The University of Auckland's professor in education Elizabeth Rata told EducationHQ that a nationwide curriculum with prescribed content would help improve the quality of education in New Zealand.

Rata argued New Zealand students' decline in maths, science and reading scores in PISA could be linked to the localised curriculum.

“There seems to be a taken for granted assumption that New Zealand has what's often called a world leading curriculum, that it is the envy of the world.

“These are common expressions heard here, but in fact there’s very clear evidence to suggest we have a serious problem,” Rata said.

Rata said it's "bizarre" that teachers are prescribed to a particular method of teaching whilst the curriculum isn’t.

“The idea that somehow teachers' autonomy rests on not having a prescribed curriculum, yet on the other hand, the way teachers teach, the pedagogy is actually considerably prescribed.

“There's real conformity about how teachers teach, but if there's going to be any conformity or prescription it should actually be what knowledge is made available to all students.”

Rata said the strength of having prescribed content would allow constant improvements in what is and isn’t working in the curriculum.

“One of the strengths of a national curriculum is that you can see what the development of the program from Year 1 right through to Year 13 is,” Rata said.

“So decisions can be made about what content to teach at what age level, what content should be included right through all the years with increasing sophistication.”

Rata said South Africa began introducing a localised curriculum in the 1990s before changing to a standardised national curriculum.

“The shift to a national curriculum was the result of serious concerns with the growing inequity between more advantaged students and less advantaged students which is the New Zealand situation too.”

The Government’s green light for the compulsory inclusion of history in the curriculum is a positive step, according to Rata. 

And now, a healthy discussion should ensue on which topics should be covered.

“Simply having that discussion in itself is a very healthy thing for any nation to do because it means that people find out about different historical events that they didn't know about,” Rata said.

“And ensuring that we have conflicting interpretations put forward so we can have a look at what evidence is being used to support that approach and what's being used to support the conflicting approach.

“It can only be good for us to know about the sheer complexity of understanding history.”

Rata said a nationwide curricula could help eliminate the stigma surrounding low decile schools and allow parents to be more informed when choosing a school.

“In a way if we had a sound national standardised curriculum then we’d be more likely to have schools in disadvantaged areas that are really knowledge rich,” Rata said.

“Because at the moment the decile system has become sort of a de facto way to judge schools.

“But I think a national curriculum would in a way enable parents to say ‘well what do you teach at the school?'”