Thursday, December 09, 2004

Our NZ students are 'above average'!

The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) released this month its international study of the competitive performance of students in maths and reading.

New Zealand students, our Ministry ‘officials’ say, didn’t do too bad and are ‘above average’. Our students slipped from 3 rd in reading to 6 th, and from 3 rd in maths to12th. In comparison the USA ranked 28 th out of 40 countries in maths and 18 th in reading.

Countries that did well were Finland, South Korea, Canada and Australia.

The maths tests provided students with tasks they would have to confront as citizens and results showed that those countries that emphasized theoretical maths or rote learning did not do so well as those that emphasized practical aspects.

The study also showed a widening gap between the best and worst performing countries. In New Zealand, although our high performing students did well, we have a long underperforming tail. Finland by contrast has the smallest performance of underperforming students. I guess it is also one of the most homogenous countries in the study? I would hazard a guess that the more culturally diverse a country is the more difficult it is for their education system to cater for all students? If you add on top of this the presence economically disadvantaged groups this would also impact?

Our New Zealand Ministry ‘officials’ responded by saying that our low achieving tail of persistent underachievers points to the need for a different approach and that the Ministry’s Numeracy and Literacy Projects will help.

Time will tell.

I believe the real answer lies in teaching that provides for the basic needs of our underachieving students. We need to provide learning environments that foster intrinsic motivation. The OECD study indicated that students learn best when it is practical, meaningful and takes into account the students attitudes towards maths and reading.

Underachievement must be more than improving maths or reading scores. The problem of endemic underachievement extends into the wider community and even to the vision we have for our country.

Underachieving children could be seen as a symptom of a bigger challenge. They could give us the motivation to develop more appropriate teaching and learning models for the 21stC that ensure all students learn. They are the ‘canaries’ dying for want of educational air in our industrial age schools! We need to reinvent schools so teachers can work together with their communities to solve the problem of underachievement?

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Love the canary analogy!