Bright ideas by Susan Grimsdell

The wrong choice

A generation ago NZ kids were 4th out of 41 countries for reading ability, and 3rd for maths.  We were better than world class, we were world leaders.  Teaching strategies used then were ones that worked. 

Now our kids are failing miserably.  We are 5th from the bottom of those 41 countries.  The reason kids’ performance has plummeted is that experts decided to radically change the way the 3 Rs are taught.   It seems strange to me that anyone would want to mess with something that was clearly so spectacularly successful.  But they did.   Someone up there in the high echelons believed in “child-led” learning, that kids should be  the ones to “choose” how they learn, instead of teachers deciding how to teach them.  It’s beyond me how a 5-year-old or an 8-year-old can  have a hope of making that kind of choice.

Changing what works

You remember how we all chanted the times tables, like singing – it was fun, and we did it every day until now decades later I can tell you instantly what 6 x 7 is, or 9 x 4.  Times tables – gone.  Out the window went learning the alphabet, what sounds the letters made, and how when you put two together they made a different sound – S or SH.  We learned to add by first putting the numbers in columns  – no more.  Out went learning to write at all.  Remember when we had lined paper and we had to write rows and rows of letters – capital ones, small ones, then when we were bigger, we sloped them and then came the day when we learned how to do proper joined-up writing.  Success all along the way, achievement, a good feeling.  All that’s gone.  For the past 20 years 90% of teachers in classrooms were never taught in training college how to teach writing.  It’s not on the curriculum for them.  So kids weren’t taught it either.

Built in failure

The tragedy of this is how bad it is for kids not to be able to do these basic tasks.  How bad it is for them to fail.  Some kids will learn anyway – the ones whose parents are at home with the time to spend on the children’s homework, or who can afford tutors.  It’s kids from the poorer families who are worst affected, those whose parents are working all the hours of the day and are too exhausted when they get home to think about homework. So they fail and lose confidence and continue to fall by the wayside through all the years of school. 

Now only 66% of 15-year-olds can pass a reading test, and we’re not talking complex test material here.  Only half passed a maths test – again, we’re talking simple arithmetic, and only a third could write to a basic standard.   

It’s a terrible tragedy and who knows if we can ever recover our once world-renowned levels of achievement for our children. Not as long as those in control continue to thrust their half-baked ideas down our throats.  “Child-led” indeed!

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