Dumber kids or a stupid system?

MICHAEL LAWS
Last updated 14:14 01/12/2013

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OPINION: Sometime next week the OECD will confirm what most New Zealanders already suspect: that our schoolkids are getting dumber.

Comparatively, of course. The Asian nations, with their more ordered societies and education systems, have stolen another march on us liberal Kiwis. They have demonstrated that the old ways of learning - establishing the rote, bedrock first and creativity second - pay off.

Already the lemming laments of the left have started. Labour, and their teacher union bedfellows, are trumpeting the decline as caused by national standards. An obsession with testing, argues Labour's education spokesman Chris Hipkins. Rather forgetting that there's no more testing to national standards, just an attempted uniformity around reporting achievement.

To follow Hipkins' logic, teachers should be testing less. Which, again, fails to understand that unless you know what a child has learned, then you can't gauge if they are learning. Testing has been an integral feature of all primary school education from the year dot.

The Government has also identified that at Years 7 to 9 (the old Forms 1 to 4), there is "a hole", especially around maths and science. In fact, the problems will have started earlier - they are simply being identified at that age.

There's no surprise there. But, again, there will be many rather than specific causes.

The feral tail has really started to wag with regard to socio-economic underachievement. And we're not talking here about kids from poorer backgrounds - we are talking children being thrust upon the schooling system by parents not worthy of the name.

The ones who send their kids to school without lunch. Who dope and drink to distraction. Gang kids, transient kids, abused kids. Every school day of every school week, we expect our schools to somehow remedy vast deficiencies of parenthood.

Simply, impossible.

Then there's the rising number of behavioural problems - most with a name and a pill - that daily distract the classroom teacher. Whether psychological disorders or foetal alcohol/drug syndrome or anything in between, again we ask teachers to sort it out.

There's also the feminisation of the teaching profession - excessive and sexist.

Despite what liberals may claim, boys and girls are different. They learn at different rates and at different levels. Little wonder boys are failing in our education system when the system has tried to create a unisex environment.

Then there's the real problem. Money. Compared with other Organisation for Economic Co- operation and Development nations, we're a poor nation getting poorer. We export our brightest - we are a kind of educational Dannevirke. Nothing suggests that trend is reversing, if our tertiary institutes are any indication. In short, we're losing. And we can't spend the dollars that other nations can.

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So as all the experts, commentators, pundits and politicians deride themselves and national standards this coming week, they might all be asked a simple question: how come educational achievement was declining prior to national standards being introduced?

As education and experiences teaches us - most answers about the human condition are rarely one dimensional. New Zealand's schooling decline is a classic example.

- Sunday Star Times

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