Need for urgency in implementing National Standards

National Standards should be given a chance to prove their worth, Keith Furniss, of Dunedin, says.

David McKenzie (30.8.11) boldly declares that the "execution of the National Standards into New Zealand primary schools has been a lamentable failure", but that is simply not so. The process of introducing National Standards is only half complete, and any such judgement is premature.

Yet, already parents are beginning to appreciate the plain English reports, previously denied to them, on how their children are progressing. That, however, is only part of the reason for introducing National Standards. More significant is the fact that for the first time the Ministry of Education, Government, and indeed all of us will know how well our children are acquiring literacy and numeracy. For while many schools have had effective assessment systems in place, the medley of models has not allowed national statistics to be collected and collated. The best guess is that between one and two children in five are leaving primary school unable to read and write satisfactorily.

Mr McKenzie and I will agree on one thing, no doubt, that someone who cannot read and write competently stands little chance of finding employment in the 21st century. As things stand, between 20% and 40% of pupils are going to struggle with further education.

Yet, with politicians of all colours emphasising the need for up-skilling, there is a need for urgency. But he wishes to spend more time trialling the new system, while more pupils go on to a life of frustration and failure. One has to ask what have the schools been doing for the past 20 or 30 years to let the present deplorable state of affairs arise?

National Standards will allow the Ministry of Education to identify and help children in difficulty, and allow the Government to more accurately target resources.

A total of 760 school principals may have jumped too hastily to condemn the Government's introduction of National Standards. Be that as it may, as tempers cool and more familiarity is gained with National Standards, fewer schools remain determined to flout the law.

It is, after all, a minor imposition to place on them.

And Pembroke School has only been given a very gentle reminder that we are all required to obey the law. The Education Minister, Anne Tolley, has given assurances that any problems that arise will be addressed, and a review committee has been appointed, which Mr McKenzie, however, attempts to damn with faint praise. But if there is little evidence of its worth, that is because few problems have been brought in.

He concludes by saying "we should all hang our heads in shame that right now, too many children in our schools are having to be fed breakfast". But more pertinently we should all hang our heads in shame that so many go on to end up in prison, unable to read and write.

With the introduction of National Standards we are finally beginning to do something about it.

 - Keith Furniss is a former physiotherapy lecturer who also holds a history PhD. He says his particular interest in national standards arose because of the trouble he had learning to read and write.


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