The peak accumulative achievement of 13 years of primary and secondary education in New Zealand is the attainment, or otherwise, of University Entrance. Comparative results for demographic groups in this qualification are a significant indicator to the balanced qualities of the New Zealand education system. The verdict? We fail badly. Students from Asian homes have a 70% pass rate. From European homes only 45%. Māori and Pasifika homes around 20%. These types of statistics are repeated across all manner of education and social measures.
The Labour government’s first response to this was to appoint a review group into Tomorrow’s Schools. This could have been good but they started by taking the New Zealand public and education sector for idiots by calling it “independent” and then appointing five people led by a Labour Party electorate chairman and former PPTA executive that was incapable of any divergent or creative thinking to solve the real problems. Their bland, ineffective, unworkable and control-based report could have been easily predicted. The report could be written off as being hopeless but it is also dangerous in that Minister Hipkins may choose to implement recommendations that will cost the taxpayer millions and achieve, at best, nothing for our young people.
I have done some research into the taskforce’s “research” and last Thursday I attended a well patronized “debate” to hear taskforce chair Bali Haque and Dr Cathy Wiley. The first cause for concern (apart from who was on the taskforce) was the way they went about their research. By my calculation they visited approximately 18 schools and most of the teachers they spoke to were recommended by the NZEI or PPTA. Haque’s defense of this was that other schools could have contacted them. The report and the recommendations are so bad that Minister Hipkins would enhance his reputation and career by simply saying that these five people got it very wrong and let’s start again.
Haque’s summary report mentioned the word “equity” eight times and the word “excellence” only once. Towards Māori and Pasifika young people and their families it is condescending in the absolute extreme. It assumes that the only way for our system to look fair is to hold back the excelling schools and install massive bureaucratic control. Haque completely misunderstands, or misrepresents, the word competition in NZ education. Often it is simply a school doing a great job and parents wanting their children to be a part of that. International measures have NZ Asian and European children in the higher echelons of achievement. What Māori and Pasifika youth need is a massive focus on very high achievement and genuine excellence. There are schools that are achieving this – for instance Tauranga Boys College where in 2017 the results of Māori exceeded that of other groups (Haque didn’t visit them).
Haque has misunderstood the problems and paternalistically proposed awful solutions. He has a “30 year plan” when a five year plan, with great increments on the way is needed. Focus very hard on the secondary schools with a very high proportion of Māori and Pasifika students and expect the very best results – a level of excellence at least matching those of Asian students. Like Asian students most of these students bring a remarkable culture and the brain benefits of being bi-lingual. Many of the Pasifika and Māori students I have worked with have developed an intellect that I am in awe of. People speak of “appropriate pathways”. Many of those, including Minister Hipkins, appear to be locked in the 1960s – 80s. As a teacher trainee in 1990 I came across a Social Studies textbook that said; “without the Māori labourer – where would we be for roading in New Zealand”.
The appropriate pathway for our Māori and Pasifika students is medicine, engineering, law, commerce, science, study overseas and a raft of high level, high intellect and high remuneration careers. “Equity” in New Zealand education is the “soft bigotry of low expectations” and the Haque report is the worst example of it I have seen. New Zealand parents and educators – of all ethnicities – needs to put it in the bin.