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Dunne Speaks - 5 December 2013

Dunne Speaks

5 December 2013

Just occasionally it would be nice if politicians laid petty differences aside and focused on the interests of the country as a whole.

This week’s row about the PISA report on educational attainment levels is a good case in point. In essence, it showed that rates of achievement amongst New Zealand school students have not improved in recent years, and in relative terms have actually slipped sharply against other countries.

That should have been a real wake-up call to education policy makers, but instead of the response focusing on what needs to be done to boost attainment levels, politicians reverted to type and in so doing sold New Zealand students short once more. The Government says the data covers the period Labour was in power, while Labour says it is all the fault of National Standards and National’s attacks on teachers.

Both are woefully off the mark, and, in any case, who actually cares what they think? Certainly parents who worry about the educational achievement levels of their children have little regard for, or interest in, this continual, inane, political points scoring. Nor do the nations with whom we compete, and who are leaving us rapidly in the wake of their improving levels of educational attainment. Both understand the true worth of the saying that education is the key to the future.

The problem is that education policy here has become the captive of the vested interests. On one side are business lobbyists with their superficially alluring focus on vocational outcomes, rather than academic achievement. National’s approach epitomises that viewpoint. On the other side are the teacher unions who view education as being about protecting their position and conditions of service from change. Labour is their unashamed champion. Both miss the point.

These pre-determined positions have nothing to do with the interests of parents or students, as their rehearsal during the week shows. Nowhere in the midst of all the rhetoric has there been any suggestion of a coherent future focused plan for prolonged improvement in educational attainment levels. Constant fighting old battles will not achieve that, yet, if you listened to the politicians this week that is really all they have to offer.

We need a commitment from our politicians to value educational achievement. That does not mean each political party having the same policy – that would be unrealistic – but a consensus that the overriding priority of all policies has to be the commitment to boosting student achievement. Without that as even a starting point we can look forward to the trends identified in the PISA report becoming entrenched and the opportunities for future generations of students severely diminished. It is time for responsible politicians of all hues to stop and think. Is that the legacy they feel comfortable establishing? I hope enough think not.


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