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Richard Prebble: Boys Education is rigged against them


“This game is rigged against the boys”. Last week I was watching my moko play Little Ripper Rugby. Athletic, tiny girls were running around the boys.


When I was seven in the school playground we played full contact League. We boys loved it. If my moko had been playing League he would have been hard to stop.


I am grateful to the volunteers who enable him to play sport. My daughters would have loved Little Ripper Rugby. The rules do encourage the girls. I hope the rules that handicap the boys do not discourage him from playing sport.


I’ve been thinking. Is this the reason so many Maori boys drop out of school? Is education rigged against them?

While many Maori boys excel at school the education odds are stacked against my mokopuna. Maori boys are the most likely to leave school early with no NCEA credits and unable to read and do math.


Girls are better at language than boys. Look and see reading has been a disaster for boys. .

Joseph Driessen, an international educationalist, says “there was no gap between boys and girls results in the pre-1970s school certificate exams”. He says more language has been introduced into math to assist girls. The extra language has improved girl’s math scores but it has lowered boys’ results.


A Unicef study published in 2018 found New Zealand education was the most unequal between girls and boys in the developed world, only Malta was worse.


The Labour government’s solution is a new history curriculum. Teaching my moko he is a victim will not help him succeed.


Each gender requires different teaching techniques. Techniques that assist girls are being preferred regardless of whether it penalizes boys.


Boys do better in exams. Much of NCEA is now continuous assessment.


Most damaging is student lead learning. Boys learn better in a structured system with rewards and sanctions. The new secondary schools built to facilitate student lead learning have awful NCEA results. The schools that have teacher lead learning have the best NCEA results.


Girls’ educational achievement is something to celebrate.


As chairman of a telecom company I once took a trip to Shenzhen, China, to visit our suppliers. At each factory we were hosted by female engineers. The owners of two companies were women. I then went to Pakistan to negotiate a contract. I only negotiated with men.


China, utilizing its entire people, is an economic power house. Pakistan, refusing to use half its talent, is a basket case.


The question is can we afford the waste of having such a huge gender gap? The answer from the international educational achievement tables is no. We are now at the bottom of the English speaking world for literacy and math. Our educational gender gap ranks us 40th in the world.


On the Ministry of Education’s website there is a token entry on boys’ education. There has been no research for 15 years. The ministry claims “it is not true to say that boys are under-achieving across the board”. No one is saying all boys are failing. In the year that report was posted girls on average scored 10% higher in their NCEA results than boys.

The ministry is ignoring the statistics. Today at bachelor degree level, just 38 per cent of full-time university students are men.


Some feminists in education have justified the gender gap by saying the work place is still not equal for women. Are they saying it is equal for Maori? Rigging education to disadvantage any child is never justified.


In the Cabinet Report of Labour’s Education summit there is not one reference to boys’ education. My google search did not reveal a single statement of concern by the Minister.

Perhaps the reason is the vitriolic response to anyone who does raise a concern. When the principal of Nelson’s Hampden Street primary asked "Why aren't we more concerned about our boys?" he was subjected to such on line abuse he apologized.


Our daughters’ success is blinding us from realizing it is only relative success. New Zealand’s education standards are falling. New Zealand has only one university in the top 100.


You cannot cure a problem you refuse to recognize is a problem.


A real cause of child poverty is educational failure. Throwing money at child poverty will not cure the causes. Labour needs to acknowledge the connection between poverty and educational failure.


The Chinese proverb expresses what is wrong with Labour’s approach. “If you give a man a fish, he will be hungry tomorrow. If you teach a man to fish, he will be richer forever.”


Forty other countries have a narrower gender gap and higher educational achievement scores.


We can lift education standards and boys’ educational achievement but only when we admit state education is rigged against my moko.


Richard Prebble CBE is a former member of the New Zealand Parliament. Initially a member of the Labour Party, he joined the newly formed ACT New Zealand party under Roger Douglas in 1996, becoming its leader from 1996 to 2004.

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