You can still find studies that proclaim us to have one of the best education systems in the world – 9th equal, if you believe, which drilled down into World Economic Forum education data last year.

However, other reports show the standard of literary and numeracy of our kids is either declining or being overtaken by other countries, depending on which study you read.

The Trends in Mathematics and Science study has been running for more than 20 years.
Every four years, hundreds of thousands of kids from around the world are assessed on their competence in mathematics and science.

In 2015, the last time the evaluations were held, 580,000 year 5 and year 9 students from 57 countries participated in the tests – so it’s a fairly comprehensive study.

It found Kiwi kids scored lower than all other kids from predominantly English-speaking countries except in Year 9 science.

Educators say we shouldn’t be too alarmed. When you compare the results with the previous round of testing, New Zealand childrens scores weren’t significantly lower – it was just that other countries had done better, putting us below the global median.

I’d have thought that would definitely be cause for concern.

The Progress in International Reading and Literacy study came out this week – run by the same international organisation as the TIMSS study – and that, too, has some alarming news.

Kiwi children’s reading levels have dropped to the lowest level on record. We’re 32nd out of the 50 countries.

Without wishing to introduce too many studies and statistics – after all, if Kiwi kids are hopeless at maths, it’s probably because their parents are, too – these results do not bode well for the next round of international testing involving the world’s 15 year olds.

The OECD has the Programme for International Student Assessment (Pisa), which evaluates teenagers’ abilities in maths, literacy and science. In 2015, half a million 15 year olds from 72 countries sat the tests and although New Zealand kids held their own – 12th in science, 10th in reading, 21st in maths – unless educators find a way to shore up the gaps in our children’s knowledge, the Pisa test in 2021 will make for grim reading.

I very much doubt the passion for innovative learning environments (ILEs, the classrooms formerly known as modern learning environments) is going to help improve our children’s education, either.

The Ministry of Education has said that by 2021, all classrooms will be ILEs.

I know it makes you sound a 1000 years old when you don’t get on board with the latest educational fad – at least I haven’t started a sentence with “In my day” – but I’ve heard horror stories from parents and teachers about these huge open plan classrooms where up to 100 kids are taught by several different teachers.

Those in favour say the ILEs mean teachers can group different children together to allow for different learning styles, that they foster independent learning and teachers can work collaboratively for the good of the class.

Critics say it’s like factory farming children. That children will get lost in the system and the classrooms are noisy and chaotic. If a child has a specific learning problem, if they are on the ADD spectrum or have hearing problems, forget about it.

Our children’s education is too important to be affected by fads and competing ideologies.

I’d love to see the Government de-politicise education and work with all parties and experienced educators in formulating a best-practice charter for teaching children.

Are open plan classrooms really the best way for children to learn? Is it important to teach to National Standards? How do we best teach children with different learning styles?

And I’d love all parents to be passionate about their children’s learning and not just leave it to schools to be the teachers.

Read to your kids, talk with them, and let them know that wherever they’ve come from, a good education is the pathway to a better future.

Kerre McIvor is on NewstalkZB Monday-Friday, noon-4pm.

Source: NZ Herald


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