Speech to Trans-Tasman Business Circle - Wellington

Friday, October 14, 2016 - 19:29

I’d like to acknowledge our mana whenua and our hosts here at Victoria University.

As leading business men and women you know well that now, more than ever, we are a country of global citizens. And that how we embrace the world and its needs will have a clear correlation with how prosperous we will be as a nation.

On a recent trip overseas I was reminded how quickly education systems are evolving and how important it is that New Zealand not just keep up, but carve our own pathway in these areas.

As Education Minister I approach my role with passion and pace.

I had great early learning and schooling. It has been the bedrock of the opportunities I have had. Including the privilege of my dream job – Minister of Education.

Coming, as I do, from a fiercely proud, economically challenged community on the East Cape, I see in real time both the problems and the potential.

I have seen and experienced the difference a good education can make. I want that for every one of our young people – for me, it’s personal. I chose to see it personally and take it personally.

Yes, there are challenges for our early learning services – over 5,000 catering to 220,000 of our earliest learners, currently funded to $1.8 billion.

Yes, there are challenges for our schools and kura – about 2,500 of those with about 780,000 students and funded approximately $9 billion.

So together that’s around a million students, or close to a quarter of all New Zealanders, and in total we fund over $11 billion into Vote Education.

Yes there are challenges. There have been challenges for education in every generation. I say this because I’m often told this is the hardest generation, and I just want to beg to differ a little.

Earlier this week I welcomed a replica of the first school bus to Parliament. That service started in 1924 in Piopio and it was the first time there was publically available transport to get kids to school. Otherwise they walked or rode horses and, to be fair, that still happens in my home community.

My father grew up in the aftermath of World War I, lived through the Great Depression, and enlisted for World War II as a 19 year old. My husband fought in the Vietnam War.

Those are just four global events that were very challenging to our education system here in New Zealand and around the world. Were those challenges easier? Were they easier than the challenges we face today? Were they simpler? Were they cheaper? I don’t think so.

So the argument I want to make is that the challenges each generation has, are the challenges each generation has. We are expected to overcome them and give the best education to children that we possibly can.

In New Zealand, we have a far more comprehensively resourced system than has ever been the case.

School transport, for example, provides for over 100,000 kids at a cost of around $185 million per year.

The property portfolio which is the second biggest asset on the government’s books has a total value of over $14 billion; and by the middle of next year my colleague Nikki Kaye is the first Associate Education Minister to have a condition assessment of every school building in the country. Which means we will know the priority of the investments we need to make, when and where and how much.

We have also put $700 million to support digital infrastructure and connectivity, with over 95 per cent of all schools now connected to the Network 4 Learning. It’s a managed network which provides fast, uncapped internet access and all participating schools are expected to be able to connect by the end of this year.

We also put $590 million into learning support for those young people with clinical or behavioural disorders, and $1.35 billion for operating grants in 2017.
So, to the core business of education – causing learning to happen and knowing that it did.

Critical to that are our teachers, in which we invest just under $4 billion. It is the single biggest proportion of Vote Education each year, and so it should be.

All of us can recall the teacher that made the biggest difference for us. But I’m a little more relentless than that. I want every teacher to make a difference to every child, every day, in every classroom all over the country. And we are determined keep investing to support that to happen.

We have one of the most highly trusted education professions in the world.

Teachers choose what curriculum to teach, they choose assessment tools to use, they choose what they report and we trust that all of those decisions are being made in the best interests of our children and young people.

We provide models of best practice to the world. Our curriculum is a model for the work the OECD are doing to provide curriculum advice for 2030. And that is because the New Zealand curriculum is bi-cultural, bi-lingual and unique in the world. It has learning areas, values, competencies and principles; and these are things the rest of the world are saying they need to build. So it’s critical that we not just be proud of it, but that it gets delivered every day in our schools.

We have a national qualification framework that has profoundly democratised access to education.

The National Certificate of Educational Achievement (NCEA) I think is a thing of wondrous beauty. Fully realised, it should paint a picture of what a student not only knows but what they can do with what they know – which is after all the major challenge.

When I sat my science or maths or English exams, it was all about how much I knew on the day. Whereas NCEA gives us the opportunity to extrapolate what it is young people know and how they apply that.

Universities are challenged by a question – is it worth investing in this single degree, versus these micro-qualifications aggregated into a portfolio that I can get in my own time?

There is live discussion going on in the United States about whether the classic $100,000 college fund is best invested in a degree or in a start-up. Those are also challenges, though on a different scale, to education here in New Zealand.

As Minister of Education I want to make sure that we are getting the best out of all our hard earned taxes and that I have a strong basis for arguing for further investment into education.

Our government has a strong record of investing in education – a 35 per cent overall increase in my Vote since we came into government. And through some pretty tough times, which are now fading in our memories.

However, as I have told the sector, for every dollar I secure for education it is a dollar less for health, housing, policing, roads, water – so we must have very good evidence that further investment is going to have impact on children’s learning. And that is why data and evidence is so critical to a modern education system.

Our ambition for New Zealand’s young people is that they leave our compulsory education system confident, connected, lifelong learners.

I was in Boston, New York and Jerusalem recently. I learnt something particular and of value for us from each set of visits.

At Harvard, the question that challenged me was: “Are we assessing what we value or just what we know how to assess?”

And that is not just a challenge for New Zealand – it’s a live challenge across the world.

We have already articulated in our curriculum the competencies that we want young people to have – we want them to be great communicators, we want them to invest in relationships, and we want them to be critical thinkers.

This was brought home to me even more when I went to New York as a guest of the Asia Society. I have been invited to join the Council for Global Education as an advisor and we were discussing what should the global competencies be? What are the competencies that every system in the world wants to ensure its young people are directed towards?

And in Israel, it seemed to me, as a first time and fleeting visitor, that the crucible of history, war and harsh terrain has forged a nation focused on innovation, entrepreneurship and winning.

So I have come back to New Zealand thinking how we can incorporate these values and competencies in a more specific, more systematic way in to our education system.

I want to remind you that we have a first class education system. Our education system has brilliant, elegant architecture.

But to me, it is very the smart phone we all cart around with us. I know that I don’t use anywhere near the full functionality of it and most of us are the same.

Like the smart phone, we aren’t using the full functionality of our education system. That means that we must shift a number of levers – not displace them, but shift them to operate in a more coherent fashion.

These levers are:
•    Legislation
•    Funding
•    The status and quality of teaching and leadership  profession
•    The need for data and evidence to inform real results in real time
•    Built infrastructure

When we came into government, 18 year old New Zealanders were achieving NCEA Level 2 at a rate of about 68 per cent. Last year, 83.3 per cent of all 18 year olds had attained NCEA Level 2.

The other notable statistic is that Maori and Pasifika are really improving. They started from a much lower base of 44.6 per cent achievement for Maori and 51.3 for Pasifika when we came into government. I practically wept when I saw that statistic.

But Maori are now achieving NCEA Level 2 at a rate of 71.1 per cent. For Pasifika, it’s now 77.6 per cent. That’s extraordinary growth in learning achievement.

Some children and young people in our education system have severe challenges. We want children and young people with special education needs to get the right support as early as possible, so that their trajectory can be the best it can be.

New Zealand has one of the most inclusive education systems in the world. Funding for additional learning support is just under $600 million – that represents a 30 per cent increase since we have been in government.

Overall, we invest over $11 billion into education each year. We want to know that this investment is being spent in most efficient and effective way possible for all kids to achieve.

The problem we are solving with the funding review is that we currently have a very poor line of sight to the money going in and the outcomes coming out. So we need it to be better.

We are trying to find out how much it costs for schools to deliver a year’s worth of the curriculum for every child. Also taking into account the increasing complexity as they go through the system.

We then need to know how much we need invest on top of that, based on the level of disadvantage that a student comes to school with; or if the student is in a small rural school which does not have the scale and economy necessary to fully deliver a curriculum.

I’m going to Cabinet in the next month to determine which proposals within the Funding Review that we will take forward, with a view to implement the changes in 2020.

As you can see there are several system levers of change. We have a coherent work plan and have been on this pathway for eight years now. We are making a lot of progress.  

We are a small, smart, sassy country. We want to continue to punch above our weight.

It is therefore critical that every one of our young people gets the best education possible and that we support our education system – the practitioners and leaders to be the best they can be for every child in every part of our country. That is what I’m focused on doing.