Hands up anyone who was surprised this week by the dismal news that disadvantaged New Zealand youngsters are at the bottom of the OECD heap. I certainly am not.

Worst youth suicide. Worst cannabis use and worst youth unemployment - 45 per cent of this country's total unemployed are youth (age 15 to 24), according to think tank NZ Institute's report, released on Tuesday.

I've been boring people to distraction at functions recently with conversations that go something like: "Stop stressing over regulating and banning drugs and alcohol, and start working out why our kids want to drink and smoke themselves into oblivion."

Instead of blaming parents, take a long hard look at our education system. For many students, it's mind-numbingly boring and vacuous.

It's okay for kids whose parents have the wherewithal to push, cajole, prompt and bribe their recalcitrant offspring through to tertiary education. But the children whose parents don't care, or don't know how to cope, will just fall into bad-statistics land.

The institute states, and it's drawn from Ministry of Education research, that our 14- to 18-year-olds are among the most bored school students in the OECD. But there are no nationwide efforts to engage them in education other than ensuring they turn up at class.

By age 16, 36 per cent of kids are bored all or some of the time and one quarter want to leave school as soon as possible. Other OECD countries protect youth from unemployment - and its associated ills such as pregnancy, crime, drug and alcohol abuse - by exciting them with education.

But New Zealand doesn't have an interesting education policy, just national standards and NCEA. One size fits all. Square pegs do fit round holes.

It's a damning indictment on politicians and bureaucrats. Every New Zealand child is entitled to 13 years of taxpayer-funded education and far too many are not acquiring even the basic skills of literacy. But do the educational bureaucrats sit up and take notice?

Not in my experience. They hunker down in denial mode when criticised or questioned. NZQA, the government department responsible for ensuring New Zealand qualifications are "credible and robust", has become so renowned for bullying teachers that last month when I wrote a story for North & South, exposing major flaws in the marking and moderating of NCEA, I had to take the rare step of not naming a source to protect his career.

After the story was published and emails of support from teachers flooded to my inbox, I asked them if they could be published as "name and address withheld". However, even this was denied. The NZQA had already targeted some of these teachers when they'd publicly questioned madness in the methods of NCEA internal assessment - a system which favours students from advantaged backgrounds but kids whose parents can't give them extra help find their marks reflect that difference.

Cheating? You might think that, but I couldn't possibly comment given that NZQA, instead of asking top principals and teachers who've ditched NCEA in favour of Cambridge exams how to fix NCEA, have reacted by taking me to the Press Council.

Everything fine, then, in education, when they have time to grizzle to the Press Council because a journalist didn't interview them, she only read their annual report cover to cover and scrutinised their website. No children failing. No students bored.

Thankfully the NZ Institute doesn't crawl on its belly to bureaucrats, taking a swipe, as it has, at the education system for producing so many failing youth. It's time to think differently and that means E-learning, as proven results in reading and writing from decile one Manaia View school - 90 per cent Maori roll - graphically illustrate.

And Secondary Principals Association president (and personal hero) Patrick Walsh is made of stern stuff, agreeing with the institute, sticking it to the Ministry of Education which he says works in "silos".

Bureaucratic bullies are just packs of cards. Keep blowing the truth at them and they'll topple. We owe it to the next generation who deserve to be able to read and write. If E-learning engages wayward youth, why are we wasting time fighting about NCEA and national standards?