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Source: New Zealand Education Institute (NZEI)

Kiwi response needed to address dropping international student rankings

9 December 2020

In response to our declining ranking in international maths and science tests, New Zealand educators say we should be focusing on the gap in achievement between Pasifika and Māori and Pakeha students, rather than measuring the difference between us and Kazakhstan.

NZEI Te Riu Roa President Liam Rutherford says student success is a product of many factors but equity and culturally sustaining pedagogy were significant, particularly for Māori and Pasifika children.

“Genuine research and evaluation of what works here in Aotearoa needs investment from the Ministry of Education, not short term panic responses to international league tables,” he says.

“We should be investing in things that are supported by research – such as ending academic streaming [see note 1 and 2] and further supporting successful models such as Professor Bobbie Hunter’s Developing Mathematical Inquiry Communities (DMIC) [note 3].”

Mr Rutherford says it is also worth noting that the latest data was collected in 2018, strongly suggesting a negative impact from the now-defunct National Standards that focused on reading, writing and maths, to the detriment of science and the wider curriculum.

“A broad, rich curriculum strengthens learning in every part of the curriculum. National Standards’ narrow focus on a handful of supposedly key subjects had the opposite impact of what was intended. 

“We need to listen to the research and then fund what works so our tamariki can meet their full potential.”


  1. An ERO report in 2018 found schools that abolish classes specifically for talented pupils have a better chance of addressing declining achievement in maths. The Education Review Office (ERO) report found children’s confidence and ability to do maths fell between years 4 and 8, a period in which achievement has been “dropping alarmingly for some time,” chief review officer Nicholas Pole said. 
  2. He Awa Ara Rau: A Journey of Many Paths – Ngai Tahu/Tainui BERL report
  3. DMIC is a model of ambitious mathematics teaching founded in equity, originally designed and developed at Stanford University and co-led in New Zealand by Professor Bobbie Hunter and Dr Jodie Hunter. They bring their Cook Islands heritage, mathematics education, professional learning, and theory to practice expertise to this collaborative and culturally responsive pedagogy.  DMIC changes the roles and responsibilities of teachers and students as the patterns of communication and participation have students taking more responsibility for active listening and sense making. In a lesson, the solutions to problems are discussed, negotiated and constructed in a collective way. Learning conversations include all students, and everyone feels that their contribution is valued. Students feel that everyone succeeds when the group succeeds.