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Insights 47: 8 December 2017
Fisheries: Dr Randall Bess talks to Breakfast about The Future Catch
Latest report: The Future Catch
Welfare: Dr Bryce Wilkinson talks to Ali Mau about his latest research

National's pretty kettle of fish
Dr Randall Bess | Research Fellow |
Some opposition MPs take to their new roles swimmingly. It is hard to imagine that these politicians ever did anything else but criticise others for not solving problems.

Which would be fine if those very problems had not been presided over by their own party for nine years.

The prime example is Gerry Brownlee. The former foreign minister is now spokesperson for, among other things, fisheries. In that role, he delivered a bizarre performance in question time as he hooked into Fisheries Minister Stuart Nash.

What had happened?

Well, the Minister had spoken at the launch of the Initiative’s new report The Future Catch on Monday night. Nash praised it for the contribution it made to the debate on preserving recreational fishing for future generations. He told our audience that he and his officials would go through our recommendations and that he was open to our proposal of a recreational representative peak body.

In summary, he said we should expect an announcement from him on these issues, hopefully before Christmas.

Just as sharks can smell a drop of blood from hundreds of meters away, Gerry Brownlee spotted potential trouble for the Minister. So the next day he reeled off a barrage of questions on our recommendations in Parliament.

Of course, being a former Minister himself, Brownlee would have known that Nash would not disclose his decisions before the announcement – Nash had not promised anything immediate.

That, however, did not stop Brownlee from trying to embarrass Nash, and misrepresenting our report in the process. Except Nash kept his cool and did not take the bait.

But Brownlee would not let go. He later issued a media release claiming that the Minister was ‘floundering’ and our report ‘dead in the water’. The release deserves full credit for fishy metaphors and none for truthfulness.

Having made a dogfish’s breakfast of fisheries management for years, it takes some nerve for National to criticise the new Fisheries Minister for not making immediate announcements.

A good opposition would consider the substance of the report and not just play politics. A responsible opposition would even reach out to the Government to find common ground for reform.

In our report, we laid out the course for fisheries reform based on international best practice.

Preserving the Kiwi way of fishing is too important to play silly political games with it. We look forward to Minister Nash’s eventual announcement.

What lessons from our dismal and dropping reading results?
Briar Lipson | Research Fellow |
The 2016 PIRLS results announced this week are bad.
PIRLS (the Progress in International Reading Literacy Study) compares the reading ability of Year 5 students. 

Ours ranked 33rd among the 50 participating countries. More worrying still, their scores were significantly worse than the last time the test was administered, in 2011. 

So far the decline has been blamed on smartphones, and the previous government’s fixation with National Standards.

Smartphones are used throughout the world, including in high performing countries like Singapore and England.  As a result, this explanation seems unlikely.

As for National Standards, these were introduced in our primary schools in 2010. But New Zealand’s dismal rankings in the PIRLS tests pre-date this by many years. Among our English-speaking cousins, we have consistently ranked bottom since 2001 (except in 2011 when Australia dipped slightly below us).

By itself scrapping National Standards will not solve our reading problem.

So what might be the solution?

Learning to read is a multipart process. Children must learn to decode. This means to hear and manipulate the individual sounds in words, and then memorise the code that links sounds to written letters. They must also learn the meaning of lots of words, so that once decoded they can understand what they are reading. Vocabulary is developed through accessing a broad, content-rich curriculum.

Happily, there is a vast, peer-reviewed scientific literature on the best way to teach decoding. It is called systematic synthetic phonics.

Some children are exposed to so many books and opportunities to crack the code at home, that they become reasonably good decoders without systematic instruction. However, other children are not.

This creates a gap on entry. Without systematic instruction to eliminate it, it grows wider over time.

According to two recent surveys by Massey University, 85-90% of New Zealand schools use some form of phonics instruction. This is encouraging. However, Massey’s observational research also suggests that teachers have not been trained to use systematic synthetic phonics in their literacy instruction. Instead, many just clip some phonics on to other methods.

Through government imperative England has done great work to support teachers to teach systematic synthetic phonics alongside a broad curriculum. The gains made, and the latest PIRLS results speak for themselves.

Having scrapped national standards, we must hope that our new Minister now follows the evidence on what leads to world-class readers.

The death of NZís drinking culture
Jenesa Jeram | Policy Analyst |
New Zealand’s drinking culture might be dying.

Many signs are pointing that way. Youth hazardous drinking rates are down.

National health spokesman Jonathan Coleman condemns binge-drinking events like Crate Day as a “throwback” to a past New Zealand should leave behind.

And despite perfect beer drinking conditions across the country, New Zealanders seem to have confirmed this sentiment. The notorious annual binge drinking event, Crate Day, came and went without much drama.

More literally though, New Zealand’s drinking culture might actually someday die.

Because of all the old people.

All the old people whose heavy and hazardous drinking is rising while youth drinking is in decline.

Don’t believe that Grandma might secretly be downing funnels when she says she’s off to crochet club? Think again.

Recent reports have exposed a hidden problem in the community: old people ordering taxis to deliver booze to their rest homes.

With age comes wisdom. I do not recall anyone from my residential hall exhibiting such inventive spirit when I was at university. And I went to Otago.

The Wellington grey hair brigade is no better, either. A local lawn bowls club faces closure because of too much ‘rowdiness’ and not enough bowling.

I repeat: with age comes wisdom. Lawn bowls has been an effective ruse for elderly debauchery. But with $3 gin and vodka, and noise complaints from the neighbours, people were getting suspicious.

The issue is widespread in countries facing ageing populations. In the United Kingdom, the vice-chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Alcohol Harm is advising the public not to buy alcohol for older relatives this Christmas. She urges people to remember that company is a much better gift than booze for older people.

While my company is certainly dazzling, I know a few people who might disagree that it is better than a bottle of good Scotch.

How have old people kept their mischievous ways so hidden? Have they been secretly adding vodka to their Earl Grey tea while the nurse’s back is turned?

Does alcohol explain why they still enjoy Coronation Street? Are they preloading on gin before bingo night? Are hangovers the reason they nap so much?

These are questions worth investigating.

So this Christmas, I urge my fellow young people (I’ll be generous, let’s say under 50) to share a beverage with your beloved older relatives.

Their lawn bowls stories just got a whole lot more interesting.
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