I’ve written many times about the decline of academics in New Zealand over the past 20 years. This is not a matter of debate; it’s shown by many statistics. One site, for example, gives the data and, quoting from other sources, says this:
The New Zealand education system is also now one of the most unequal in the world. The gap between the educational “haves” and “have nots” eclipses all our English-speaking OECD peers. All this, despite Government spending per child increasing in real terms by more than 30% since 2001.
Here is more from Roger Partridge (2020). Here is a 2022 update:
Low attendance at school is another sign the country’s education system is slipping with children from lower socio-economic areas the worst affected, the executive director of the New Zealand Initiative says.
The New Zealand Initiative is a think tank which carries out research to help New Zealand plan for the future.
It has commented on new research by the Education Review Office that shows children are missing school more in New Zealand than other English-speaking countries.
The office found four in ten parents were comfortable with their child missing a week or more of school per term and a third of students did not see going to school every day as that important…
The education system had been declining for 25 years and data backed up his view, such as the Pisa study carried out by the OECD. As an example, in maths the knowledge of a 15-year-old New Zealand student equated to a student aged 13 and a half 20 years ago.
Also from 2022:
In the past 12-18 years, New Zealand’s scores had declined by 23 points for reading, 22 points for science and 29 points for maths. The OECD estimated that 30 points was equivalent to one-year of learning.
If you want more, see this article from the New Zealand Herald, this one from the Waikato Business News, this one from Stuff, this one from the New Zealand Initiative, and a post I wrote about the data in June. All sources agree on this decline, though the government, bent on achieving educational equity rather than quality, doesn’t seem to care much.
The post below by three Kiwi professors highlights the problems even more, blaming them on “misplaced social justice activism” that is hurting all groups in NZ, including the Māori, supposedly the beneficiaries of much of the new reforms. The problem is that the government, which is about as woke as they come, wants to reform education by making it more Māori-centric instead of making it more rigorous.
One sign of this, which I’m not going to dwell on today, is the explicit drive to teach science in such a way that modern science (misleadingly called “Western science”) is taught as co-equal to Māori “ways of knowing” (Mātauranga Māori, or MM), which, while including some empirical evidence, is also laden with myth, legend, superstition, religion, and morality. I cann’t emphasize to the reader how much the drive to sacralize the ways of indigenous people has permeated the country. But in the end this will make it more parochial and less able to compete with similar countries for educational status and achievement.
Kiwis dare not question this drive as it puts their jobs and reputations in jeopardy. But the three below took the chance:
Click to read.
A few quotes:
Social justice activism is potentially damaging to the New Zealand university system and society as a whole (see the recent article by Peter Winsley ). University students must, of course, be free to study and debate social justice issues, but it is the place of the State, the courts, and charities to deliver social justice, not the university itself. Universities should be places of open enquiry in the quest for evidence-based truth and of open debate on matters of controversy, but not institutions where subjective experience or an ideological view is presented as an unarguable truth and becomes indoctrination.
. . . Social justice activism is potentially damaging to the New Zealand university system and society as a whole (see the recent article by Peter Winsley ). University students must, of course, be free to study and debate social justice issues, but it is the place of the State, the courts, and charities to deliver social justice, not the university itself. Universities should be places of open enquiry in the quest for evidence-based truth and of open debate on matters of controversy, but not institutions where subjective experience or an ideological view is presented as an unarguable truth and becomes indoctrination.
Some dangers of speaking out (there are far more incidents like these than I could recount):
Here in New Zealand, a senior academic was recently warned that questioning a perceived fall in academic standards would lead to disciplinary action. Also in New Zealand, failing to address matauranga Māori (Māori knowledge, including traditional concepts of knowledge) in contestable funding grant applications, even in mathematics or fundamental physics, may jeopardise the chance of winning a grant. These are just [two] examples of situations that have become commonplace.
. . . Many academics are uncomfortable with the direction that is now being taken but are afraid to speak out for fear of loss of promotion prospects, disciplinary action, being labelled racist, or even finding their names on one of the current redundancy lists.
Even questioning whether MM should be taught as coequal to modern science in science class also got seven signers of the famous Listener letter in trouble; all were demonized, some demoted. and two were reported to New Zealand’s Royal Society, of which they were members. (The “investigation” fizzled.)
I’ll skip the rest of the article except to highlight the solutions offered by the authors—solutions that are sensible but seemingly impossible to enact:
How do we turn all of this around? Possible actions are:
Incentivise freedom of speech and political neutrality. It is not the remit or responsibility of the university to be the kind and conscionable face of the State, or of any political party. For that we have the justice system and Government agencies. Government does not own our universities but, of course, is a major funder. It could influence internal policy by strong encouragement of freedom of speech, and by rewarding an absence of social justice politics driving programmes and staff behaviours. This could occur through, for example, targeted funding around best practice in the neutral role of “critic and conscience of society” and/or international teaching and research relevance. While social justice issues should be widely debated, a university’s operating culture should not be driven by social justice political agendas.
Carry out an internationally benchmarked review of university funding and reset base student funding levels, with a higher proportion of government funding supporting institutional operations. The level of student fees for the various programme categories will also have to be reviewed. Conversely, we would ideally deliver fees-free degree education, but if this is not possible, then access to university education could be ensured for students of limited means by funding targeted, need-based scholarships. Internally, universities should refocus a greater proportion of expenditure on core teaching and research.
Re-focus the Performance Based Research Fund back from its recently increased social justice focus to a renewed emphasis on research excellence and relevance.
Reboot Immigration New Zealand to ensure that ample, properly trained capability is present to deliver a speedy and effective international student visa service. Finance Education New Zealand and universities for an intensive and extended marketing campaign in key overseas source countries for international enrolments.
Generate an agreement between the eight universities around commitment to maintaining international standing. This initiative would require statements around adhering to the liberal epistemology in science, resisting moves to give equivalence in science studies to indigenous or minority “ways of knowing”, and removing unnecessary restrictions to teaching and research, thus ensuring international connectedness in research, and respect for multiple viewpoints while holding to a politically neutral position on all subjects.
New Zealand must not aspire to being an inward-looking Pacific ethnostate, a direction that seems to have been fostered by the present Government. It is vital that, for their future international credibility, our universities, on a viable financial footing, return to being completely apolitical and resist the changes that are being wrought by social justice activism. University decisions and actions in relation to teaching, research and outreach should be based on merit and not on identity.
Yes, these are all good, and, if implemented, would kick New Zealand back up into academic parity with other economically comparable countries.
But if you know New Zealand and its government (the new PM, Chris Hipkins, is the former Minister of Education who promoted the ‘social justice’ attitude and its concomitant effect on academic quality), you’ll know that these suggestions are, as Mencken would say, “bawling up a drainspout.” There is no chance, given the suppression of dissent about these issues, to even discuss them.
As I always say, I call attention to this because I love New Zealand and its people, but deplore what they’re doing to themselves. Further, this decline is an object lesson for the U.S., as ideology is increasingly creeping into our academics, now seen as a branch of Social Justice activism. “It can’t happen to us,” you say? I’m not so sure.
I’m sad to say this, but I don’t think the academic problems of New Zealand will be fixed. They are circling the drain, but the politicians and academics don’t seem to care (except for those who dare not speak of the problem).