The education system needs solutions – The Gisborne Herald

Posted on 02 May 2022 13:26

Young people are the future and a good education is apparently a passport to the future. If that’s true, there’s cause for concern given the current state of our compulsory school system.

Reports of declining literacy and numeracy levels among 15-year-olds have recently resurfaced, understandably raising concerns about the state and future of compulsory education.

According to the latest PISA report, the academic achievement levels of our Grade 11 students in science, literacy and numeracy have declined over the past 18 years. New Zealand pupils have fallen in the ranks for all three subjects, particularly visible in mathematics; from 4th out of 41 countries to 27th out of 78 countries.

Literacy and numeracy skills provide the foundation for participating and functioning in modern societies. Given the low levels of academic achievement of secondary school students in core subjects like math, this raises questions about the purpose of education today.

Our longstanding decline in academic achievement is not new. Successive governments and policy makers have failed to pay particular attention to the needs of our compulsory education sector.

The shortage of teachers, the burnout of our educators, the declining academic performance rates of primary and secondary students on absolute and relative indicators all point to a declining education system that requires urgent attention and solutions.

The pandemic has exposed gaps in our school system, from the digital divide to resource issues that have left some learners behind. Teacher workloads have also been increased to compensate for missed learning during the closures.

Our ongoing recovery from Covid-19 has focused primarily on health and the economy. I would say education is an essential part of the conversation.

We now have a great opportunity for those leading our education sector to look at what has been lost throughout the pandemic and the past 20 years, and build on what has been gained.

The recently released Literacy, Numeracy and Communication Strategy demonstrates the positive work of the Department of Education to address our literacy and numeracy challenges.

Strategies and policies are necessary but have often proven to be just that – words on paper with no real practical results for the front lines.

Our response to Covid-19 and the history of the education system has taught us that centralized bureaucracies do not – cannot – provide all the answers. Nor do policies delivered in charismatic communication results that fail to deliver good results.

If we consider the proof is in the pudding, what are we baking? Our recipe seems to produce a deterioration in reading, writing and calculation levels.

It is time for those responsible for our compulsory education sector to start thinking outside of bureaucratic parameters. More than ever, it is necessary to consider solutions such as decentralization and the amplification of the local voice. We must empower and empower those who know their local schools, communities and students best.

The future of our tamariki deserves precisely that – our best efforts to ensure a well-functioning education system that works and delivers positive outcomes for all learners.

‘Alapasita Teu