that we are placing to much emphasis on cultural and racist policies in schools instead of basic teaching pupils basic maths by the times table method. Teaching English not TeReo which is not a international language and is of little use in the big world outside of New Zealand. Not allowing Computors or Calculators unlit secondary education go back tohe old system of school Certificate and most definitely get rid of the nonsense NCEA. David
Does seem to bring a lot of controversy. Ray
Yes. We do need education reform in New Zealand but I doubt if our politicians, especially those of the left, have the courage and determination to do it. “The teacher unions won’t allow it?” Well we can have education reform by bringing in school choice where the funding follows the child. Swedish parents managed to do this some decades ago and resisted attempts by a following government to stop it. It’s not rocket science. A school hoping to attract pupils sets out its philosophy, teaching style, values and an outline of the knowledge and skills to be taught at each class level. A parents who agrees with the organization of the school enrolls their child there – assuming there are vacancies. Children are not clones and school do not have to be clones either. After covering essential Reading, Language and Maths knowledge and skills they could have in place a particular specialization – such as Science. Sport, Foreign Language, Music or the Arts. Schools should be allowed to chose aspects of the curriculum which have been successful in other countries – some of whom spend less than we do on education funding per child. I was a primary school teacher when Tomorrow’s School new curriculum was imposed on schools. A clear Plain English curriculum was replaced by volumes of almost unreadable garbage – strong on Maori perspectives but weak on specific objectives for specific class levels. Good resources such as Maths textbooks and Science booklets were thrown out and replaced with nothing. The so called Ministry of Education was in effect a Ministry of Educational Obstruction. In my final years I read with envy the philosophy and content of the Singapore Primary curriculum – a competent statement of educational ideals combined with clear objectives and pathways to learning. No wonder its education system is so successful and respected. At another time and another country I taught children using some of the International Primary Curriculum. It also was marked by clear definition of aims and the pathways to achieve learning. I am sorry for out New Zealand badly let down by people who were trusted to make education decisions in their interests. Parents, you want education reform? Then you are going to have to made it a non negotiable election issue. Vested interests don’t want it but you as parents are the child’s first educator and a taxpayer funding the school system. So bring it on! Denis
If the maths example is typical of the way in which our children are being tought then it is time to review our system. How confusing!!! Peter
In my view it has been a crock from the start. Murray
The key to learning is simplicity. Bill
NCEA doesn’t work, we’re going backwards. Glenn
The NCEA has failed in its objectives. Gary
And, obviously, change the emphasis from cultural to excellence in teaching/learning. Alan
Replacing it would probably do more harm than good. Perhaps the cultural differences in Singapore make a big difference. How many kids in Singapore are telling teachers to F@#k off? They’d probably get 50 strokes of the rattan. Trevor
We want all our students to become employable and self supporting. Otherwise our country is doomed to having increasing numbers of people on the dole. How many can we stand before we collapse as a self sufficient Nation? Ross
It inhibits students striving for excellence with its fuzzy grading system. Willy
When I was living in Singapore in the early 1990’s my two eldest daughters started their schooling there. I got them into the local education system rather than the International Schooling system. It wasn’t easy as an expat, but because my wife was Malaysian Chinese we were finally able to. The older daughter started in Primary 1 and the younger one started in the PAP kindy. Even at kindy they were given class positions at the end of each term. Yes reading and writing started in Kindy and they had to take a second language called mother tongue, ie Mandarin, Tamil or Malay. There was homework that consisted of spelling, times tables and sentences where the best fit missing words had to be inserted. It was classic rote learning. But it worked! There were little tests every week and then larger term tests. When we returned to NZ and I showed their work books to NZ teachers, it was met with almost shock and horror. It was terribly formal and the NZ education would be far broader and better. Every year when we traveled back to Singapore for Chinese New Year and we saw what my children’s cousins of the same age were doing and how far ahead they had moved it was so frustrating. Thankfully the start they had in Singapore put them at the top of their classes on our return although I had to fight and change schools to stop our eldest daughter from being held back a year as her birthday was in July and they thought she was too young. They both continued learning Chinese at a school on Sunday afternoons run by the Chinese community here in Wellington. Both ended up with double degrees, one now lives in Brisbane and the other is living back in Singapore. We can learn a lot from Singapore not just on Education but also welfare and crime. Rob
Forget culture and concentrate on facts. Mary
We need to go back to a simple examination system with marks or percentages given. This will result in greater competition between students and better assessment of what they need to do to improve. Leon
Learning would improve by culling out poor teachers. Bernard
NCEA has dumbed down education as students do less and have to retain smaller amounts of information for shorter time. Teachers also ‘help’ students pass to keep schools results up to required pass rate. Terry
NCEA is dumbing down the education system it been designed to make everyone equal and of course that is not the case! We need a system that brings out the best at all levels. Les
“the fundamental concept driving education in Singapore is that every student must be employable and self-supporting, in New Zealand, our goals are primarily cultural and social.” This is the bottom line and the obvious result is the unemployable, ignorant no-hopers who embark on a life of crime and expect the stae to sustain them through life.state Alan
The first objective is to focus on the desired outcome in positive language, not wishy washy nebulous waffle. The second key objective is to develop a programme of education that is structured around achieving the objective. It is worth noting that many major schools with a strong record of academic achievement enroll their pupils in recognised overseas examination programmes. The comparison with Singapore is interesting. Singapore does not have the social welfare programmes that New Zealand does and everyone is expected to provide for their own retirement. The message to each individual is, the world does not owe me a living. Peter
It is too wide reaching with too little substance. David
Education is the answer for our children. We must get the sums right to achieve that answer. Fred
Schools need to revert back to teaching READING, WRITING and ARITHMETIC PLUS MANNERS and RESPECT. Using mobile phones whilst in company of others at meal times is not only very RUDE but shows lack of MANNERS also abbreviating and phonetic spelling is damaging speech methods, and how to interact with others in the correct manner. MARYLIN
Because ncea is a load of crap dreamt up by idiots. Richard
We are failing our society.education is driven by too many PC people. Colin
The results are obvious as we slip down the PISA and other ranking. A whole generation is being dumbed down and the teachers unions are not helping by being against partnership schools which are actually helping some of the more disadvantaged children. Yet another example of Government run cock upped system Colin
Go with the best system. Alex
If NCEA had not been been ignorantly propped up it would have been dead by now! Jack
I have yet to be convinced that the system has delivered – those who have succeeded were always going to succeed . I have always believed in a solid basic 3 Rs as being the foundation for higher education – what is so difficult for the academic socialists among us to understand? Rob
It would appear that more than NECA needs replacing in the education system . Surely cultural performance and understanding one’s background needs to be an add on like sport or music lessons, and attended to as after-school activities. It’s an absolute disgrace that children in New Zealand are getting such poor education, despite the huge amount a money spent on it. Lorraine
They need to return to the old way. Colin
Some subjects contributing to NCEA results overall are farcical. Bruce
We could use the British exam system, initially at least, like many of our private schools do. Hilary
The NCEA system needs to be looked at. Kids in Singapore study hard. As a lot of Kiwi kids are so layed back and don’t care. So to have a system like in Singapore our children need to demonstrate the power to sit down and learn. Teacher training is very much need. Some teachers don’t have their mines in the system or fine it hard to get through to some of the children. Yes look into the system of NCEA and if change is needed make sure it is designed well for to days world of education. Robert
Time to follow with insight not blind cultural faith/dogma. Collin
There is far too much assessment and far to little teaching in so-called education today. It seems that often the assessors assume the kids know something and simply assess them instead of teaching them content and context first. This applies to NCEA as well as the whole unit standards structure that tests individual concepts without establishing the interrelationship between these concepts. Alan
Absolutely – it has been a disaster. Brian
Yes, we should look at replacing it but we need to make sure that what is introduced is better. It is easy to ruin lives if this sort of policy is badly designed and implemented. Jackie
The NCEA has been hopeless. It has dumbed down education and destroyed young lives. Michael
There is a massive skills shortage because of the NCEA. Kiwis are no longer able to compete. Graeme
The whole education system needs a complete overhaul including the curriculum, the exam system, and teacher training. The stranglehold of the unions on education needs to be broken. Peter