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The Way Reading Is Taught In New Zealand Must Change - NZ Initiative Report

The way children are taught to read must be fundamentally changed or we risk failing further generations of learners, warns a new report from The New Zealand Initiative.

One in five of New Zealand’s 15-year-olds do not have the reading competency to enter the workforce, further their education, or productively participate in society according to the OECD’s Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA).

Reading with the Light Switched On by research fellow and former teacher Steen Videbeck shows there are large teaching challenges to overcome. But recent changes by the Ministry of Education provide some hope for the future.

The report shows:

  • Māori and Pasifika students are particularly underserved. PISA 2018 showed 30% of Māori 15-year-olds are in the bottom category for reading. For Pasifika, it was 36%. These numbers represent an education system that is failing large numbers of students and show the way schools teach literacy must change.
  • An evidence-based approach called Structured Literacy is needed to reverse New Zealand’s decline in reading.
  • Schools must receive the professional development and support they need to improve teacher knowledge of language and evidence-based practice.


Report author Steen Videbeck says: 

“We need to fundamentally change how we teach children to read and write, or we will continue to fail thousands of young learners every year.”

“Despite the challenges, there are reasons to be optimistic. Throughout the country, teachers and concerned parents have questioned the poor literacy rates among their children. Their questioning of the status quo has led them to an evidence-based approach called Structured Literacy.”

There have also been positive signs from the Ministry of Education who recently endorsed Structured Literacy for students with dyslexia. Research shows that this is how all children should learn to read. The Ministry is also increasing teacher professional development and releasing structured literacy-aligned decodable books.

However, the report notes that education is littered with big promises and disappointing results. The key to making this reform different, is ensuring there is adequate professional development for teachers, and that Initial Teacher Education is improved. 

“Improving Initial Teacher Education is essential. When I first became a teacher, I found myself in a classroom without any knowledge of how children learn to read. Trainee teachers need to learn about the science of reading.”

Teachers need more professional development on reading to improve their knowledge of linguistics and evidence-based practice.

“The Ministry should fund more professional development in reading and allow more choice of providers,” says Videbeck.

Read more:
Reading with the Light Switched On is available to read here.
A summary of the report's findings is available to download here.

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