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Kiwi kids' declining maths skills need traditional learning techniques, British educator says

A celebrated and controversial British educator says New Zealand needs to return to traditional learning techniques to improve its declining results in mathematics.

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Recent international studies show New Zealand children are falling behind students from other countries. Source: 1 NEWS

It comes as recent international studies show New Zealand children falling behind students from other countries.

The Kiwi-born founder at Michaela Free School in London, which is a charter-style school, says she has a teaching technique that gets results.

“People think that drilling is a naughty word and people talk about enquiry-based learning, they talk about getting children to do all of this problem solving.. well you cannot solve problems unless you’ve got the basics,” Michaela School head teacher Katharine Birbalsingh said.

Primary and intermediate schools here use a range of different techniques to teach kids maths but over the last 25 years results have been declining.

The TIMMS international study of 13-year-olds shows that Kiwi students are recording consistently lower marks.

In 2019, Singapore was on top but Australia and the UK recorded much better results than New Zealand.

“So I’m not saying don’t do problem solving, I’m saying you need to think about the order in which stuff is taught - and some of that stuff needs to be committed to memory,” Birbalsingh said.

Last year, Birbalsingh was appointed a commander of the order of the British Empire for her services to education and her students recently recorded some of the best maths results in Britain.

“Maths teachers from all around the world actually come to see what we do here and what they’re surprised by is ‘oh, it’s just old-fashioned stuff - you repeat, repeat, repeat - once they know it really well, you move to the next step,” she said.

In New Zealand, the Ministry of Education is working on a strategic plan for maths - an expert group advising on the New Zealand curriculum will release its report later this year.

Q+A will feature a one-hour special on maths education and what needs to change for New Zealand kids to improve their results. It will air on TVNZ1 at 9am. It can also be viewed OnDemand.