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Who is teaching what to our children, asks Stu Crosson.
Who is responsible for a child's education? This seems like a fairly innocuous question but one which actually carries with it some very heavy cultural assumptions and implications.
As a fifth-generation Kiwi of European descent, who has raised three children and sent them all along to the local public school for their education, you might assume that I expect those same schools to educate my boys. Certainly in our Western culture for a few hundred years, the government-sponsored and structured schooling system has been the default institution for educating our children from at least the ages of 5 to 15.
However, in recent years a number of people have begun to question how well this is working out for our teachers and children alike. Parents, like myself, tend to observe our children growing and learning through the school years with a degree of bewildered ignorance about how the current NCEA system actually works or if it is serving our children.
Does it work? Is it simply in need of a few reforms that will allow it to once again be the pride of the international education community, or is it broken beyond repair?
Recently a report was released from The New Zealand Initiative entitled "New Zealand's Education Delusion".
If you had any doubts about the tone of the findings after reading the title, the opening sentence certainly makes the assessment quite clear, stating "There is a rot at the core of schooling in New Zealand". The author's main problem with our current system is a shift to a "child-centred’' approach to learning. It would appear that over the last two decades, New Zealand pupil achievements have fallen markedly against their fellow pupils in other OECD countries.
The Programme for International Student Achievement (PISA) measures how well 15-year-olds apply their knowledge and skills in reading, maths and science literacy in real-world contexts. In the year 2000, out of 32 countries, New Zealand's pupils ranked 3rd in reading, 3rd in mathematics and 6th in science literacy. By 2018, they had declined to 6th, 19th and 6th places, respectively.
In another recent international survey of 580,000 children in 64 countries called "The Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study" (TIMSS), New Zealand year 9 pupils’ scores fell by the largest margins since the study began in 1994. Directors of the study said the decline in New Zealand's 13-year-olds' results were "a little startling".
They also said New Zealand had one of the highest, if not the highest, use of technology in schools.
So coming back to the original question, who is responsible for the education of our children?
Most will be familiar with the old adage "it takes a village to raise a child". It sounds great doesn't it, but the trouble is we don't live in villages any more.
In this mythical "village" a child would be taught by Mum and Dad around the dining table, and tutored by the local scholar, and learn from the pastor in church on Sunday, and be taught by the blacksmith on Saturday and serve alongside the shopkeeper during the week — but not any longer.
Education has become an industry. Since the Industrial Revolution, a primary emphasis has been on educating our children to ensure they are employable within the commercial world.
But what of the human traits that don't automatically translate to economic professions. What of character, of virtue, of faith? The Hebrew scriptures declare that the fear of the Lord is the beginning of all wisdom (Proverbs 1:7). These same scriptures make the point that parents have the primary responsibility to teach their children this wisdom, that comes from a reverence for God.
Moses instructed the parents of Israel to impress God's commandments upon their children, as they walk along the road and sit down at home (Deuteronomy 6:7).
New Zealand's education system is built on the assumptions of a secular system. When the New Zealand Education Act was passed into law on November 29, 1877, the Church was doing a more comprehensive job of teaching faith to our nation. The Act established "free, compulsory and secular education".
When the majority of children were attending "Sunday schools" they were at least receiving some instruction in matters of faith one day a week. This is no longer true and the moral cracks are beginning to appear.
As a Christian minister, I thank God for the New Zealand school system that has served us for 140 years in some areas of our children's learning but it would appear statistically and anecdotally things are now not as they should be.
There are two foundational questions which I believe our culture no longer has clear answers for:
Who is responsible for the education of our children?
What does this education need to contain?
- Stu Crosson is a senior minister at the Hope Church, Dunedin.