Let's talk about NZ's education system

Morrinsville College principal John Inger.
Morrinsville College principal John Inger.

New Zealand's education system is ''past its use-by date'' and it's time to have a public debate about its future, a Waikato principal says.

The comments come after New Zealand's education rankings plummeted in all core subjects, according to a new Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) report.

The report, released Tuesday, found the country has fallen from seventh to 18th in science, from 12th to 23rd in maths, and from seventh to 13th in reading.The figures were based on the Programme for International Student Assessment. Just over 4000 15-year-old Kiwi students took part in the test, done every three years.

Morrinsville College principal John Inger, who has been in the profession for more than 30 years, declined to comment on the findings, but said the education system was outdated and an overhaul was needed to engage students living in the 21st century.

''We are at a stage where there needs to be a public debate about education. The reality is that our current education and assessment systems are past their use-by date. We as schools need to have a future-focussed education,'' Mr Inger said.

''The continued belief that what served politicians well and what served the general public well when they went through school certainly doesn't apply now that we're in the midst of a Knowledge Age. The whole concept of knowledge has changed.''

He was unsure whether New Zealand had taken a backwards step or whether other OECD countries had improved at a greater rate. ''In my view, teaching hasn't deteriorated.''

Matamata College principal Alan Munro said while the drop in the rankings was disappointing, the results were only a ''snapshot'' of one group of students at one time.

"If we got every 15-year-old in New Zealand to do the same test tomorrow, they'd probably end up with a different result.''

Hillcrest High School principal Kelvin Whiting, who is also on the Secondary Principals' Association executive, said a multitude of factors - poverty, student engagement, attendance and teaching - would have contributed to the decline.

Post Primary Principals' Association president Angela Roberts blamed the government's narrow focus on tests and results, and a lack of funding.

''Our government has been paying much less for our secondary schools than all the other high performing countries and we've kept up with them - but you can't sustain that over time,'' she said. ''There have been a lot of bad decisions made and now it is time for a re-think.''

Education Minister Hekia Parata said education standards had been slipping for some time and the OECD report was not a surprise.

''The things that we've been doing as a government have been focussed on fixing that."

But Labour education spokesman Chris Hipkins said the drop in rankings was a sign that the government's approach to education wasn't working. ''National's obsession with constant testing and assessment is taking up so much teacher time they actually haven't got time to do what they're there to do - teach.''