Jo Knox has been in maths education for 30 years, working as a maths consultant for the past decade, and she says the knowledge gap between early years students appears to be growing.  

“What a lot of teachers are saying is that the diversity of students is getting wider more recently, than in years before,” Knox explains.

“They’ve got students who can already count and add and work with numbers who enter their school, sitting alongside some students who can’t form sets or don’t know number names, they’ve never seen numbers before.

“Some students are even arriving at school, not being able to dress themselves or open their lunchboxes.”  

New Zealand’s latest PISA results show a 15 point drop in maths scores, with a decrease in high performers and an increase in low performers over the past 20 years.

This effect was stronger in maths than in science or reading, where the percentage of low performers increased from 15 per cent of New Zealand 15-year-olds in 2003 to 29 percent in 2022, while the percentage of high performers dropped from 21 to 10 per cent in the same period.

Jo Knox, of The Learner First and Maths Development Ltd, jets off across the ditch in July, thanks to the Margaret Blackwell travel fellowship.

And while the new Government is keen to address this by implementing clear achievement benchmarks in the refreshed curriculum, Knox says there’s nothing to indicate where students should be at when they first enter school.

This is something Knox hopes to remedy, as the grateful recipient of NZCER’s Margaret May Blackwell Fellowship, valued at $20,000.  

“I’m absolutely thrilled to have been awarded this fellowship,” Knox says.

“It’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity really.”

Knox will use her fellowship funding to travel to Australia, Japan and Canada, her proposal focussing on ‘facilitating a smooth and successful transition in maths for our young learners, between early childhood and school’.

She says she chose her travel destinations based on a PISA report which showed all three countries have programs designed to facilitate a smooth transition between early years education and primary school.

Beginning in Australia July, Knox will visit early childhood centres and primary schools, observing teachers and learners in action.

“I’m also keen to connect with some academics that work in early childhood ... maybe even some personnel from the ministries as well, that could just shed a little bit of light on the rationale for their processes and systems etc.”

Knox says she hopes to bring back some knowledge of systems and processes which could be implemented in New Zealand on a grand scale, as the current system she says, is very ad hoc.