Progressive Education a Failure

New Zealand Centre for Political Research

The New Zealand Centre for Political Research is a web-based think tank that takes a research-based approach to public policy matters and encourages the free and open debate of political issues.

Last week’s release of NCEA results by the New Zealand Qualifications Authority has shown a big decline in the number of students who are eligible to study at university from 71 percent in 2013 to 58 percent. In numerical terms the number of students who have qualified has dropped by 4,400 to 20,500. This is due in part to new requirements which have raised the entry level standard for tertiary education from NCEA Level 2 to Level 3, as well as introducing higher literacy and numeracy standards.

The new standards, which have been in the pipeline since 2011, are in response to the increasing numbers of school leavers who were dropping out of university in their first year, including 22 percent of Maori and Pacifika students and 11 percent of Europeans. Since students who enter university with NCEA Level 3 were seen to have a far better chance of success than those who entered with only Level 2,
the universities felt it was time for the system to change.

While NCEA results are continuing to improve overall, for many employers progress is not fast enough. A recent survey of more than 300 businesses by the Employers and Manufacturers Association found that over half were having difficulty recruiting skilled workers. Many found school leavers were below par in basic literacy, communication and problem solving skills, but they ranked them highly on technology, self-management, and a capacity to learn.

A poor showing in basic skills has also been evident in international test results. The Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) study, which compares the performance of 15-year-olds in 65 countries in reading literacy, maths and science every three years, showed New Zealand has slipped from 5th place in reading, 11th in maths, and 7th in science in 2006, to 13th, 23rd, and 18th place respectively in 2012.

Similarly, in the Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS), which is held every five years, New Zealand 9-year-olds finished equal last in maths among peers in developed countries in 2012. Almost half could not add 218 and 191 in a test, leading the Education Minister to consider a return to basic arithmetic for primary school children.

These poor results are a symptom that all is not well with the education system. They cast doubt on the radical reforms introduced by the previous Labour Government during its last term in office.

In 2007, then Prime Minister Helen Clark launched a new “progressive” primary and secondary school curriculum. Progressive education is strongly ideological. In its pure form, its aim is to rid the education system of elitism and replace it with egalitarianism. Traditional syllabus approaches to learning were to be exchanged for child-centred systems that were outcomes-based. Teachers were no longer to be the fountain of knowledge, but facilitators of learning. Objective testing and assessment were to be avoided wherever possible, and the centralised control of education was to be eliminated by passing that responsibility onto schools and their Boards.

At the time, such an approach to education was known to be experimental – only a handful of countries had adopted it. But it had already proved to be such a failure in the US that most states had rejected it, returning instead to a standards based approach, with its focus on subject discipline, academic rigour, more formal methods of teaching, and a clear, concise and teacher-friendly curriculum.

The problem is that by replacing knowledge with skills, students are at risk of leaving school with a range of eclectic proficiencies, but without the basic knowledge to read, write, or calculate properly.

Furthermore, an education system which directs schools to address issues in their own time and in their own way leaves them vulnerable to political manipulation. Ruling parties in a government can represent their political ideology as educational principles or values which schools are then required to teach. Helen Clark’s Labour Government did just that when they embedded policies such as sustainability and social justice into the curriculum.

But it was over the Treaty of Waitangi that the most blatant political manipulation can be seen.

When the draft of the new curriculum was released in 2006 the Treaty of Waitangi had been dropped from the “principles” section. Instead it was referred to in the Social Sciences curriculum under Social Studies, Level five: “the Treaty of Waitangi is responded to differently by people in different times and places”. It was also going to be incorporated into a separate Maori curriculum.

Outrage resulted. At the time, the Minister of Education responded to accusations in Parliament that the Treaty had been dropped from the curriculum by saying, “…it has not been removed. I would also remind the member of four things: one, it is in the Act; two, it is in the goals; three, it is in the guidelines to schools; and, four, it will be embodied in a Maori version of the curriculum next year.”

Nevertheless, protest action followed, led by the Human Rights Commission. They prepared a briefing for use by “organisations, groups and individuals who are making submissions as part of the consultation process”, which called for the Treaty to be reinstated as a principle in the new curriculum and to be included throughout the various learning areas.

As a result of the pressure generated by the Commission, the Green Party, the Maori Party, and others, Labour caved in and the Treaty was given a central role in the new curriculum.

The Purpose and Scope statement of official policy explains that the curriculum will “give effect to the partnership that is at the core of our nation’s founding document, the Treaty of Waitangi”.

The Vision statement affirms that young people “will work to create an Aotearoa New Zealand in which Maori and Pakeha recognise each other as full Treaty partners, and in which all cultures are valued for the contributions they bring”.

The eight Principles upon which the curriculum is based includes “Treaty of Waitangi: The curriculum acknowledges the principles of the Treaty of Waitangi and the bicultural foundations of Aotearoa New Zealand. All students have the opportunity to acquire knowledge of te reo Maori me ona tikanga.”

The Treaty is now interwoven in all subject areas at all curriculum levels. But as if that is not enough, the Maori Party announced last year that as part of their coalition deal with National a stronger Maori focus would be brought into the curriculum by spending $1.6 million over the next three years to strengthen the teaching of Maori history in both primary and secondary schools.

The official promotion of what amounts to Maori supremacy in schools, not only sends a signal to students and their families that the only culture that matters in New Zealand is Maori, but it is in direct conflict to the curriculum’s Cultural Diversity principle, which states, “The curriculum reflects New Zealand’s cultural diversity and values the histories and traditions of all its people.”

This week’s NZCPR Guest Commentator is Tony Sayers, a former primary school principal with extensive experience in teaching at all levels of primary and secondary schooling, who feels very strongly that the Maori influence in education has gone too far. Tony would like to encourage others to speak out and help to build a consensus for change:

“I clearly recall the principal of the school, at which I worked, reporting to the staff about the conference he had attended. He told us that the keynote speaker at the conference, a Maori academic, who had the ear of the Ministry’, advocated that, In the first instance, the curriculum should be written specifically to address the needs of Maori students’.  He also stated that, ‘Non-Maori students would not be disadvantaged because they had traditionally achieved anyway’.

“Hullo! Is this a race-based curriculum? Is this apartheid in the NZ education system? No we are not supposed to call it apartheid in NZ. Oh I am sorry! We are not supposed to challenge any Maori initiatives if you work for the Ministry of Education. It is not written down anywhere, but just watch the ‘inner circle of enlightened teachers’ around you scatter if you dare criticise the current bandwagon. No-one wants to sit at your table for morning tea. They do not want the principal to think that they sympathise with your views. Not a good career move.

“Initially the changes were just to revive the Maori language and culture. No harm there, and it had the goodwill of us all. That went well, so other changes followed. At first they were minor, a process of de-sensitisation, and then changes grew bolder by increments.”

In his article, Tony documents many ridiculous – and some sinister – examples of how the obsession with Maori rights is impacting on teaching and learning in our schools. He finishes with a warning – and a plea:

“Teachers who are currently employed in the system, and have woken up, are reluctant to make a stand under the present political and social climate. The teachers who are retired, are in a position to speak up without damage to their careers. They need to come forward and inform the general public of what has been, and still is, going on. So let’s have a few more retired teachers voice their anecdotes and opinions. If you say nothing, then this manifestation just festers away with dire consequences for the future. This topic needs to gain volume, so that politicians realise that it is an issue that must be addressed.

“By voicing my opinions on this controversial subject, I anticipate a tirade from enlightened, emancipated young teachers, freshly indoctrinated at university, with new world, politically correct and culturally safe views. Yes, I know, if you can’t take the heat then stay out of the kitchen. I am prepared to take the heat, but remember, I was once like you.

“I was not born with opinions, they developed from my real experiences. The examples that have formed my opinions, are far too common to be ignored. If people are too scared to put their head above the parapet, then that is what Maori want. It would be a relief to be proven wrong.”

If you are a teacher, parent, grandparent or anyone who is concerned about the radicalisation of the New Zealand curriculum through the forced teaching of Maori supremacy, then please share your views through the link on the petition page that we set up to oppose the indoctrination of children through schooling. As Tony says, it is only when there is a groundswell of opposing voices that the politicians and the establishment will start to listen.

Meanwhile, the symptoms of a failing education system are starting to show: lower than expected international test scores, school leavers without basic literacy and numeracy skills, increasing numbers of tertiary dropouts, excessive political indoctrination. The government should undertake a comprehensive review of the whole education system, to see whether, like in the US, it is the system itself that is now failing our students and our country – and needs to change.

This week’s poll asks:


Would you support a comprehensive review of the education system?


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  • Annie says
    There should be a debate on education and technology, which is particularly pertinent now, with global trends on tech being leveraged on learning.
    What I am flabbergasted is that while NZ has access to great technology platforms for math and science education, via sites like Khan Academy, and our educational system for our children is not something to be particularly proud of.
  • CheldeWyatt says
    If the reports say as such, then Progressive Education must be a failure. The easy essay writing service had spoken about it earlier before to me and I didn't believe them then. But I think we have to change our courses.
  • New Member says
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  • CheldeWyatt says
    Excellent article. Very interesting to read. I really love to read such a nice article. Thanks! keep rocking. Legs And Underarm Waxing
  • Kati says
    Generally speaking, I think progressive changes for youngsters were indisputably successful. The finish of tyke work and huge state funded education changes are as yet in place and hence can undoubtedly be viewed as successes. In spite of a few minor disappointments and misfortunes, progressive period kid changes were very useful. Focus on your prosperity and it sounds like you are on the correct street. Accept exhortation from Coursework Writing Help and educated individuals, not boneheads. More seasoned and savvier is truly valid. Try not to question yourself, you are all you have. Converse with a school advisor or some grown-up you trust.
  • CheldeWyatt says
    You're right, there are simpler options available in truth. One could simply get fake transcripts and instantly solve many of their problems. Things are easier than many suppose them to be.

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