New Zealand doesn’t have the best education system in the world. But it’s right up there.

I posted this video, made by the Secondary Teachers’ Union here in New Zealand last month. Among other things, it highlights that New Zealand’s education system is pretty awesome, and maybe we should try and get politicians to stop meddling with it.

This morning, I tweeted about this article, which really shames the US, as being way down the   PISA list (by the way – the PISA website is awesome, but profoundly unwieldy. Follow this link at your peril).

There are some problems with our education system. In particular, the performance of certain groups. But the issue I want to address is this: How do we get politicians to stop meddling and acknowledge that the vast majority of our schools are doing a great job? How do we convince the “talkbackradiocrowd” / “middlenewzealand” groups that education is working?

What is the role of charter/public/independant/integrated schools here? It’s significant, because they provide another ‘option’ – which implies fault. This is something that the Finns clearly don’t need. From the Atlantic article:

…one of the most significant things Sahlberg said passed practically unnoticed. “Oh,” he mentioned at one point, “and there are no private schools in Finland.”

This notion may seem difficult for an American to digest, but it’s true. Only a small number of independent schools exist in Finland, and even they are all publicly financed. None is allowed to charge tuition fees. There are no private universities, either. This means that practically every person in Finland attends public school, whether for pre-K or a Ph.D.

I’d love some deep debate in the comments on this one. Fire away.

9 Comments to “New Zealand doesn’t have the best education system in the world. But it’s right up there.”

  1. Daniel 3 January 2012 at 1:31 pm #

    Having lived my life in Finland while still having quite open mind for various other types of educational systems, I have clearly seen that there are both good and not so good things in the current educational system here. Most of it seems to work quite well but of course there are challenges related to smaller places where number of teachers is bit limited. It’s generally quite well seen that state funded system makes it possible to go and study on relatively small costs (compared to many other countries).

    Still… there are things that are not always that good. Financial support for students (for living costs) is available but haven’t grown almost at all even while the cost of living has increased quite a lot since 1990’s. For many people in other countries, it’s certainly much more difficult to do things when one has to fund themselves by working or taking huge loans for paying the schools. For many students in Finland it’s bit similar but at least the cost of the school isn’t directly counted for most of people. One distressing thing is that students get smaller housing & living allowances etc. than people who are unemployed. That have been generally quite big stress for many since they have to split time between studying and trying to get some work to pay the bills. Similar to many others but still…

    There are many people from various other countries studying in Finland and I feel it’s good thing. For some, there has been talks about adding school fees for people from outside EU but I’m not sure what’s the status of that development at the moment. There are quite bit of Chinese and African students at least in my city and at least in this part of country it’s way more common to hear English or other languages from other parts of world than Swedish (another official language of Finland). Anyway, good that information gets changed and people learn new skills, to improve the world around them.

    • Steve Voisey 3 January 2012 at 9:09 pm #

      So good to hear how it feels first hand.
      So, foreigners can study for free in FInland? Are there any criteria? I guess a lot of Russians?

  2. sonjanz 3 January 2012 at 3:57 pm #

    There has been plenty of debate over the years about the state integrated system in NZ including the stories of psuedo-private integrated schools rorting the sytem. But after the last eighteen months in Australia what really hit me about this article was the idea that maybe our integrated system is one of the reasons NZ is doing so well – because outliers aside, in NZ parents can make choices based on their value system (Catholic being the most prevalent) or philosophy e.g. Steiner, Montessori and not have to move into the world of private provision to get it. The underpinning principal of our integrated system is equity.
    We have integrated schools in low decile communities who leverage their value base to engage families in ensuring children have the best chances of success (state schools do this too but having a shared “contract” based on special character helps) Parental school choice is based on what a family thinks is best for their child – not what they can afford.
    While that may seem to oversimplify the issue as there are extra costs associated with integrated schools, as a comparison – a Catholic primary school in Brisbane cost us more for one month than a whole year’s attendance dues in NZ. The average college was $12000 a year (plus extras). There is an overwhelming belief that private is better than public and so choosing a Catholic school is a choice for private education not a choice for special character.
    I thought it was quite amusing that when the “charter” school debate started there were comments about having Muslim schools and fundamentalist Christian schools etc – we already do! The power of the integrated system is that they are required to teach the NZ Curriculum and again, while at times that is problematic I think it actually supports a sense of social cohesion.
    We have an amazing education system we should be proud of – the reasons for the long tail of under achievement are far deeper than the quality of teaching in schools. They have to do with endemic poverty, the failure to effectively support learners who are fluent in languages other than English, and for some groups within our communities a lack of understanding about the environmental impact of drug use.
    If we are to really address the issues I think we need to spend some time analysing the strengths of the system we have – given the great results and considering how those processed can be enhanced for the kids who aren’t doing so well. I suspect that each community, even each child will need their own specific steps rather than there being a silver bullet model that will solve it al.

  3. Steve Voisey 3 January 2012 at 9:19 pm #

    Such an awesome contribution!
    Integrated schools are among our best performing schools and it is an excellent system. It occurs to me that I might just briefly explain how it works for those who are unfamiliar:

    State School: “free,” fully funded by the government but a donation is expected. Donations are set at between $100-$900 per year by each school’s board.
    Independent School (private school): Mostly funded by parents. Usually a commercial operation. Fees start at $10,000 per year.
    Integrated School: fully funded by the government except for land and buildings. Parents pay a ‘building levy’ starting at about $1200.

    • John Holley 4 January 2012 at 4:55 pm #

      Forgot to mention that NCEA and subject fees can add a big whack on top, whether state or integrated. So things are not fully funded, even at state schools as parents are often up for several hundred in compulsory course costs.

  4. John Holley 3 January 2012 at 10:41 pm #

    Incorrect Steve. I speak as a BOT chair of an integrated Catholic boys secondary school in west Auckland (Liston College).

    Like state schools we have compulsory subject fees and donations e.g. Building levies. We have one compulsory component which is attendance dues that we pass over to the Catholic Schools Office. (CSO)

    The CSO has to fund all new buildings as well ensuring existing buildings are at required codes of compliance. The CSO funds this out of the compulsory fees and voluntary building levies. For state schools this is funded by the tax payers. Apart from that there is little difference in the funding models between state and integrated schools. There is certainly no difference in curriuclum and national standards – beyond, for Catholic Schools, Relegious Studies normally being compulsory.

    My son’s fee (y13) for last year were:

    $726 attendance dues (compulsory)
    $460 in different donations (non-compulsory) including a building levy of $260.
    $330 course fees (including a calculator)
    $77 for NCEA

    So around $1593 all up, of which $726 is different to what a state school could charge. But the school does not receive the compulsory attendance fees. These go straight to the CSO. The operational funding for the day to day running of the school is no different to a state secondary school with the same number of students and decile (ours is 5).

    Like state schools, as policed by ERO, you can’t enforce payment of ANY donations.

    Unlike some schools, we never stop our students attending events like school balls if fees ( compulsory or voluntary) haven’t been paid.

    The difference, as Sonjanz says, is we have a special character (values), which is legally required to be an integrated school.

  5. Steve Voisey 4 January 2012 at 6:57 am #

    Thanks, John.

    So the building levy goes to CSO? AND the attendance fees?

    • sonjanz 4 January 2012 at 7:45 am #

      It is slightly different diocese by diocese. By and large primary schools property is managed by the diocese education office (to my knowledge) Some colleges are managed that way and others by the a separate trust board for the religious order who originally built the college. Typically Marist Fathers for the boys, Mercy or Mission Sisters for the boys (there are others) They work in conjunction with the diocese but often the property donation is managed by the proprietor’s Trust Board. Different colleges will have different approaches but often they use it to contribute to the building programme or to add on an extra that the collective fund couldn’t afford. It’s usually mentioned in the annual report e.g. we did this with the education office, this with the trust board, this with the PTA…

      I think what bothered me so much in Brisbane at college level is that Catholic schools were established to ensure children had access to education – my son’s school in Brisbane was deliberately built on the outer side of the boundary road so Aboriginal children could attend. Many orders that established schools had a defined mission of supporting access for children in poverty. All Catholic schools in NZ have provisions for families who cant afford attendance dues. To my knowledge so do most others. So while, just as in the state system there are integrated schools with an “elite’ reputation, most just do their job alongside their state colleagues, and in many cases serve very disadvantaged communities. Integration has allowed them to maintain that vision of equitable access.

    • John Holley 4 January 2012 at 9:08 am #

      We hold the building levy in an account. It can only be used for new/upgraded buildings, so this become a contribution towards the cost of building. The Diocesan Support Group (was the CSO in Auckland) manages most of the cost of the new building. For example, when building our last new block (to cater for roll growth), the building levy from parents enabled us to build slightly larger class rooms over the MoE minimum standard, which is what the DSG would have funded.

      The MoE though is quite clear that the building levy (it is a donation) can only be used to build spaces that the school is entitled to based on it’s roll. It can’t be used to build spaces that a state school would not be funded for.

      The attendance fees go straight to the DSG.

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