We are witnessing the collapse of what was once the world's finest public school systems. The Qualifications Authority is proposing to issue NCEA credits to pupils who have not achieved the NCEA standard.
It cannot be that the answer to students' failure to achieve NCEA is to lower the standard.
The principal reason for the collapse in education is well known. It is hard to learn if you do not go to school.
The Education Department reports that in the first term of this year, post lockdown, 380,000 pupils did not regularly attend school. Just 46 per cent of pupils attended school regularly. A pupil can miss four weeks of the year and still be recorded as regular attendance. Then there are another 10,000 pupils who are not even enrolled. Presumably too busy doing ram raids.
The Education Department has research on the vital importance of attendance. "Our education insights studies confirm that attending school regularly predicts the best outcomes … each additional half-day absence from school predicts a consistent reduction in the number of NCEA credits a student subsequently attains – whether that is the student moving from 100 per cent to 99 per cent attendance or moving from 71 per cent to 70 per cent attendance."
Students who are absent even 5-10 per cent of the time (still considered "regular" attendance) obtain fewer NCEA credits than those with slightly higher attendance. There is no "safe" level of non-attendance.
Pupils whose attendance is just 33 per cent, the average attendance for Māori, are not at school long enough to pass NCEA.
School attendance, Māori and non-Māori, has been gradually declining for years and with it education achievement. In a recent study of NCEA reading, writing and numeracy, nearly two-thirds of the Year 9-10 pupils failed the writing test. A third of the pupils failed the reading and the math test. International comparison tests reveal New Zealand education standards have fallen from being among the best in the world to being third-world standards.
This year school attendance has fallen off a cliff.
The future for these pupils is grim. The future of any country that fails to educate its young is dire.
Here is the mystery. Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern says her driving motivation is the elimination of child poverty but her Government is impoverishing pupils for life. Measured by results.
There are 23 Māori and Pacific MPs in the Labour caucus. Search the caucus Facebook pages in vain for any expression of concern that just one in three Polynesian pupils are attending school regularly - (attending more than 90 per cent of the time).
Perhaps the explanation is this is a poll-driven government. Ardern dismissed the cost of living as being a crisis until inflation appeared as an issue. In the latest Curia poll education does not register as an issue of concern.
Why is that? Perhaps we think it is the parents who are at fault.
Researchers have asked pupils why they are not at school. Truants admit their parents want them to go school. Virtually all say that one teacher humiliated them so they could not face going to class. When they did return they found they could not catch up so they dropped out.
When Act's coalition agreement authorised Charter Schools the Education Department set what they thought were impossible goals, including requiring pupils' regular attendance. To the officials' astonishment, the Charter Schools exceed all the goals including attendance. Schools can make a difference.
If state schools were paid for the number of pupils that attended, not the number that was enrolled, the teachers' unions would have a fit but attendance would immediately improve.
Then we can tackle the next issue. It is hard to learn if you are not taught well. Pupil lead learning has been a failure.
The elite private schools have continued with teacher lead learning. There are private schools where over 90 per cent of pupils achieve NCEA university entrance.
Tens of thousands of Auckland parents drive kilometres every day endeavouring to give their children a start in life at one of the better state schools. It is understandable. The worst Auckland schools have less than 5 per cent of pupils achieve university entrance.
If NCEA league tables were published many parents would realise their car journeys are futile. Their children are not getting a world-class education. There are famous state schools where even with the help of bogus credits fewer than 30 per cent of pupils will achieve NCEA university entrance.
Most of us are never polled so we cannot record concerns at the collapse of education. The Beehive reads these columns. They must do because they are always complaining. If readers post a comment today on the Internet edition expressing concern maybe Jacinda will decide fixing education requires more than fraudulent NCEA credits.
• Richard Prebble is a former leader of the Act Party and former member of the Labour Party.