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Plain English: How is the Nation Doing?

30 August 2006

How is the Nation Doing?

The Ministry of Education should be congratulated for releasing the NEMP results showing problems with basic arithmetic in primary schools as well as progress It's soundly based objective information and now it's possible to have a sensible debate about whether and how to remedy the problem. Are complex reasoning skills more important than basic arithmetic? Why aren't the two more correlated?

Are the results significant enough that the focus of the numeracy project should change ? The whole point of gathering data is the act on it if is significant. The more data in the public arena the better the quality of debate about educational achievement. The media play up what little information they get because when there isn't much information around each bit is news.

How did my child do?

NEMP produces information of such a high level it's not much use to teachers or parents because it can't tell them how a particular child handled the test items. Averages are deceptive. Many children will be competent at basic arithmetic and many teachers will be successfully teaching complex mathematical skills as well as basic arithmetic. Some can't but national data can't tell which children where?

The technology is available to report to parents and teachers detailed assessment and diagnostics for individual children but there is no political will to do it.

This type of reporting will soon be common in Australia. In the absence of national standards and more detailed reporting neither principals nor the Ministry can know where and how to apply money and policy to fix learning problems. Nationally prescribed professional development is the best instrument for change we have so far, but it's very blunt and its very slow compared to a child's learning trajectory.

More Tertiary Madness

The tertiary sector is paralysed with tidy mind syndrome. Thousands of hours will be spent on trying to define "distinctive contribution." and "regional provider", and all because Labour and some weaker public providers can't stand a small amount of competition. I am the proud local MP for Telford, the country's smallest polytech.

Telford is caught up in the contortions of tertiary bureaucrats obsessed with categories, boxes, distinctions and processes. Telford run a nationwide course in farm safety in a consortium with the Agriculture ITO and a PTE.

Of course TEC can't shut Telford's course down. TEC will spend as much time on defining exceptions to the rules against national provision and subcontracting as they will on developing the rules themselves. In the meantime CPIT reports a big budgeted loss and the downward spiral of the polytech sector into financial trouble and political mire continues.

Steve Got Religion

The guidelines on religion in schools are a joke and they should be scrapped. What idiot thought they could distinguish between spirituality and religion, and between prayers in Maori and in English. The opt-in proposition is impractical.

Just a few weeks ago, Steve Maharey told an interfaith dialogue this.

"So now, welcome to our panel members who will give us insights into how education can recognise and be supportive of religious diversity and contribute to dialogue about interfaith communities and government."

He notably did not tell the assembled believers that he was about to introduce rules that make it illegal for children to sing How Great Thou Art", but permissible to sing its Maori equivalent "Whakaria Mai" and ban any religious expression of the diversity he prizes so highly.

The guidelines should be scrapped. Everyone knows what the law is and if schools push religious content too far parents and communities will push back. Leave them to it.


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