Media Release: OECD confirms Kiwis' continued educational decline

Media Release
3 December, 2019

Confirmation came today that New Zealand’s once world-leading school system continues its steady decline.

Ever since the OECD began testing the educational performance of 15-year olds in the early 2000s, New Zealand has performed progressively worse in all three assessed areas of reading, maths and science.

The troubling trajectory was confirmed again today with the release of the results of the OECD's 2018 Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) testing round.

From its position in the early 2000s up near the top of the table alongside Finland, Canada and Japan, New Zealand’s scores have since fallen both absolutely and relative to other countries.

As Initiative Research Fellow Briar Lipson explains

“Nowadays, our scores in maths are only just above the OECD average, and far behind those of England, the Netherlands, Canada, Estonia and Poland.

“Since 2006, our 15-year olds’ reading scores have dropped by 15 points, science scores by 22 points and maths scores by 28 points. Mindful that thirty PISA score points are roughly equivalent to one years’ worth of schooling this means that on average, in maths, 15-year-olds today are almost one school-year behind where they would have been had they been born just over a decade earlier.”

In the lead-up to the data-release today, Andreas Schleicher, who leads the OECD’s education programme, published a blog about his visit to the Michaela Community School in London. Michaela, a charter school serving a highly disadvantaged part of North West London, is run by Kiwi-born headmistress Katharine Birbalsingh. Last year the New Zealand Initiative brought Birbalsingh to Auckland to inspire education and business leaders with her common-sense, teacher-led and highly effective approach to educating disadvantaged children.

As Lipson explains: “In the write-up of his visit to Katharine’s extraordinary school, Schleicher is at pains to describes how its success is built on teacher-directed instruction, not the learner-focused nonsense so beloved of politicians and the educational establishment in New Zealand.”

In Schleicher’s own words: “[T]eacher-directed instructional practices tend to better predict student achievement than student-oriented learning. Some consider this a statistical fluke; but it has been a consistent finding… others suggest that teacher-directed instruction only prepares well for tests predicated on recall and memorisation. But that’s not what PISA is about; to do well in PISA, students have to be able to extrapolate from what they know, think across the boundaries of subject-matter disciplines, apply their knowledge creatively in novel situations and demonstrate effective learning strategies.”

The Initiative maintains that it is high time New Zealand stopped burying its head about our declining performance.

Said Briar Lipson: “Our scores have been falling steadily since 2000. We kid ourselves and sell our children short when we fail to confront the myths that underpin our national curriculum and lofty ‘learner-centred’ ideals.”

Briar Lipson is available for comment, please email or phone her on 022 4791 755 

Simone White, Communications Officer
P: 04 494 9109 / 021 2937 250

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