Need for excellence, not ‘equity’

Alwyn Poole

COLUMN

The peak accumulative achievement of 13 years of primary and secondary education in New Zealand is the attainment, or otherwise, of University Entrance. Comparative results for demographic groups in this qualification are a significant indicator to the balanced qualities of our education system.

The verdict? We fail badly. Students from Asian homes have a 70 percent pass rate. From European homes, 45 percent. Maori and Pasifika homes, around 20 percent. These types of statistics are repeated across all manner of education and social measures.

The Government’s first response to this was to appoint a review group into Tomorrow’s Schools. This could have been good, but they started by taking us all for idiots by calling it “independent” and then appointing five people led by a Labour Party electorate chairman and former PPTA executive who was incapable of any divergent or creative thinking to solve the real problems.

Their bland, ineffective, unworkable and control-based report could have been predicted. It could be written off as hopeless, but it is also dangerous in that Education Minister Chris Hipkins may choose to implement recommendations that will cost the taxpayer millions and achieve, at best, nothing for our young people.

I have done some research into the taskforce’s “research” and last Thursday I attended a well patronised “debate” to hear taskforce chairman Bali Haque and Dr Cathy Wiley. The first cause for concern (apart from who was on the taskforce) was the way they went about their research. By my calculation they visited approximately 18 schools and most of the teachers they spoke to were recommended by the NZEI or PPTA.

Haque’s summary report mentioned the word “equity” eight times and “excellence” once. Towards Maori and Pasifika young people and their families, it is condescending in the extreme. It assumes that the only way for our system to look fair is to hold back the excelling schools and install massive bureaucratic control.

Haque completely misunderstands, or misrepresents, the word competition in New Zealand education. Often it is simply a school doing a great job and parents wanting their children to be a part of that.

International measures have NZ Asian and European children in the higher echelons of achievement. What Maori and Pasifika youth need is a massive focus on very high achievement and genuine excellence. There are schools that are achieving this — for instance Tauranga Boys College where in 2017 the results of Maori exceeded that of other groups (Haque didn’t visit them).

Haque has misunderstood the problems and paternalistically proposed awful solutions. He has a “30 year plan” when a five-year plan, with great increments on the way, is needed. Focus very hard on the secondary schools with a very high proportion of Maori and Pasifika students and expect the very best results — excellence at least matching that of Asian students.

Like Asian students, most of these students bring a remarkable culture and the brain benefits of being bi-lingual. Many of the Pasifika and Maori students I have worked with have developed an intellect that I am in awe of.

People speak of “appropriate pathways”. As a teacher trainee in 1990 I came across a Social Studies textbook that said, “without the Maori labourer — where would we be for roading in New Zealand”. The appropriate pathway for our Maori and Pasifika students is medicine, engineering, law, commerce, science, study overseas and a raft of high-level, high-intellect and high-remuneration careers.

“Equity” in New Zealand education is the “soft bigotry of low expectations” and the Haque report is the worst example of it I have seen. New Zealand parents and educators — of all ethnicities — need to put it in the bin.

Alwyn Poole runs the Villa Education Trust, which operates three schools in South and West Auckland.

The peak accumulative achievement of 13 years of primary and secondary education in New Zealand is the attainment, or otherwise, of University Entrance. Comparative results for demographic groups in this qualification are a significant indicator to the balanced qualities of our education system.

The verdict? We fail badly. Students from Asian homes have a 70 percent pass rate. From European homes, 45 percent. Maori and Pasifika homes, around 20 percent. These types of statistics are repeated across all manner of education and social measures.

The Government’s first response to this was to appoint a review group into Tomorrow’s Schools. This could have been good, but they started by taking us all for idiots by calling it “independent” and then appointing five people led by a Labour Party electorate chairman and former PPTA executive who was incapable of any divergent or creative thinking to solve the real problems.

Their bland, ineffective, unworkable and control-based report could have been predicted. It could be written off as hopeless, but it is also dangerous in that Education Minister Chris Hipkins may choose to implement recommendations that will cost the taxpayer millions and achieve, at best, nothing for our young people.

I have done some research into the taskforce’s “research” and last Thursday I attended a well patronised “debate” to hear taskforce chairman Bali Haque and Dr Cathy Wiley. The first cause for concern (apart from who was on the taskforce) was the way they went about their research. By my calculation they visited approximately 18 schools and most of the teachers they spoke to were recommended by the NZEI or PPTA.

Haque’s summary report mentioned the word “equity” eight times and “excellence” once. Towards Maori and Pasifika young people and their families, it is condescending in the extreme. It assumes that the only way for our system to look fair is to hold back the excelling schools and install massive bureaucratic control.

Haque completely misunderstands, or misrepresents, the word competition in New Zealand education. Often it is simply a school doing a great job and parents wanting their children to be a part of that.

International measures have NZ Asian and European children in the higher echelons of achievement. What Maori and Pasifika youth need is a massive focus on very high achievement and genuine excellence. There are schools that are achieving this — for instance Tauranga Boys College where in 2017 the results of Maori exceeded that of other groups (Haque didn’t visit them).

Haque has misunderstood the problems and paternalistically proposed awful solutions. He has a “30 year plan” when a five-year plan, with great increments on the way, is needed. Focus very hard on the secondary schools with a very high proportion of Maori and Pasifika students and expect the very best results — excellence at least matching that of Asian students.

Like Asian students, most of these students bring a remarkable culture and the brain benefits of being bi-lingual. Many of the Pasifika and Maori students I have worked with have developed an intellect that I am in awe of.

People speak of “appropriate pathways”. As a teacher trainee in 1990 I came across a Social Studies textbook that said, “without the Maori labourer — where would we be for roading in New Zealand”. The appropriate pathway for our Maori and Pasifika students is medicine, engineering, law, commerce, science, study overseas and a raft of high-level, high-intellect and high-remuneration careers.

“Equity” in New Zealand education is the “soft bigotry of low expectations” and the Haque report is the worst example of it I have seen. New Zealand parents and educators — of all ethnicities — need to put it in the bin.

Alwyn Poole runs the Villa Education Trust, which operates three schools in South and West Auckland.

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