The taxpaying public of New Zealand has the right to be kept aware of proposed changes to our national primary and secondary education curriculum. At this stage in its development the ‘refreshed curriculum’ is very light indeed on prescription and subject matter detail, thus requiring much work on the part of school administrators to develop their own local curricula and potentially giving rise to significant differences in content and delivery across schools and to wide variation in quality.
Further, it embeds traditional knowledge (Matauranga Māori) throughout the curriculum and across all learning areas (English, the Arts, Health and Physical Education, Learning Languages, Mathematics and Statistics, Science, Social Sciences and Technology), most probably requiring students of all ethnicities and backgrounds to spend significant class time on acquiring Matauranga Māori as truth and mastering te reo. In the opinion of many educators (and in my opinion too) both te reo and Matauranga Māori should be treasured, preserved and taught in schools, but the changes are very excessive and fail to recognise the multicultural nature of New Zealand society today.
Coming into force in 2026, the refreshed curriculum in its current form will damage the education of millions of students over future decades and impose costs of several billion dollars on taxpayers. A negative consequence will be the effect on every child of diverting time, that would otherwise be spent on critical learning, toward one form of traditional knowledge (Matauranga Māori) and te reo. Matauranga Māori is to be accorded equal status with world science of the twenty-first century, possibly taught as truth, and the quality of education and the portability of our secondary qualifications will suffer as a result.
We recommend that the refresh project be terminated and a new development team formed in order to develop a modern curriculum that focuses on literacy and numeracy and other critical learning and that caters for all students, irrespective of background, ethnicity or country of origin.
The Curriculum and Knowledge Systems
Recently, I published several articles expressing concern about the proposed revised curriculum for primary and secondary education in New Zealand (Lillis, 2023a, b, c & d). The Ministry of Education has now put out for comment to selected parties the so-called fast-testing draft for Science, Technology and The Arts. As I understand it, this document is not available publicly as yet.
We are assured that the Ministry wants to know whether the proposed content will improve the learning experiences of “ākonga” (formerly known as “students”), that subject matter content has been developed from the current New Zealand Curriculum and that the curriculum has been refreshed through the lenses of Te Tiriti-honouring and inclusive of all “ākonga”. We are also told that “ākonga” will:
1. Be clear that Te Ao Taiao/Science is developed by people being curious about, observing, and investigating the natural world
2. Develop place-based knowledge of the natural world and experience of the local area in which they live by accessing on and building on existing understandings, including from whānau, hapū and iwi
3. Bring knowledge from the past for acting now and in the immediate future - weaving their future.
Such objectives are laudable and in general have our support, but what exactly is intended by treaty-honouring in the context of a national curriculum that is supposed to cater for all students and should not all ethnic and cultural groups have the same right to contribute as whānau, hapū and iwi?
However, we are also told that “ākonga” will draw on multiple knowledge systems, tools and practices about the natural world so that they can participate as active, informed members of local, regional, and global communities and draw on multiple knowledge systems to contribute to more sustainable local and global ecosystems. This is where we have serious concerns.
Drawing upon multiple knowledge systems within a twenty-first century national curriculum is legitimate, provided that it is done with care. Thus, in no way should alternative ways of knowing be accorded equality with science, especially in science and technology curricula. Various parties, including education researchers and other experts, have provided comment to the Ministry of Education on an earlier curriculum document - Te Mātaiaho (Ministry of Education, 2022), but the “fast-testing draft” suggests that the Ministry has not listened. I repeat the main objections of my previous articles:
1. Traditional knowledge is to be embedded across the curriculum
2. Traditional knowledge is to be accorded equal status to that of modern science and possibly taught as science
3. The curriculum is being used as a political tool to elevate the status of one ethnic and cultural group at the expense of all others.
To these objections I add a fourth:
4. The curriculum lacks necessary content and specificity and will give rise to confusion for schools, parents and students.
Of course, it is critically important for the future of this country that we develop an up-to-date, precisely-defined curriculum across all learning areas and deliver first-class education. How many schools do we have in New Zealand that will stand to be affected by the new curriculum? About 2,500. How many registered or certificated teachers do we have in New Zealand, many or most of whom will have to undergo training in order to deliver mātauranga Māori within their teaching careers? About 150,000 (Teaching Council of Aotearoa New Zealand, 2023).
How many students will experience the new curriculum over one and two decades? When the new curriculum comes into force in 2026, approximately 860,000 students will become exposed to the curriculum, or a precursor of it, at early childhood, primary and secondary level (Lillis, 2022c). Over a decade from 2026, a total of about 1,536,000 New Zealand students will have experienced the curriculum, at a minimum. Similarly, over twenty years from 2026, approximately 2,263,000 New Zealand students will have experienced the curriculum. Again, this is a low estimate that does not account for the higher rate of annual population growth in numbers in the later years of the two decades (Lillis, 2022c).
It is not impossible that the new curriculum will lead to increased societal division and further widening of disparities in education outcomes when parents disengage from NCEA and opt to send their children to private schools that offer strong, culturally-neutral curricula that are based soundly on literacy, mathematics and modern science.
Thus, the stakes are extremely high and the cost very significant for our education system and especially for our students.
Lack of Specificity in the Curriculum
A major concern is that the curriculum lacks content and specificity. For example, so far the refreshed curriculum for The Arts embodies six pages, including Purpose Statement, Overview and Progress Outcomes, detailing learning for the entirety of the thirteen years of primary and secondary schooling, but provides very little subject matter content. Thus, the curriculum almost constitutes an ideological position statement rather than a prescription of what children should learn and a delineation of the skills, knowledge and know-how that they should acquire.
If this draft becomes the latest curriculum then teachers will be even more confused than they are now. Those with some subject knowledge or who teach in schools that have retained curriculum content from the past will continue to teach actual knowledge. The others will continue to teach very little. This is why inequality is increasing and may partly explain why many children do not attend school. After all, if little or nothing is being taught, then why attend?
The efforts of education specialists and experts are centred on the provision of prescribed content in the national curriculum so that it does not matter where in the country any student lives, so that there is no “postcode lottery” in education. All students should be taught the same material, deriving from the same curriculum. Until recently, this used to be the case. For example, the 1928 curriculum was very fine - even stating that standard three children must be taught how to pronounce lists of words correctly, including Māori words (Professor Elizabeth Rata, pers. comm.).
Under the superintendence of activists and postmodernists, in a misguided attempt to offer a freedom that only undermines less confident teachers and students in less well-resourced schools, the National Curriculum is becoming a guide only; and a heavily ideology-based one at that. Thus, it is up to schools, in consultation with their communities, to select and develop content. To be fair, the refreshed curriculum does provide some Mathematics content amongst the ideology - but very little for other subjects.
So - our response to this document should be that of outright rejection. Besides some genuinely relevant high-level, but insufficiently-detailed, statements of what students should understand know and do, the refreshed curriculum provides not much more than an ideological tract, untruthfully calling itself a curriculum.
The Purpose Statement for Science
Here I reproduce selected statements from the fast-draft Purpose Statement for Science and the Progress Outcomes for Science, and leave readers to form their own views. Though lacking detail, much of the text not reproduced here is perfectly acceptable as high-level assertions of purpose and what students should know and be able to do at the different levels within education, and so I reproduce only the critical text that concerns educators.
The major concerns are about the promotion of one traditional world view but not of other world views that pertain to non-Māori/non-European New Zealanders; the effective proclamation of one particular form of traditional knowledge as equal in status and application to world science, and the possible teaching of untruths such as the existence of a life-force that permeates all inanimate things (mauri).
Thus, in the section - Understand Big Ideas - on page 4, the main objections are the promulgation of one form of traditional knowledge only and its apparent equality, or near equality, with science in a modern curriculum.
He maha ngā ngā ara hei mātai, hei whakamāori hoki i ngā tūmomo āhuatanga o te ao Tūroa | There are multiple ways to observe and interpret phenomena and events in the natural world.
Mātauranga Māori and Science knowledge systems are built on distinctive philosophies, methodologies, and criteria and both knowledge systems have developed over time and place to record and refine ideas, and these knowledge systems continue to evolve. Working at the interface of these knowledge systems provides valuable opportunities for insights that uphold the integrity of each knowledge system.
Nō mai rā anō te mātauranga Māori, e mau tonu nei, ā, haere ake nei
Mātauranga Māori is developed by careful and prolonged observation of natural processes, and the identification and interpretation of patterns in nature.
Mātauranga Māori determines the ways that Māori interact with the environment with specific reference to the knowledge handed down through generations with some understandings that are generalisable and others that are iwi and hapū specific. In mātauranga Māori accounts of natural systems, people are typically positioned inside the system as one interconnected part. Over time this knowledge evolves, in both refined and expanded ways, in light of new knowledge about the changing natural world
In the section - Know Contexts - on page 4, the same objections apply:
Kei te haputa o te mōhiotanga hou: mai rā anō, ā, moroki noa nei | At the cutting edge: historical and contemporary
This context focuses on the boundaries of current knowledge about the natural world to explore concepts that are emerging or not yet well understood. The context also focuses on the current contributions of mātauranga Māori at the interface with Science and other fields of knowledge.
Te pūnaha ā-Ao | The Earth system
This context focuses on the Earth as a system composed of many interconnected systems such as the atmosphere, geosphere, hydrosphere, and that matter and energy flow in these systems. It recognises that mātauranga Māori affords its own systems in considering Papatūānuku. . . . It recognises that Indigenous knowledge systems can contribute to more robust understandings of how to mitigate climate change as well as how to live more sustainably within the natural world.
Te kanorau koiora me te manawaroa | Biodiversity and resilience
This context focuses on ecosystem, species, and genetic diversity and how important it is to support systems that enable all organisms including humans to survive. It recognises that Māori see themselves as a part of the diversity of the ecosystem . . . and that we must learn from mātauranga Māori in order to sustain the diversity and variety of species and of ecosystems on Earth.
Te rangi, te whenua me te moana – te hononga o te kai, te pūngao me te wai | Food, energy, and, water nexus
This context focuses on how the components of food, energy, and water relate to each other and the role of each component as it relates to others in the system. It recognises knowledge developed by mātauranga Māori and Indigenous knowledge systems as central to the sustainability of food, energy, and water resources.
Te tukutuku me te tātari raraunga | Processing and analysing data
Drawing on a broad range of data, including mātauranga Māori sources, provides a more robust and layered understanding of the context being investigated.
Progress Outcomes for Science
At the cutting edge: historical and contemporary
Stories and pūrakau about how peoples’ curiosity and persistence have led to new breakthroughs in knowledge about the natural world, such as Māui snaring the Sun, as I have explored cutting edge examples with reference to historical and contemporary Mātauranga Māori and Science example. (Year 3)
How collaboration across boundaries accelerates the development of new knowledge about the natural world. How our understandings about the natural world are advanced and enriched by contributions from multiple knowledge systems. (Year 8)
The impacts that the suppression of some knowledge systems and marginalisation of some people has had on advances in knowledge about the natural world. Some of the human-induced challenges that are impacting the natural world and the radically different thinking and exploration of the interface of multiple knowledges that will be required to address them. (Year 10)
How established ways of working are challenged as dimensions such as ethics and indigeneity are brought to the centre when new knowledge is being constructed at the boundary. (Year 13)
It is a purely personal view that suppression of certain knowledge systems has indeed taken place, but mainly as a result of having been vastly superseded by world science and that, while traditional knowledge and values have much to offer to policy and decision-making, its direct scientific content is relatively minor and is greatly overstated here in New Zealand.
Comments on the Science Purpose Statement and Progress Outcomes
Apart from promulgating the notion that traditional knowledge of small communities scattered across the world of centuries ago is somehow equal to world science (with its complement of highly-trained researchers, enormous levels of resourcing, collaboration across institutions and across nations, peer review and publication in reputable journals), we are not told what is meant by working at the interface. From the perspective of scientists and educators, one major distinction between certain forms of traditional knowledge, such as mātauranga Māori, and science lies in the fact that the latter can be challenged while the former is, apparently, sacrosanct.
In the Progress Outcomes in Science for all years of schooling from Years 3 to 13, we read:
I am deepening my understanding that . . . There are multiple ways to observe and interpret phenomena and events in the natural world. Mātauranga Māori is developed by careful and prolonged observation of natural processes, and the identification and interpretation of patterns in nature.
and . . .
Mātauranga Māori and Science knowledge production and use is intricately linked to technology and to social factors.
So - in science class our students are being assured of multiple ways to observe and interpret phenomena and events in the natural world (other ways of knowing). In no other country would this happen. Furthermore, only one form of traditional knowledge is accommodated and all the others that pertain to different cultural groups in New Zealand are ignored.
On page 11 the student is told:
I can . . . act ethically and responsibly, balancing Mātauranga Māori and/or Science knowledge with an awareness and respect for multiple perspectives and influences, including social, political, financial, ecological.
So - is it the intention that all New Zealand students (and non-students?) balance Mātauranga Māori and/or Science knowledge throughout their education and possibly beyond? Can they choose any form of traditional knowledge as an alternative to world science and, if so, how will other nations evaluate our education system and our secondary qualifications?
Purpose Statement and Progress Outcomes for Technology
Māori are Aotearoa New Zealand’s first technologists. Hundreds of years ago, tūpuna Māori flourished here using technology and technological practice to adapt to and modify te taiao, sometimes adapting Pacific technologies – including tools and processes for navigation, agriculture, food preservation and storage, and building waka and whare – to suit a new, harsher environment. The motu today, with their mix of technologies from all corners of the globe, has a reputation for auahatanga and a creative spirit.
We agree with the above statement.
In the Overview for Technology we read:
Technology is its own body of knowledge that draws from and empowers other bodies of knowledge... Technologists draw on knowledge and practices from other knowledge areas, particularly mātauranga Māori, mathematics and statistics, science, the arts, and social sciences.
Ethics and responsibility
This context focuses on the ethical and legal responsibilities of designers, stakeholders, and users at all stages of the technological process, with a particular focus on mātauranga Māori considerations, designing for equity and inclusion...
In the Progress Outcomes for Technology we read:
Mauri helps my technological practice as I learn how to help the people closest to me.
I am deepening my understanding that: The continuous history of Māori ingenuity and adaptation has created distinctive local ways of being innovative. (Years 3, 6, 8, 10, 13)
I know: Ethics and responsibility Kōrero tuku iho hold many Māori kupu (words), symbols, and designs that are important and could support my technological practice. (Year 8)
I know: Ethics and responsibility Ethical, inclusive, and responsible practice means paying attention to cultural differences and different ideas about ownership and fair use, including consulting appropriate Māori elders or representatives when working with Māori design elements. (Year 13)
Is mauri a plausible concept within a technology curriculum? We agree on the truth of a continuous history of Māori ingenuity and adaptation and that certain Māori words, symbols and designs are important and could support technological practice, but what about the ingenuity, adaptation, words, symbols and designs of others? And why a particular focus on Mātauranga Māori considerations? Is technology primarily about equity and inclusion? Perhaps so, though arguably it is more about the welfare of all people and the world’s environments – a related but somewhat different notion.
Purpose Statement and Progress Outcomes for the Arts
He taonga tuku iho The arts of Aotearoa New Zealand is unique, and it has been passed down through many generations. The influences of Indigenous Māori artists and art forms, and our location in Te Moana-nui-a-Kiwa, shape the distinctiveness of the arts in Aotearoa. The arts carry intergenerational memories and thoughts about our relationship to the environment.
Societal, historical, and political contexts.
The arts are shaped for and by communities. The arts can record, reflect upon, and challenge history. The arts are created and understood within the relations of power. (Year 3)
We agree on the many positive influences of indigenous Māori artists and art forms to New Zealand society, but what about the influences and art forms of others?
Listen to the Experts
The refreshed curriculum documents seem to offer what the Ministry of Education means by 'guidance'. Apparently, they provide guidance for the localised curriculum and it remains up to each school, in consultation with its community, to develop its own curriculum. Thus, it becomes the community or school, rather than the foundational discipline, that provides the source of authority for what is taught to children. Hence, many school principals and other senior staff are under great stress in inventing their local curricula. It is little wonder that schools, parents and students are confused.
New Zealand desperately needs advice from those who have studied the science of reading and learning, such as Dr. Michael Johnston, Professor Elizabeth Rata and others. Such experts know the research literature on what works in the classroom and what does not. They are the people who should be trusted to lift delivery and quality of education and enhance learning and performance, rather than activists and ideologues whose mission, evidently, is to force a postmodern ideology and minority world view on every New Zealander, especially our children.
Unfortunately, the Ministry of Education is getting it badly wrong and listens to political activists and ideologues rather than to expert advice. Generations of New Zealand students will experience impaired education as a result.
Academics and primary and secondary educators who question the intrusion of traditional knowledge into science and education are at great risk of allegations of racism and possibly of losing their jobs. Many have reported bullying of themselves and others. Surely, highly-qualified professionals who advance such perspectives do so in good faith and with concern for the good of New Zealand. They deserve to be heard, rather than to be threatened or punished.
Science and Traditional Knowledge
For scientists and educators, one critical difference between traditional knowledge (such as Mātauranga Māori) and science is that the latter can be challenged, while it appears that Mātauranga Māori cannot. Further, we do not know what is meant by working at the interface. Does it involve singing a karakia at the beginning and end of each session of laboratory work?
While allowing more space within the science curriculum for Mātauranga Māori may appear to compensate for the alleged arrogance and exclusiveness of science, this is not actually the case. Other traditional knowledges, including many Asian, Middle Eastern and European traditional knowledges, are given no place. And science, far from being arrogant and exclusive, is actually both based on humility (in that it does not claim to know what cannot be tested against evidence) and on inclusiveness (in that anyone who has taken the trouble to learn can test and challenge the ideas of science).
...science itself is, and has to be, value-laden: it places the strongest value on truth and the elimination of error, on humility (we should not claim to know what we don’t [e.g. about a realm that transcends the senses, and spiritual beings that inhabit it], and we should recognize how much we still have to discover), on anti-authoritarianism (nothing is true because a particular authority claims it so), on universalism (what is true in science should be true for everybody anywhere; and no particular individual or group can claim privileged access to truth), and on collaboration (all are welcome to contribute to the advancing and to the challenging of knowledge claims, provided they all share the aim of searching for the truth and eliminating error; we all have to be ready to learn from each other in proposing and testing ideas, gathering data, eliminating errors and, we hope, advancing toward truth) without, to the extent it is humanly possible, any pressure to conformity.
In many cases people may share some or maybe even all of these values, but by affording equivalence between any form of traditional knowledge and science, they are creating an environment of "alternative facts", and conflating policy with the collation and analysis of reliable information.
Science has never been perfect and has even been cruel. In the past it has at times been indifferent to the harms it has caused in vivisection, animal experimentation, experimentation on the poor or the non-white, and on obtaining consent from or accrediting human subjects who are not part of the scientist's milieu. However, enslavement, torture, trial by ordeal, human sacrifice and executions, authoritarianism and brutal discipline in and beyond the home, and racism, sexism, and intolerance or heartlessness to the physically or mentally disadvantaged or the sexually different, have also been part of human history, as have brutality to and wholescale slaughter of animals. Science, while by and large not following these practices, has often been limited - after all, it is a human activity - by the perspectives and the circle of compassion of its times. But it has usually been slightly ahead of the values of its times.
So while Mātauranga Māori could be criticized for certain of its values, especially by comparison with science (it does not have the same focus on truth and the elimination of error, being far more concerned, like many religious systems, with the continuity and the genealogy of, and the conformity to, tradition), it should not be criticized for having values, as opposed to a supposedly value-free science. Science has values and, fortunately, is acquiring more. (Professor Brian Boyd, Distinguished Professor Emeritus of English, University of Auckland)
Long Term Declines in New Zealand’s Academic Performance
An overarching concern is that the new traditional knowledge-based curriculum is under development at a time when New Zealand’s academic performance has been in steady decline for more than two decades. For example, the Progress in International Reading Literacy Study (PIRLS) shows that the reading skills of New Zealand students continue to decline. In 2021, New Zealand recorded its lowest score since the inception of PIRLS in 2001 (e.g. Scoop, 2023).
Further, the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA), a survey of 15-year-old students conducted every three years, shows even more worrying declines. New Zealand's performance in mathematics reflects one of the largest drops within participating countries (OECD, 2018). New Zealand's mean performance has been declining steadily in reading (2000-18), mathematics (2003-18) and science (2006-18) from high levels of performance. In addition, it has been declining in science, at least since 2012. In reading, more rapid declines were observed amongst the country’s lowest-achieving students. In mathematics and science, performance declined to a similar extent at the top and the bottom of the performance distribution, as well as on average.
Finally, in 2022 we held a pilot of new Literacy and Numeracy Assessments for NCEA. The new assessments are to be introduced as part of the Ministry of Education’s review of the NCEA. However, only one third of the pilot students passed the writing assessment, and only two thirds passed each of the reading and numeracy assessments (Dr. Michael Johnston, pers. comm.).
Clearly, we have duty of care to ensure that the observed declines are rectified rather than exacerbated through a distorted curriculum that forces students of all backgrounds, ethnicities and religions to spend class time on one minority world view and language (beyond that required for their preservation) and away from critical learning (such as literacy and numeracy) and that lacks clear prescription, guidance to schools and relevance to non-Māori/non-European students.
The Dangers of Treaty-Centrism
Over the last century or more, all New Zealanders, including Māori, have gained from the rule of law, education, healthcare, a more peaceful society than previously, and other benefits. However, we recognize historic injustices and damage to Māori culture and self-confidence. The trajectories thus created have contributed to Māori emerging poorly in various indices of social and economic wellbeing.
Today such negative outcomes are being offset through diverse financial assistance; scholarships and other education-related incentives; preferential admission to Medical School; heavily Treaty-centric, Matauranga Māori-based early childhood, primary and secondary education curricula; Māori wards; an increasingly Treaty-centric tertiary sector; a Treaty-centric public service; naming of public institutions in te reo, and a dedicated health authority.
However, in our discourse on the Treaty of Waitangi and in our desire to embed it within diverse aspects of New Zealand life, we appear to have forgotten that New Zealand is a multicultural, rather than bicultural, society, comprising many ethnic and cultural groups, and that other demographic groups are similarly disadvantaged in health, education and various measures of socioeconomic wellbeing; for example, Pacific people, whose indices of health and wellbeing and socioeconomic deprivation are in many cases worse than those of Māori (Lillis, 2023e).
Traditional Knowledge and the Tertiary Environment
Embedding of the Treaty of Waitangi and Matauranga Māori within our early childhood, primary and secondary education follows similar trends in science, public health and elsewhere. In science, Government now proposes to favour Māori and Pacific research and researchers, essentially allocating funding on the basis of reported ethnicity, rather than on quality or relevance. New Zealand should support excellent Māori and Pacific research, but within defined limits, and there is no compelling justification for preferring lightweight research of limited reach over true excellence on a systemic basis.
So - the crucial difference between Matauranga Māori and science is that science is open to challenge. Surely, it is a violation of the principle of open inquiry to insist that any body of knowledge should be inculcated as closed, and therefore not to be challenged. Some Matauranga Māori experts insist that Matauranga Māori is open to science, to Christianity etc. However, it appears that this is not the kind of Matauranga Māori that its advocates want to impose (Professor Brian Boyd, pers. comm.).
It is most regrettable that the new curriculum will exacerbate unequal outcomes when the aim should be to decrease them. Parents who have the knowledge to fill education gaps will assist, but children whose parents do not have the capability, and who are forced to trust the state education system, will suffer.
Of course, our primary and secondary education are undergoing negative transformation but at present our universities are also integrating Māori values, practices and beliefs into their teaching and research environments. While some traditional knowledge, including Matauranga Māori, has currency in certain domains, it is not compatible with a modern evidence-based research environment. The concept of Mauri (a life force), for example, is inconsistent with present-day research values and its equivalent had already been abandoned from the world research effort by the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.
Furthermore, embracing the Treaty of Waitangi is not an initiative with which a non-Crown agency, such as a University, supposedly the critic and conscience of society, should engage. The University should be free to discuss and critique the Treaty and related social issues, rather than promoting them in highly-politicised, contentious and intolerant forms that take little account of the Treaty’s original text.
We are informed by University of Auckland staff that the university aims to be a place where te reo Māori can flourish, where the language is used by everybody, everywhere and every day. The commitments of the University towards achieving this aim are outlined in the University ‘Language Plan for the Revitalisation of te Reo Māori: Te taonga nō tua whakarere, he taonga mo āpōpō: A treasure from ancient times, and for tomorrow’. Apparently, one of the goals articulated within the plan is that all University staff will participate in te reo learning.
Surely, some te reo for some staff in certain subject areas and for those others who wish to engage, is desirable but, given that approximately 16% of New Zealanders claim Māori ancestry and that only about 3% of New Zealanders speak te reo with fluency (Māori Party, 2023), is the goal of having a minority language used by everybody, everywhere and every day sensible and does it constitute wise expenditure of taxpayers’ money and everyone’s time?
Stop the Refresh Project
At this stage we believe that the curriculum refresh should be stopped and a new curriculum development team appointed to develop a national curriculum that is not race-based or that places any form of traditional knowledge at its core, but instead is equitable for all students, regardless of background. If Government cannot or will not cancel the refresh, then we suggest to the Ministry of Education that subject curricula focus on subject content only. Thus, the science curriculum should include science only and never touch on other domains such as religion, spiritualism, mythology or cultural world-views.
The curriculum should include te reo and Matauranga Māori, but within reason and not at the expense of literacy, numeracy and other critical skills and learning. It should also include elements of languages and world-views of other immigrant communities. Curriculum content should be factual and balanced, and education should concern itself with subject content and how to think, but not inculcating what to think in relation to social or political issues.
The Way Forward for Education
Following discussion with my former colleague, Dr. Michael Johnston, we suggest that New Zealand considers the following initiatives in order to repair current problems with education and to improve teaching and learning:
1. Redesign the National Certificate of Educational Achievement (NCEA) in order to encourage more coherent teaching and reduce superficial learning.
2. Reform literacy and numeracy teaching at primary level (Years 1-8).
3. Introduce and fund structured literacy and numeracy programmes for Years 8-10.
4. Strengthen trainee primary teachers' knowledge and skills in both literacy and numeracy, and enhance their effectiveness in developing literacy and numeracy in young students.
5. Terminate the current Curriculum Refresh project, with its dangerous lack of specification and its potentially damaging over-emphasis on traditional knowledge, and introduce a new, knowledge-rich curriculum that is centred on literacy, numeracy and disciplinary subjects.
6. Release University academic staff involved in teacher education from the requirement to be active researchers. Teaching is a craft, rather than an academic exercise, and we should re-implement teachers’ colleges as they operated in the 1980s.
7. Reform initial teacher education so as to focus on effective teaching methods that are based on the science of reading and learning, sound curriculum knowledge and formative assessment.
8. Introduce a performance-based career structure for teachers, where promotions are based on professional standards.
9. Streamline the process for hiring international teachers.
10. Expand the National Monitoring Study of Student Achievement (NMSSA).
11. Refocus the core research function of The New Zealand Council for Educational Research (NZCER) on large-scale quantitative, generalizable research on teaching and learning.
For further detail on the above recommendations, see Johnston (2023).
A critical challenge for any incoming Government that wishes to resolve the education curriculum and the research funding system will be to reshape the relevant Government entities. It will be very difficult for a new minister to reverse the asserted parity between traditional knowledge and science if the relevant ministries continue to be populated with ideologues, some of whom appear to be fanatical in their purpose. Nevertheless, termination or substantive redirection of the entire refresh or, as a last resort, replacement in several senior roles with new people who are not aligned with the current progressive activism could lead to rebalancing of the policy writing teams.
Several colleagues contributed substantially to this article through ongoing dialogue and exchange of views over several years. In particular, I wish to thank Elizabeth Rata (Professor in the School of Critical Studies in Education at The University of Auckland) and Brian Boyd (Distinguished Professor Emeritus of English, University of Auckland) for their discussion and feedback.
Johnston, J. (2023). Save our schools - solutions for New Zealand's education crisis
Lillis, D. A. (2023a). Education is in Big Trouble
Lillis. D. A. (2023b). Reactions to the Proposed New Zealand Curriculum Refresh
Lillis, D. A. (2023c). New Zealand Must Fight the New Curriculum
Lillis. D. A. (2023d). Have Your Say about the New Curriculum
Lillis, D. A. (2023e). Our Prioritised Health System and Pacific People
Māori Party (2023). Te Reo Māori - Executive Summary
Ministry of Education (2022). Te Mātaiaho Draft for Feedback
OECD (2018). New Zealand - Country Note - PISA 2018 Results
Scoop (2023). Global Study Shows NZ Reading Ability At Lowest Ever
Teaching Council of Aotearoa New Zealand (2023). What we do
Dr David Lillis trained in physics and mathematics at Victoria University and Curtin University in Perth, working as a teacher, researcher, statistician and lecturer for most of his career. He has published many articles and scientific papers, as well as a book on graphing and statistics.
This article was first published at Breaking Views