An OECD report on educational inequality has labelled New Zealand one of the worst countries when it comes to the socio-economic gap in maths performance.
The Equity in Education report found the academic performance gap between advantaged and disadvantaged children developed as early as 10 years old and widened throughout students’ lives.
On average, across OECD countries with comparable data, more than two-thirds of the achievement gap observed at age 15 and about two-thirds of the gap among 25-29 year-olds was already seen among 10-year-olds.
The analysis showed differences in performance related to socio-economic status not only took root at an early age but were significant by the age of 10.
On average, among 15-year-olds more than two-thirds of the gap in mathematics scores, associated with having more books at home, was already observed at age 10. About half of this achievement gap among 25-29-year-olds was seen even among 10-year-olds.
The socio-economic gap in mathematics performance among 10-year-olds was largest in New Zealand, the United Kingdom, Korea and the United States.
Education Minister Chris Hipkins said the report didn’t tell the Government anything new.
“We know we have challenges around educational equality, and we know we have problems around STEM (science, technology, engineering, and maths) subjects.”
There was also a shortage in STEM subject teachers, which contributed to a downward spiral, he said.
Hipkins said more could be done at an early childhood and primary level to target students who were likely to have persistent inequality issues.
“There are a lot of thing we can do that lean into inequality and address the inequitable education outcomes we’re getting because of socio-economic inequality.
“But also, fundamentally, we’ve got to address the broader issues – around housing, and around parents’ income.”
The OECD report, which was released Tuesday night (NZT), said providing more opportunities for school choice is another mechanism that might alter the social mix in schools.
In theory, school choice might benefit disadvantaged students by allowing them to leave low-performing schools when school assignment is mainly residence-based.
However, most empirical evidence in countries as diverse as Chile, New Zealand, Sweden, the United Kingdom and the United States suggested reforms introducing greater school choice also tended to increase academic and socio-economic sorting because more advantaged, highly-educated families were more likely to make better-informed choices.
This issue has been discussed at length during reviews of New Zealand’s decile system.
Both sides of the political spectrum have talked about replacing the decile rating system, with many referring to it as a “blunt” tool.
The report comes at a time when the Government is overhauling the education system. It’s undertaking the first review of the Tomorrow’s Schools system in 30 years, and reviewing NCEA.
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern is also progressing her vision for a child wellbeing strategy, with a framework to address poverty enshrined in law.
OECD director for education and skills Andreas Schleicher said too little headway had been made to break down the barriers to social mobility and give all children an equal chance to succeed.
“More investment is needed to help disadvantaged students do better, including recognition of the critical role that teachers have to play.”
Children’s Commissioner Andrew Becroft said it was well-known there was a gaping hole between children who succeeded and those who did not. This was true in education, as well as other areas of life.
At any time, about 70 percent of Kiwi children do well, and in some cases have world-leading achievements. But 20 percent face some significant challenges and disadvantages, and 10 percent face multiple challenges and disadvantages.
Becroft said he was optimistic that the country was moving towards genuine change for the first time in 30 years.
However, it would take the widespread system overhauls, as well as continued investment to lift all children to the top.