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MICHAEL JOHNSTON: A daunting task ahead

Two decades ago, a new term – ‘PISA shock’ – entered the German lexicon.

The Germans had prided themselves on a world-class education system. However, the first round of data from the OECD’s Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) showed that their pride had been misplaced. Public outrage at the poor results of German students set off wholesale reform of school education. 

At that time, New Zealanders had little reason to suspect that their own education system was in trouble. In the first PISA tests, we ranked third in the OECD in reading and mathematics and sixth in science. But the seeds of our educational destruction had already been sown.  

During the 1980s and 1990s, New Zealand moved from structured, teacher-led learning towards an extreme ‘social constructivist’ approach.  

Literacy teaching under social constructivism makes the error of treating reading and writing like oral language. It tries to bypass the essential step of students systematically learning the correspondences between spelling and sound. 

Under the ‘numeracy project’, our teaching of primary school mathematics lost its way. Students are introduced to a confusing range of ‘strategies’ to solve problems. Basic knowledge is deemphasised.  

The downgrading of knowledge continued with the introduction of a new curriculum in 2007. The New Zealand Curriculum emphases ‘competencies’ like ‘managing self’ and ‘relating to others.’ It is very thin on knowledge. 

The latest PISA results, released this week, show a continuation of a long, slow decline. New Zealand has fallen from leading the world to the middle of the pack.  

A Policy Point from the New Zealand Initiative, also released this week, discusses new tests for NCEA literacy and numeracy. If passing these tests becomes compulsory in 2026, as planned, achievement rates for the qualification will plummet. Less than two thirds of candidates in the July 2023 assessments reached a basic adult level in these skills. 

In this ‘darkest hour’ of education in New Zealand, there is light on the horizon. The new Ministers responsible for school education come into office with sound policies. They have promised to reform literacy teaching, introduce a new, knowledge-rich curriculum and re-implement charter schools.  

These measures have all been recommended by The New Zealand Initiative. If successfully implemented, they will help meet the Government’s ambitious target for 80% of Year 8 students to meet curriculum expectations by 2030. 

The forces opposing reform will be formidable. But perpetuating the status quo is not an option. 

Dr Michael Johnston's policy point, Interim measure required for NCEA Literacy and Numeracy, was published on 5 December.


2,900 views47 comments


I love handing bills and change to milenial cashier's and seeing the look on their face when I refuse the coin give back, and tell them to key the whole amount into the register. Saying, "Do the math".

Replying to

Or we're speaking English " Do the Maths"


How are our teachers expected to carry out the art of education when they are daily confronted with children who spit, kick, bully and have multiple social issues developed in many cases as a result of poor parenting. Our teachers should not be used as social workers. The education system needs to be restructured to provide a range of disciplines/solutions that can be used to remove disruptive children from the classroom and allow our teachers to teach.


Dec 10, 2023


do any of the dinosaurs on here ever bothered to learn this new language, txt speak? c'mon! move with the times!

it's so much easier and faster, this txt speak. does not require you to sit in a stuffy class-room listening to some ancient spinster for hours on end, trying to teach you how to spell words! grab your phone and hammer away!

just try it! borrow the phone of your off-spring, yes, the fruit of your loins, and then learn! be educated! or rather, updated! we now are in the 21st century - no longer confined to the victorian age shackles.


Replying to

I assume that you are taking the piss ??


Aaron Shanahan
Aaron Shanahan
Dec 10, 2023

"The forces opposing reform will be formidable. But perpetuating the status quo is not an option. "

Damn straight.

I'm sick and tired and fed up to the bloody back teeth with idealogical rocks in the head shit for brains types like Mr and Mrs socialism coming in to tinker and eventually wreck a once proud and competent education model to assuage their need for things such as " inclusivity" , " diversity " , " wellness " all based on feelgood uselessness that makes one skin crawl.

These parasitical gnoshers that rattle about in my wallet have not the slightest interest in the outcome of their brainfart wizardry because as long as all is well in their heads …


Just think how difficult it would have been to sell the Anthropogenic Climate Change nonsense to a public who were NOT functionally illiterate in science.

It is now 30 years since the English subject was replaced with Integrated Studies .

The destruction of education over decades is not an accident.

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