Criticism of New Zealand’s educational policy, this time from the National Party

July 10, 2023 • 11:45 am

The Platform is a New Zealand radio station and website that describes itself as an “independent media” venue, though the Wikpedia description also says that it’s”antiwoke”. If you read further in the Wikipedia piece, though, you see that it often gives a platform to the Kiwi political Left (Labour).

The Platform describes itself as an “independent media site” giving listeners “unbiased coverage commentary and opinion and the chance to have your say on the issues that affect you.” The station claims to be independent of government funding and political interference. The Platform promotes itself as an alternative to “taxpayer-funded media” and so-called “woke culture warriors” whom it accuses of seeking to “stifle debate and suffocate democracy. It is listed on the New Zealand Companies Office’s website as a recorded media and publishing company based in the Wellington suburb of Te Aro.

I’ve written a lot about New Zealand politics and education; both are imposing censorship on those who criticize indigenous “ways of knowing” as equivalent to modern science. Both are also enacting policies that downgrade the teaching of science and math in public schools. This has led some Kiwis to transfer their kids into private schools.

The article below, which quotes heavily from my own website, is about New Zealands’s newish Prime Minister Chris Hipkins, previously Minister of Education. It was Hipkins who was largely responsible in his former job for creating the deference to indigenous “ways of knowing,” and now, as PM, is making that deference into official policy. That is the “old-time religion” referred to in the title.

Christopher Luxon is the Leader of the Opposition and of the New Zealand National Party, which is politically more to the right than the ruling New Zealand Labour Party. (Kiwis tell me that “more to the right” corresponds roughly to “centrist” in America; there appears to be no real political equivalent in New Zealand to America’s far-Right Republicans.) Luxon is a religious Christian, but has promised not to change any religious “hot button” laws, like New Zealand’s liberal policy on abortion.

At any rate, the article reiterates many of the criticisms that I and others (including anonymous Kiwis) have leveled against the increasing “indigenization” of the country. The piece winds up suggesting that PM Hipkins may have inherited that tendency from his mother.

Below: a quote so I can brag. But it also heartens me that those in New Zealand are paying some attention to what I write here. That is, after all, why I bore some of you with repeated posts on New Zealand. I am in the lucky position of being in the U.S. and not subject to New Zealand demonization, so I can say what I think about the government’s policies.

From the articles:

It is one of the ironies of this election campaign that Chris Luxon is being painted as a religious zealot who will allegedly force Christian beliefs on the nation even as Chris Hipkins is actually introducing mātauranga Māori into education — and most controversially into science.

Last week, Chicago University’s Jerry Coyne, one of the world’s pre-eminent evolutionary biologists, described mātauranga Māori as a mix of “religion, ethics, morality, tradition and superstition” with some “empirical, trial-and-error based knowledge that can be taken as part of science”.

“It is not a ‘way of knowing’,” the professor said, “but a ‘Māori way of living’.”

Over the past two years, Coyne has regularly dissected proposals to insert mātauranga Māori into New Zealand’s science curriculum, and outlined what he sees as the damaging consequences for students and for the international reputation of the nation’s universities as science teaching “circles the drain”.

He entered the debate after a letter on mātauranga Māori and NCEA science titled “In Defence of Science”, written by seven Auckland University professors, was published in the Listener in July 2021. Two years later, Coyne says he still gets a stream of emails from New Zealand academics and teachers who feel they can’t speak out publicly about mātauranga Māori for fear of losing their jobs.

In discussing the topic in depth, Coyne is doing the job New Zealand mainstream media refuses to do.

Yes, indeed I am, though articles like this one are helping.

The article goes through the infusion of Mātauranga Māori (MM, or Māori “ways of knowing”) in society and education, but I’ve done that to death and you can read the article for yourself. It then suggests that the PM’s penchant for  MM comes from his mother. This may be gossip, or it may be true, but the assertions and quotes below can be checked (I’ve bolded three):

Of course, you’d never guess from the persona the Prime Minister has cultivated in the media as a down-to-earth, working-class “boy from the Hutt” that he grew up in a home dedicated to radical educational ideology of the kind promoted by the Ardern-Hipkins government.

Rosemary Hipkins, who began her career as a science and biology teacher, is now “Chief Researcher/Kaihautū Rangahau” at the New Zealand Council for Educational Research, which she joined in 2001. It is a statutory body that operates under the NZCER Act 1972 and, while not formally attached to any government department, university or other educational organisation, is contracted by the Ministry of Education to develop policy.

Rose Hipkins is heavily involved in research for the redesign of NCEA [National Certificate of Educational Achievement]. As the NZCER website puts it: “Currently Rose is working on several projects supporting the review of the NCEA”… and is exploring “the implications of decolonisation”.

Her most recent book, Teaching for Complex Systems Thinking (2021), includes “an explicit discussion of parallels between complexity science and indigenous knowledge systems (specifically mātauranga Māori in the New Zealand context)”.

A 2022 paper, Enduring Competencies for Designing Science Learning Pathways, for which she was lead author, states that young people will need to be educated in “at least two different knowledge lenses” — mātauranga Māori and science — in order to “understand their place and identity in the natural world” and “to live as ethically and responsibly as possible”.

It is clear that the acorn hasn’t fallen far from the tree in the Hipkins family. You might even say that when it comes to promoting mātauranga Māori in science and “decolonising” the curriculum, Chippie is a chip off the old block.

His mother’s contribution to the radical overhaul of education has been rewarded by the Labour government. In 2019, Rose Hipkins was made a Member of the New Zealand Order of Merit for services to science education.

Finally, here’s a recently published statement from the National opposition spokesperson for Education, Erica Stanford. Click to read:
National has its own education plan (below). Though I haven’t seen it, I’d bet that it’s stronger on hard science than Labour’s draft proposal.

Labour’s science curriculum a failure in the making

Labour’s new science curriculum will have a detrimental impact on student outcomes and achievement and should be scrapped right now, National’s Education spokesperson Erica Stanford says.

“Teachers who have seen Labour’s proposed curriculum have called it ‘embarrassing’ and said that it would lead to ‘appalling declines in student achievement’.

“Right now, only 20 per cent of Year 8 students are meeting the expected standards in science.

“Despite these dire numbers, education experts say that Labour’s leaked new curriculum lacks any meaningful detail on the fundamental knowledge that students need and will worsen the situation. Science teachers say it makes no mention of physics, biology or chemistry.

. . . .“National will rewrite Labour’s curriculum to include clear requirements about the specific knowledge that students should be learning, and when. In science, this means a focus on chemistry, physics and biology.

“National has already announced our Teaching the Basics Brilliantly plan, which will set clear requirements about the non-negotiable knowledge and skills children need to be taught each year in primary and intermediate schools.”

If you’re a Kiwi, how are you going to vote?  I liked Jacinda Ardern, but she went “progressive” and then quit. Hipkins I have no use for, but I know squat about Luxon.

17 thoughts on “Criticism of New Zealand’s educational policy, this time from the National Party

  1. I didn’t know until reading this that the current PM was previously the Minister of Education. Talk about failing upwards!

  2. “In discussing the topic in depth, Coyne is doing the job New Zealand mainstream media refuses to do.” So awesome! Let’s hear it for the boss!!!!!!!!!!!

    1. Yes, yes, yes!

      A daily reader of this website since c.2010, formerly as Kiwi Dave, a retired teacher (31 years in NZ, 10 overseas) and now a critical and somewhat despairing submitter to a succession of government proposals, sometimes with academic cheerleaders, attacking enlightenment values, I am grateful to Professor Coyne and other distinguished overseas commentators who cast a harsh light on the obscurantism and insularity dominating official thought here.

      As for mainstream media, Ben Rhodes’ comment explaining how the Obama administration manipulated the news media seems relevant here: The average reporter we talk to is 27 years old…[snip] They literally know nothing.

  3. Circling the drain…

    Eventually, at some point unexpected, during a time of crisis, New Zealand will need actual science. Where will it turn?

  4. I’m not a Luxon fan, chippie is more of a leader than this guy IMO and that’s saying something but I’m Labour leaning.
    Our system is such you can vote for a candidate of some political colour in your constituency because you like their qualities but also vote for the party you think has better policies.
    I think leading up to the election chappie needs to be pummeled about his science policies until he’s see sense and the folly of the direction it’s going. He is capable of changing, we have seen this with this govt. and I don’t like the idea of his mother messing with his head if that’s what is going on.

    1. But Hipkins appears incapable of changing. And his track record of merging technical colleges and then having them fail, along with the worst truancy rate that NZ has seen – 25% higher than neighboring Australia, means that he is just a hot mess when it comes to education. As a Māori and a former university lecturer in midwifery, I’m appalled by the equivalency with science and Matauranga Māori. All students, whether Māori or other, deserve the highest quality education that their country can offer so that they can aspire to living a successful independent life. The inclusion of MM can only be describes as a backwards step and will not prepare students for the present, let alone the future. As an educator, come on, most kids struggle to understand one complex but interwoven system. Adding one that is directly in opposition to the predominant system and is based on a bit of myth, etc can only lead to mass confusion. No wonder we are leaving New Zealand in droves.

      1. Hipkins himself may not change but we have seen reversals in policy when pressured. I can’t say for sure but the pandemic has had some bearing on student attendance. The last I read it was reversing and attendance was lifting and not because of the govt. why? who knows, I don’t, parents trying to get some normalcy? But this would hold no matter what Govt was in power such as the effect the pandemic had. That’s not to say there wasn’t a problem pre pandemic either. I don’t know what you mean by ‘come on’ as I am also part Maori and very evidence based science leaning and an atheist to boot. I have zero tolerance for superstition, religious ideology, myths, corrupting the evidence based scientific methodology.
        We need science error correction to discover provisional truths about our world and how to live in it.
        On the subject of politics to my mind NZ just sways to and fro from sets of policy left and right. One is as bad and occasionally good as the other. I’d like more reason and science based policies but we’re dealing with humans, the distrust of science, or ignorence of, but whatever, we can only safe guard our democracy and pressure our politicians to do better… or is it, better quality politicians.

    2. Agree. Luxon is certainly not the answer to these issues. He’s pretty vacuous (“hollower than a cheap easter egg”). I don’t know what the solution is. National have never been big on evidence-based policies, and have never done much for either science or education. The circling of the drain began a long time before 2017. The thought of a ‘National’ government is just as depressing as the thought of continuing with Labour’s divorced-from-reality nonsense. Sigh.

  5. To be fair the Nat’s and any of the independent media can be no better. As much as I’m critical of the Woke, I’m usually no less critical of those who yell “WOKE! WOKE! WOKE!” or call themselves Antiwoke or whatever. Toxicity breads toxicity.

    As for our Far-Right party, Act may be the closest to what you have in the US, a bit more of a Right-Libertarian and they are usually rich guys who don’t want to pay taxes and the like.

    This is an Ig Noble Prize in the making!

  6. I am a retired NZ educator and have been following this topic, and Jerry’s take on it for a while now. I wholeheartedly agree with Jerry and the beleaguered Kiwi academics about the urgency of restoring sanity to the debate. I’ve been a National voter – till now. I will throw my hat into the ACT ring this time round, a conscience vote, as they won’t have the numbers to win. I’ve had enough of mainstream politicians who are apparently bereft of spines

  7. Some of us in NZ have been pushing this in blogs etc for the past few years to try and raise awareness.
    It’s got so bad that I’m changing my vote this year from a lifelong Labour & Green voter to National, just to get rid of these social engineering fools who are destroying our education system.
    My daughter is in secondary school and her science teacher recently introduced them to Mauri in chemistry, saying it was real! Astonishing. She reported that no one in her class was listening, thank goodness.

    1. Hi there nukefacts, I assume that was you trying to talk some sense over at The Standard before the discussion degenerated into mumbo-jumbo? I find myself in a similar position. Although I’m not a lifelong voter for any party, I voted for Jacinda twice, but I’ll definitely vote for National this time in the possibly vain hope that they’ll do something about the education system. Erica Stanford makes some encouraging noises, but then she says stupid things like “We need to harness the amazing Kiwi ingenuity that is baked into our kids’ DNA”. I worry that if National do get in they will concentrate on the externalities of education, like more tests, without improving an understanding of what science is actually about. The people at the Ministry of Education and NZCER were presumably educated in part under National governments, and they don’t seem to have a clue. In fact I know the co-author of one of the NZCER reports on science education, and I can confirm this from personal experience.

      For the benefit of overseas readers who may not know, we have a system of proportional representation here, and it is highly unlikely that any single party will have an outright majority this time round. A vote for Labour is essentially a vote for a coalition of Labour and the Green Party, probably needing to be propped up by support from Te Pāti Māori (the Māori Party), which will no doubt come at some cost. A vote for National is a vote for a National/ACT coalition, and although I personally wouldn’t describe them as “far-right”, I’m not a fan but a prepared to suck up the consequences if they get in this time round.

  8. Thanks Professor Coyne, like many of my fellow kiwis I am extremely grateful for your continued efforts in highlighting the madness taking place in NZ.
    It is true that our mainstream media have mostly abandoned their duties as impartial reporters of news and have become enthusiastic supporters of the government’s extreme ideology. This is at least partly due to their having dipped their beaks into the government’s $55m Public Interest Journalism Fund. Among other conditions, they had to pledge to promote the mysterious ‘principles of the Treaty of Waitangi’ in order to access a share of this money:

    Ardern and Hipkins are both smiling assassins who have slipped this pernicious ideology into NZ’s political and education system without reference to the general public.
    Luxon is unfortunately religious and uncharismatic, but not a zealot, and was a successful CEO of Air New Zealand before entering politics.
    May the ceiling cat save us!
    Hope the ducks are all well. I didn’t find that hermit crab, drat.
    Thank you again.
    All the best.

  9. Thank you Jerry, you voice gives hope to the embattled minority of NZ academics who resist the progressive assault on our education system. And criticism from outside is vital – there’s precious little cogent public criticism from within NZ.

  10. I saw some of this in a recent visit to Hawaii. ‘Aotearoa’ was actually mentioned. I doubt that the audience was even slightly aware of the politics behind this word. I read that some native folks have actually proposed expelling all those who can not prove a Polynesian background from Hawaii. A more serious problem, is that many of the tourist sites are now de-facto/de-jure closed to cars and even hikers. But don’t worry, Hawaii is as beautiful as ever.

  11. We have to vote out the current lot and National in combination with Act is the only realistic option.

    For those interested, here is a letter to the editor of the New Zealand Herald which they declined to publish:

    Education and Research in New Zealand
    David Alexander Lillis
    The public should be aware of proposed changes to our national primary and secondary education curriculum, embedding matauranga Māori (traditional knowledge) throughout the curriculum, probably requiring students of all ethnicities to spend significant class time on Te Reo. Both Te Reo and matauranga Māori should be treasured and preserved, but the changes are excessive. Coming into force in 2026, the refreshed curriculum 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 substituting time on critical learning with much Te Reo and matauranga Māori. Matauranga Māori is to be accorded equal status with world science, probably taught as truth, and the quality of education and portability of our secondary qualifications will suffer as a result.

    Embedding of the Treaty of Waitangi and matauranga Māori within our innovation system follows similar trends in education, public health and elsewhere. Government now proposes to favour Māori and Pacific research and researchers. New Zealand should support excellent Māori and Pacific research, but within defined limits, and there is no sufficient justification for preferring lightweight research of limited reach over true excellence on a systemic basis.

    One of our research funds is the Performance Based Research Fund. Formulae used to allocate money to research organisations through this fund involve numeric weightings that will increase for Māori researchers, Māori-oriented research and Māori postgraduate degree completion, and similarly for Pacific. The benefits may indeed include increases in Māori and Pacific employment in tertiary organisations and restoration of mana. However, the funding process must be supervised carefully so as not to disadvantage significantly other excellent research of potential value to New Zealand, attenuate the worth of non-Māori researchers, diminish the credibility of New Zealand research internationally, and induce declines in international university rankings and competitiveness in international tertiary education. More detail can be found here:

    We will not achieve long-term success in tertiary education and research by appointing academic staff on the basis of ethnicity rather than genuine research and teaching capability. Many academics assert that excellence and relevance are the only acceptable criteria and that preferring one ethnicity over others will lead to divisiveness and erosion of quality.

    All New Zealanders, including Māori, have gained from rule of law, education, healthcare, a more peaceful society 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; an increasingly Treaty-centric tertiary sector; a Treaty-centric public service; naming of public institutions in Te Reo, and a dedicated health authority. But – have we forgotten that New Zealand is a multicultural rather than bicultural society, comprising many ethnic and cultural groups, and that other demographics are similarly disadvantaged in health, education and other measures of socioeconomic wellbeing?

    Unfortunately, academics and primary and secondary educators who question the elevated status of any particular ethnic group, or the intrusion of traditional knowledge into science and education, are at great risk of allegations of racism and 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.

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