Education crisis – how bad has the system become and what can be done to repair it?

Dr Michael Johnston
The Front Page
23 March, 2023

A recent report revealed that a third of 15-year-olds cannot read at a basic adult standard.

Numeracy rates are similarly worrying, with many students battling to comprehend basic mathematics.

On top of this, chronic absenteeism has also been raised as a growing concern – especially after Covid-19 confined many students to their homes for extended periods over the last two years.

This all comes amid demands from teachers to be paid fairly for the work they do on a daily basis.

New Zealand Initiative senior fellow Michael Johnston has co-authored a new report called Save our Schools: Solutions for New Zealand's Education Crisis.

Joining The Front Page podcast, Johnston says that New Zealand has been dropping in rankings when compared to other OECD countries.

“We’ve had 20 years of Pisa, an international test run by the OECD that many nations participate in. When it was first run in the 2000s, we were very close to the top in reading and other aspects of education, but we’ve slipped down the ranks, and we now languish in the middle area.”

Johnston says that while New Zealand isn’t dreadful by international standards, we’ve dropped a long way from where we once were.

“Last year, data out of the Ministry of Education showed that of our 15-year-olds, only about two-thirds can read at a basic adult standard and just over half can do basic numeracy tasks at expected standards.”

Worryingly, these measures are even worse when socioeconomic backgrounds are taken into account.

“Only 2 per cent of young people in Decile 1 schools met the writing standard,” he says.

So, what can be done to rectify this decades-long decline? Are our teachers trained well enough? Should we consider paying our best teachers better salaries? Why is that private schools seem to outperform all other schools? And how do we stop financial access from determining the quality of education kids receive?

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