The (education) Empire strikes back

Roger Partridge
Insights Newsletter
16 October, 2020

Last week the Initiative took aim at those presiding over the country’s education system. For nearly two decades Kiwi students have suffered a steady decline in performance. Where once our school system was the envy of the world, now it is barely mediocre.

The report, New Zealand’s Education Delusion: How bad ideas ruined a once world-leading school system, places the blame squarely on the education establishment. Author Briar Lipson writes there is a “rot at the core of schooling in New Zealand. The Ministry of Education follows unscientific advice and is in thrall to a flawed philosophy.”

Called “child-centred learning,” this philosophy places children at the centre of decisions about their education. This may sound innocuous. But a combination of factors has made it a damaging dogma. What a child now learns depends on the individual school, teacher and, above all, child. The outcome is that education has become a lottery. Little wonder standards have slipped.

Predictably, the report prompted a fierce counterattack from the education establishment. Leading the charge is Claire Amos, outspoken advocate of the child-centred approach and principal of Albany Senior High School.

Writing in The Spinoff last week, Amos’s assertions were preposterous and replete with personal attacks.

The Initiative’s report cites empirical studies and cognitive science. Amos describes these as “hyperbolic opinion.” For Amos, that Lipson was associated with a Conservative think tank in the UK discredits the report’s evidence. Yet the science is apolitical. That, after all, is the hallmark of science.

More troublingly, Amos sees the call in New Zealand’s Education Delusion for a knowledge-based curriculum as a “colonial tool putting old Western knowledge ahead of indigenous communities.” On similar grounds, she dismisses Kiwi students’ two-decade long decline in the OECD’s PISA results in reading, maths and science.

Yet there is nothing Western about wanting every child to read, do basic maths and have a workable understanding of science. Education is as important to a child in Karachi, as it is to a child in Khandallah or Kaitaia.

Children deserve to attend schools that equip them with the best education to fulfil their potential. This is not Western. It is a matter of social justice.

The evidence in New Zealand’s Education Delusion should be enough to persuade any open-minded educator to question the system’s dogged adherence to the child-centred approach. Two decades of damage to Kiwi school children is surely enough.

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