Declining literacy and maths skills are not our monopoly

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Our Editorial in Indian Newslink May 1, 2022 Edition

Auckland, May 2, 2022

New Zealand has been slipping badly on education and the country is fast declining in its literacy and numeracy standards within the member countries of the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), a grouping of rich countries.

Every politician in the opposition will tell you that we are also failing as parents, giving little or no time for our children and hence must take the blame for the dire state of affairs.

The Literacy and Communication Strategy published recently by the Education Ministry said that declining literacy achievement levels and inequities have persisted for the same groups of learners for many years. Admitting that the performance of the system is poor, the report said that it is difficult to evaluate the impact of initiatives in place to support literacy and communication teaching and learning.

Transformational System needed

We agree with the Ministry’s belief that a system-wide transformational shift is needed to prepare learners with the literacy and communication knowledge and skills which will allow them to thrive and make meaning in their environments and the wider world. The Strategy aims to strengthen and future-proof the early learning and schooling system for the next generations and provide learners with the critical and creative literacy & communication skills they need going forward into adulthood.

The Strategy presents a coherent and sustainable system of support for literacy and communication, spanning from early learning to the end of schooling.

The Ministry has identified approaches that will enable the system to provide the right amount and type of support to learners when they need it. The Ministry should collaborate with all groups involved in the early learning and schooling system and those who are affected, including learners and their families to To fully realise the strategy recommendations.

A global phenomenon

Falling literacy and maths skills are not peculiar to New Zealand. They are even more pronounced in Australia, the United Kingdom and the United States of America than here. According to an international study, American pupils have been ranked poorly in international maths examinations for the past several decades. While those of 15 years of age ranked 25th on the OECD list American adults ranked fourth from last in numeracy, when compared to other OECD countries.

The Economist said that American employers are desperate for Science, Technology, Engineering And Mathematics Skills: Nuclear Engineers, Software Developers And Machinists are in short supply. “While maths scores are bad enough now, they could be getting worse. On the National Assessment of Educational Progress, a national examination, 13-year-old pupils’ scores dropped five points in 2020 compared with their peers’ in 2012. The status quo does not add up. But teachers and academics cannot agree on where to go next,” the publication said.

Public concern and political focus have prompted the Education Ministry to gather evidence of how learners acquire and consolidate their literacy and communication learning, and the teaching approaches have proven effective in enhancing progress and equity.

The strategy builds on a life course approach, acknowledging the building blocks required along the whole pathway that contribute to lifelong wellbeing. It takes a wider view of literacy than the traditional focus on reading and writing because we know literacy is about more than this. Equal importance must be placed on oral language, speaking, listening, viewing, presenting, and the interdependencies between them, as well as digital literacy if we are to prepare learners with what they need.

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