How Kiwi kids fare
Bullying among education woes dooming one in five to low-paid work
The latest Pisa report ranks the educational achievement of 15-year-olds across 36 developed countries.
Disruptive classroom behaviour, “disgraceful” bullying rates and stubborn nonattendance are being blamed for entrenched achievement problems at our nation’s schools.
One in five Kiwi kids leaves college not equipped for the workforce and those from our poorest communities are worst off.
While New Zealand’s educational achievement ranks highly against other developed nations, our longterm performance is declining. Many feel lonely and unsafe at school.
And an alarming decline in attitudes towards reading means many no longer read for enjoyment.
These are among the findings of the latest Programme for International Student Assessment (Pisa) report, which ranks the educational achievement of 15-year-olds in 36 developed countries.
Children’s Commissioner Judge Andrew Becroft says it is a “sobering message” and “clarion call for action” on our shameful bullying statistics.
Unite Union says the system is failing our poor, leaving unqualified school leavers destined for low-wage labouring and fast-food work, or lifelong welfare dependency.
The report finds New Zealand continues to outperform most OECD nations, ranking seventh in the world for science and eighth for reading, but 22nd for maths.
Our top-performing students are among the world’s best, compared with OECD averages. However our entrenched “tail of disadvantage” means many under-achieve, setting them up for a lifetime of failure.
“About one in five 15-year-olds are not at the level they need to be to function effectively in later life,” said Dr Craig Jones, Ministry of Education deputy secretary, evidence, data and knowledge. “The difference between students at the top and the bottom is deeply entrenched. We’ve barely nudged it in 20 years.”
Overall results had stabilised, but long-term achievement performance was declining. Jones said this likely reflected more behavioural problems, bullying and falling attendance.
The most “troubling” development was declining attitudes towards reading, with more than half of surveyed Kiwi kids saying they only read if they had to, and 43 per cent not reading for enjoyment. This reflected kids spending more time on devices and the internet, and less reading books.
Children’s sense of belonging was also flagged in the report, with more students feeling lonely, awkward or “like an outsider” at school — possibly linked to social media.
The three-yearly Pisa study is considered the most robust international comparison of reading, maths and science abilities. Jones said the findings would help shape education policy, for instance how to tackle persistent bullying rates.
“Fifteen per cent of 15-year-olds report being frequently bullied — double the OECD average . . .”
The report also showed more than 80 per cent were proficient in reading, so most were gaining literacy skills: “That’s great but . . . an increasing number of learners even in senior secondary level are struggling with their reading and there is a particularly strong relationship between socio-economic disadvantage and achievement in New Zealand.”
The ministry was investing in children’s literacy and strengthening parents’ ability to read at home.
Judge Becroft said the bullying statistics were a disgrace. A coordinated governmental response was needed: “If ever there was a clarion call for action, this is it.”
He said the worrying proportion of students failing at school was closely linked to child poverty.
“Although we do well internationally, that hides the fact there’s a group for whom we need to do much better.”
Unite Union national director Mike Treen said the education system was failing disadvantaged communities, setting them up for lifetime poverty.
“They’ll be stuck in labouring work or fast-food jobs. Usually they are minimum wage.”
Education Minister Chris Hipkins said the report showed national standards had been a failure.