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Recognising Differences In Education - Brownlee

GERRY BROWNLEE MP OPPOSITION SPOKESPERSON ON EDUCATION
"RECOGNISING DIFFERENCES IN EDUCATION"

SPEECH TO ANNUAL FORUM FOR INDEPENDENT SCHOOLS AND SENIOR MANAGERS JAMES COOK HOTEL WELLINGTON

9.30am, TUESDAY 11 SEPTEMBER 2001

Thank you for the opportunity to talk this morning. Independent schools have been an important part of the compulsory education sector for the greater part of this country's short history.

The next National Government will have a strong interest in ensuring schools like yours are strong and able to contribute towards our determination to raise educational standards for this country's young people.

If the parents who send their children to your schools could be characterized as a group, I think they would be seen as having made a choice, often a sacrifice, having clearly expressed aspirations for their children, and placing high value on the type, style and character of educational experience your schools offer.

There has been much public debate of late as to whether New Zealand is in decline as a nation, and what the remedies for that might be.

One thing is clear, and that is that we are living and working and raising families amidst the fourth technological revolution to hit the world in the past 200 years.

Our work-lives, our mental worlds are being altered around us, our values and all sorts of things we were taught, are being renegotiated and reassessed and consequently redefined.

In this rapidly changing world, the motivation for parents to send their children to your schools is I would suggest a desire to give them something that's a little different and perhaps unique: a set of values and a sense of belonging to something bigger than themselves while they develop their own identity.

Your schools all have their own culture. The traditions and formalities that endure, give a sense of permanence and help provide the anchors and grounding we all need to find our place in the world, so we can make our contribution to the society we live in.

I think all parents want those things for their children. They want them to have a strong sense of identity. They want their children to be confident about where they fit into this country and the world beyond.

It's in this regard that we have some work to do in the wider education sector.

I think as a nation we suffer from very low morale and poor self esteem, two important ingredients for success in life that you as leaders in independent schools are good at instilling into your pupils

The cry Ozzy, Ozzy, Ozzy, Oi! Oi! Oi! may sound like the inane call of crazed and wild men but despite it being literally meaningless, to the average Australian it stands for more than 100s of words could explain.

Australia is a nation that believes in itself and New Zealand desperately needs to emulate that.

The recent Knowledge Wave conference held in Auckland that I know a number of you attended began with a call for greater attention and definition around the unique identifiers that make us Kiwis. The consensus at the conference was that education is the key to a more prosperous future for New Zealand.

Going into next year's election the National Party will have policy to address both enhanced national identity and pride and state clearly our determination to raise educational standards and opportunities.

International comparisons show there is a big job to be done in New Zealand - because our performance in the basics of education is just average and being just average is not good enough to make us successful again, and not good enough to create a competitive workforce for the challenges of the 21st century.

Trevor Mallard recently tried to deny that New Zealanders' literacy performance was just average on the world scale, by blaming Maori and Pacific people for our mediocre results internationally.

He prefers to inflict middle-class guilt rather than address the problem of too many New Zealanders slipping through without achieving average competence at the basics of what an education should provide.

He wants to inflict middle-class guilt, to justify the Government's continued efforts to raise the bottom by lowering the top.

He was trying to tell middle New Zealand, "well you guys do OK; it's Maori and Pacific island people who don't". He alleged that we "would be as good as anywhere else" if it weren't for what he may have described as that albatross about our neck.

He is wrong. And his policies will do us know good

New Zealand would not be as good as anywhere else in the world if we excluded Maori and Pacific Island people from those statistics because at the moment we perform the same in international comparisons with other English-speaking developed nations.

Subtract blacks or Hispanics from the American figures, and I'm sure the United States would look better. Subtract certain elements in class-ridden British society, and Britain would be up there with the Nordics too.

Let the Canadians cut out the French Canadians, the Indians and Inuit, and their results would be much better too.

The question is, which statistically significant disadvantaged groups can the Australians and Irish exclude, because their literacy results aren't too hot either?

So international comparisons show there is a job to be done -because our performance is just average and being just average is not good enough to make us successful as a nation again, and isn't good enough to create a competitive workforce for the challenges of the 21st century.

We perform far above the world average in Sport, so why can't we do it in English or Mathematics or Science?

Remember that almost half of New Zealand adults, just over 48%, occupy the bottom rankings of the International Adult Literacy Study (IALS) conducted by the OECD.

This means almost half of all New Zealanders either have poor or rather simple literacy skills. By comparison only 25% of Swedes fall into the same categories.

Now half of all New Zealanders aren't Maori or Pacific Islanders. The problem affects many New Zealanders of lower socio-economic background but not exclusively. The problem affects New Zealanders regardless of ethnic origin.

That's why Trevor Mallard is wrong to hand education over to the insatiable demands of the Labour Maori caucus. Close the gaps by all means but do it on need rather than race

New Zealand has been trapped in the "she'll be right" syndrome which has only been reinforced by a generation of "pc" in classrooms and a complacent sense of our place in the world.

The strength of educational performance must and will improve under a National-led Government.

National's plan of action in education will be centered on raising standards rather than hand-wringing over another set of statistics demonstrating the failure of outputs based education.

What this is about is an attitude change and a cultural change. Ambition to succeed as a nation has to be inculcated right in the classroom, and has to permeate our value-systems as a nation.

It's not about becoming a nation of swots and nerds. It's not about denying sport or whatever gives us joy and a sense of well-being in life. It's not about kids missing out on their social life.

It is however about drawing on the positive energy we do put into sport.

It's about telling ourselves as teachers, students and parents that if we do something, or if we undertake something, we either do it right, or not at all, or that at least we put our very best into it.

If New Zealand isn't free-falling to become economically and educationally the backwater of the South Pacific, If we cherish our identity as New Zealanders, and the nation-state we are building for ourselves and future generations, then we do have to give our all to whatever we do.

I know that Independent Schools have precisely that commitment, and that you have dedicated yourselves to excellence in whatever you aim to do.

If anyone can take New Zealand education to the edge, bring New Zealand education to the break-through point and create the critical mass, it is the Independent Schools.

Your schools exemplify thinking outside of the square.

Labour and you don't fit. Labour's direction can be best described as a one-size-fits-all approach to education. Labour punishes success. They exemplify the tall-poppy syndrome, in full bloom.

I know that many of you realize the NCEA is weak. It is non-competitive and will lead to mediocre performance from students.

A student can play Rugby, and be the only one to score a try for their side in a game, and everyone will commend that.

No one sends the players on the other side out for self-esteem counseling, or counsels the teammates who didn't do as well.

But the same student achiever, or any other student will be denied the same recognition, the same affirmation of their intellectual skills under the NCEA The range of abilities inside the three bands of achievement should be recognised.

We believe that no child should leave secondary school without some form of qualification. Unit standards will survive and so they should for young people who want to use their school years to prepare for direct entry in the workforce

But we believe there is a place for secondary qualifications that unashamedly recognise academic excellence We will work in partnership with interested groups to achieve this.

NZQA have told us they are working on levels 4 and 5 which would be available to top students during their last 3 years at secondary school.

We wait with interest to receive a paper from NZQA that currently we are told is sitting on the ministers desk awaiting release to us.

Your market-base and Labour's are diametrically opposed. Labour has a long-term investment in ignorance and under-performance.

I am not saying that they want people to be miserable or suffer, but they tend to ameliorate or placate poverty and social deprivation rather than wage war against them.

It's a fact that there wouldn't be any political role in New Zealand for - Labour and Alliance MPs unless there were deprived and under-performing sectors of society, and the "care-givers" and "providers" that go with that, to give them power.

Whereas Independent Schools are about social mobility.

You I'm sure would take young people of all backgrounds if given a chance, and become the engines for social mobility personal transformation and empowerment for students from deprived backgrounds.

And in taking students from historically disadvantaged ethnic groups, you would be forming the leaders who will take their people out of that deprivation.

Apart from abolishing school zoning, and reinstating an element of choice in the state system

National promises to re-establish and enhance the successful TIE scheme we operated in the 90s. We are interested in hearing from you how that scheme can be improved and expanded.

You and that scheme have been the springboards for success for eager, ambitious and determined students, who are right now already making their marks on New Zealand society and on the world

National believes that Independent Schools can be the leaders we need in creating New Zealand citizens for the 21st century, who are not only confident about who they are but also confident about the future prospects for this country.

National's education policy is simply about recognising difference and allowing all schools to make the choices about how you think education should be delivered. Ours is very much a You Know Best attitude.

We don't propose curriculum rewrites of the sort that have dominated the last 11 or more years but we will look to give schools an opportunity to decide other than when it comes to literacy numeracy and science what they will fill their school day with.

You can bank on the fact that National will not allow the current drift in education to continue. We will want to see the curriculum streamlined.

We are going to ensure that there is regular assessment of literacy and numeracy throughout primary school, so that problems are identified and corrected early on.

It may seem old fashioned but our old bugbear of the last thirty years or so, political correctness will be banished from the classroom.

Courtesy, simple human respect and open-mindedness will replace doctrinally enforced attitudes.

Yes our targets will be ambitious, but so are yours, and a good many of your schools have been around longer than National.

We look to you to exploit the full freedom we hope to allow you, to develop the potentialities for choice, high performance and delivery of high standards, where you lie, right at the heart, and not at the margins or peripheries of New Zealand education.

But more than anything else, what you offer is the character that each of your schools possesses, and strives to preserve and develop over succeeding generations of students.

The qualities that your parents see in your schools can be present in the countries 300 plus state secondary schools and I want to see then develop similar approaches to yours.

Because your schools survive by meeting the expectations of parents and providing an educational environment in which they can be confident their children will achieve their best. National looks forward then to partnership with the Independent Schools sector. You will always be at the leading edge of choice in education. Of making schools that little bit extra.

You have many of the answers, and we want to work with you and other in the sector who are interested in raising educational standards and giving all young New Zealanders a chance to make a real difference for this countries future.

Education is our only chance to make that difference and National intends to get it right because this country is going nowhere with Labour.

ENDS


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