The United Kingdom's Hull University made headlines this week, after it proclaimed that marking students down for poor spelling, punctuation and grammar could be seen as "homogenous, North European, white, male, and elite".
Lecturers have been told that good written English discriminates against ethnic minorities and those who attended underperforming schools.
The decision-makers at Hull University have clearly never studied the Immigrant Paradox in the United States. Writing for the Institute for Family Studies, Leonard Sax showed that on many parameters, children of immigrants outperform children of parents who were born and raised in the United States.
Science fairs, spelling bees, high school valedictorians - across the board, children of immigrants have better outcomes than children of American-born parents, despite the fact that many of them speak English as a second language. Anyway, I digress. Henceforth Hull University is adopting a so-called "inclusive assessment", a more flexible scheme first introduced to level the playing field for students with learning disorders such as dyslexia.
This, they believe, will encourage students to develop a "more authentic academic voice… that celebrates, rather than obscures, their particular background or characteristics". Good-o. Let's see how the graduates of Hull University go when it comes to getting jobs four years from now.
The UK's Minister for Universities says she's appalled at the changes and that dumbing down standards disadvantages students further. The answer, says Michelle Donelan, is to lift up standards and provide quality education. Other MPs described the changes as counterproductive and patronising. I agree. But I can see New Zealand's education going the same way.
A quality education used to be the birthright of every New Zealander, no matter where they lived or what kind of family they came from. Our educators were considered world leaders - but not any more.
International surveys show New Zealand's 10-year-olds' reading levels fell in 2016 to their lowest since the surveys started, and our 15-year-olds' reading and maths levels declined in every survey between 2000 and 2018. In science, the 15-year-olds' scores were stable up to 2012 but plunged in 2015 and 2018.
A report from the New Zealand Initiative says "a deference to relevance" explains why the NZ Curriculum exacerbates variations between classrooms and schools. Rather than having a narrowing effect, it intensifies inequity. But instead of seeing our declining education standards as a wake-up call, educators appear to be doubling down.
I received an email from a listener when we were discussing Hull University's decision to change its assessment standards, and the email made for grim reading. The author cannot be identified because their contract prevents them from speaking openly to the media but this is just some of what they wrote:
"I teach commerce and social sciences and hold a leadership position within my current school. The curriculum proposed for the new level one NCEA Commerce is reduced in content and has been changed substantially to reflect strongly our bicultural relationships within New Zealand to the neglect of common jargon and knowledge used in commerce and social sciences. Many teachers of commerce, which included up until this year, economics, accounting and business studies, are aghast at the draft content for our now renamed and combined subject 'commerce'.
"Accounting has been reduced to mere financial literacy and personal budgeting. Business studies has been reduced in content and significant Māori tikanga has been introduced - the new plan is to teach business from a predominantly Māori tikanga perspective. In economics, the draft curriculum does not even include the words 'demand' or 'supply' or 'producer' - these terms are common fundamental knowledge and content in any economics programme.
"Teachers don't just want this draft curriculum revised; we want it entirely rewritten to reflect what international education recognises as foundational knowledge for our students in these subject areas. The current draft just doesn't measure up as a world-class education.
"Overseas teachers who arrive in New Zealand to teach are constantly astounded at our poor curriculum content and our inconsistent assessment systems. They compare this content to overseas curriculums and it falls short in so many ways."
The author offered to put together a panel of teachers to share their concerns about draft curriculum on other subjects on the condition of anonymity and I hope the New Zealand Herald follows up on that.
We owe our children the opportunity to do better and be better. We owe them the same quality education we all enjoyed. But they're not getting that. The education system is failing to heed the warning signs that our standard of education is plummeting and in doing so, they're failing all our children.