Wealth gap hurting education

By Sonya Bateson

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A wider gap between the rich and poor has contributed to New Zealand's slip in international education rankings say Tauranga principals.

The Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) measures the performance of students in OECD countries every three years. Fifteen-year-old students from each country were assessed in 2012 on their reading, mathematics, science and problem-solving abilities and each country's performance was ranked.

New Zealand's scores slipped in each section of the PISA results and have been doing so since the early 2000s.

The improvement in Asian countries' performance had contributed to New Zealand's fall, but Education Minister Hekia Parata also identified other factors such as a major shift in the curriculum in the last three years and under-investment in teachers' skills, which the Government was addressing.

Tauranga principals spoken to by the Bay of Plenty Times said the drop could be put down to poverty and increasing pressure on schools to measure student achievement.

Otumoetai College principal Dave Randell said he was not surprised by the ranking drop. "Our bright students are still up there with the rest of the world but our tail end is getting longer. The big issue is socio-economic inequality, one-third of our youngsters in schools now are under nourished or below the poverty line."

NZEI immediate past president and Tahatai Coast School principal Ian Leckie also said he was not surprised.

"When you start taking away the voice from teachers and schools, which is what the Government has been doing, the curriculum narrows because everyone is so preoccupied with test results. Then you're always going to end up in a downward spiral."

Mr Leckie said the Government was not addressing the affects of poverty on educational success and had shifted to a focus on profit with policies such as charter schools.

Western Bay of Plenty Principal's Association president and Brookfield School principal Robert Hyndman said it was disappointing the country had slipped down the rankings. "There's too much emphasis on measuring which is distracting us from teaching, although I take the Ministry's point that the students that were assessed for PISA hadn't been through National Standards. The whole thing seems to be if you can't measure it it's not worth doing, although I would like to make the point that we're not against testing."

Mr Hyndman said he was confident New Zealand had an excellent teaching force.

Greenpark School principal Graeme Lind said he did not think the drop in rankings could be put down to a single factor but believed an increasing number of children living in poverty was a contributor.

"We have students coming into our schools today from quite seriously handicapped backgrounds as far as poverty is concerned.

"There is a growing discrepancy between the haves and have nots."

Ms Parata said in a written statement yesterday New Zealand was continuing to perform above the OECD average in reading, maths and science but the education system needed to be better geared to support all students to succeed.

- Bay of Plenty Times

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