Education Policy | Post Primary | Preschool | Primary | Tertiary | Search


Muttonbirds vs. the seven continents

Muttonbirds vs. the seven continents - why we need to talk about knowledge in schools

Wellington (19 November 2019): Worrying comments from Whetu Cormick, President of the New Zealand Principals Federation in today’s Herald show why, for the sake of educational equity, it is time New Zealand rethought its approach to knowledge in the national curriculum.

Commenting on the Initiative’s latest research report, Ignorance is not bliss: Why knowledge matters (and why we may not have enough of it), Cormick explained that the curriculum was right to let teachers choose topics on the basis of students’ interests. By way of example, he explained that:

“For a child in Bluff who might be interested in muttonbirds, they are not going to be interested in the fact that there are seven continents in the world,”

“We need to continue to develop a curriculum that is relevant to the community and in partnership with the community.”

However, according to Research Fellow, and author of Ignorance is not bliss, Briar Lipson, “These comments perfectly demonstrate the problem we want to highlight.

"Just like the New Zealand curriculum, Cormick makes the mistake of prioritising students’ interests in curriculum decisions.

"The challenge of how to motivate and engage students is one that should affect how we teach, but it should have little influence over what we teach. Schools should be teaching all children the most powerful knowledge.

"To do anything less exacerbates educational inequity as some children encounter a curriculum rich in powerful knowledge, and others something demonstrably less.”

As Lipson puts it “The New Zealand curriculum, which Cormick defends, could not be better designed to widen gaps in aspiration and attainment between children in New Zealand.”

The New Zealand Initiative set out to create a snapshot of the current state of knowledge in our nation, and argue for a refocusing of the curriculum.

“What Cormick’s statements show is that we have a lot of work to do,” said Lipson. “If you are a parent of school-aged children, we hope these comments will make you sit up and start questioning your principal and teachers about what your child is really learning.”

While there is nothing wrong with knowing about Bluff’s muttonbirds, surely we need to have higher expectations.

Read, Ignorance is not bliss: Why knowledge matters (and why we may not have enough of it).

Here are the links to listen to Briar's interviews on Q+A, The AM Show, Newstalk ZB, and Radio New Zealand.

© Scoop Media

Culture Headlines | Health Headlines | Education Headlines


Howard Davis: Three Stocking Stuffers from Te Papa Press

Te Papa has published three wonderfully informative and beautifully produced volumes that describe the people and cultures encountered during Cook's voyages and the Māori cultural treasures he discovered there. More>>

40 Years On: Prime Minister Delivers Erebus Apology

"That loss, in and of itself, was huge. It sent ripples across the country, and trauma that those who weren’t directly affected would probably struggle to fathom. But that loss and grief was compounded. It was undeniably worsened by the events that followed." More>>


The Testaments: Margaret Atwood Announces Three NZ Events

The evening will also feature Atwood’s remarkable career, her diverse range of works and why she has returned to the fictional world of Gilead 34 years later. More>>

Transit Of Mercury: Historic Viewing Recreated

Keen stargazers gathered at Te Whanganui o Hei on the Coromandel Peninsula to watch a rare astronomic event this morning. More>>

Forest And Bird: Hoiho Crowned Bird Of The Year For 2019

Widely considered an underdog, the valiant hoiho (yellow-eyed penguin) has won Bird of the Year, a first for seabirds in the competition's 14-year history. More>>





  • Wellington
  • Christchurch
  • Auckland