1) As the new Minister for Education, what is your top priority for improving education in New Zealand?
The National Government campaigned on raising the literacy and numeracy achievement of our young New Zealanders. We see this as the top priority for our Government because students who struggle with these key skills will struggle in all facets of life. Our education system currently sees too many primary school children move to secondary school without these skills. That’s why our National Standards policy will ensure that teachers can identify and lift the performance of primary students who are struggling with these key skills.
2) Some say the new curriculum being introduced in NZ schools will “dumb down” the educational system. Do you believe the education curriculum is sufficiently demanding of students?
I think it is important to stress that the curriculum only provides the broad framework for teachers to teach within. The new curriculum still means that teachers and schools can put in place programmes of study that challenge our brightest students to achieve even more. I’m confident that our teachers and lecturers are up to this challenge.
3) What about “life-long” education? Here in Hawke’s Bay, are there adequate opportunities for those out of school, at any age, to “feed their brains”?
I believe that Hawke’s Bay is well served by its tertiary institutions such as the Eastern Institute of Technology and other community education providers. I encourage people of all ages to make use of these courses, as it is never too late to pick up new skills and disciplines, whether it is for work or play.
4) Should our educational system focus more on equipping students with “practical” skills to enter the workforce successfully, or on catering to students’ broad intellectual development?
I think the focus should be on providing a course of study that meets the needs and interests of individual students. Many students thrive in the classroom environment, while for some students learning practical skills is a course of study that will keep them engaged in education and will provide them with a set of skills that will give them a lifelong career.
I believe that equipping our students with “practical” skills is something that has been neglected under the previous administration. That’s why this government has pledged to put trades training back in schools. You will be hearing more from me on this subject over the next three years as we fulfill our promise to build five trade academies, encourage businesses and tertiary institutions to collaborate with schools to offer trades training opportunities for our students, and work on ways to solve the technology teacher shortage.
5) Arguably, the “best and brightest” students of Hawke’s Bay will pursue university education and must leave the region to do so. Is this a problem for our region or not?
I believe that the Hawke’s Bay region is well served by EIT, which offers a range of degree level courses, and a variety of private training establishments. I believe that many of the best and brightest Hawke’s Bay students are gaining very valuable qualifications from these institutions. For those that do leave Hawke’s Bay to undertake study, I’m confident that the economic performance and potential of the region means that many of these students will continue to return to the Bay to enjoy the employment and lifestyle opportunities that the area offers.
6) Which is the weakest link in NZ’s education system — teachers, parents, the bureaucracy?
I believe that the only way to get better education outcomes in New Zealand is for all parts of the sector to lift their performance. Parents need to continue to provide good, supportive learning environments for their children. Teachers need to continue the good work they do, but also strive to constantly improve themselves and their teaching practices to lift the performance of their students. Finally government education agencies need to let high performing schools flourish, need to find ways to help ensure best educational practice is being carried out across the sector, and need to intervene early to prevent poor student outcomes in under-performing schools.
7) Some would say that NZ faces a shocking shortage of students training to run the country’s main economic engine — its agricultural sector. Gaps in every capacity from dairy managers to soil scientists. Do you agree?
It is impossible not to acknowledge the huge influence that the agricultural sector has on our nation’s economic performance. It’s important that this sector of our economy has the people to help it continue to be the backbone of our economy. I think part of the solution is having a government that recognises this and publicly stresses the importance of working in this area. I’m committed to doing this with my colleague, the Minister of Agriculture, David Carter.