You are subscribed as | Unsubscribe | View online version | Forward to a friend

Insights 43: 17 November 2023
ZB Plus: Dr Michael Johnston on the concerning dilution of core science in the new NCEA changes
NZ Herald: Dr Bryce Wilkinson on how improving eduction is crucial for our kids' futures and our economy
ZB Plus: Dr Oliver Hartwich on the use of artificial intelligence in policymaking

Reform or transform?
Dr Oliver Hartwich | Executive Director |
We reserved this space in today’s newsletter to congratulate the new Government on taking office. 

If we have to wait another week or two, then so be it. A Government’s legacy is defined by its accomplishments when it leaves office, not by what is written about it at the outset. 

In history, good intentions count for nothing. It is achievements and results that matter. 

We may therefore, wonder how the next three-to-nine years will unfold under this new Government. 

Its starting point is a country with numerous and well-known challenges. The most pressing issues are education, infrastructure and housing, law and order, and the cost of living. However, they are not the only ones. 

The new Government has two options. It could embark on a path of incremental reform. That would mean a slow and steady approach to change. 

There is a case to be made for incrementalism. The key advantage is that it enables the Government to bring the public along. It allows reforms to be bedded in so they cannot easily be undone. 

If times are not too bad, and reforms are not too urgently needed, incrementalism must be a tempting option for any Government. It is the only choice for Governments wanting to get re-elected while still getting at least some reforms done. 

The early Key Government took this approach, and I defended it. It was a different story in the second and, especially, the third term of that Government. 

Nevertheless, the circumstances back then were different. Yes, the Key Government faced the effects of the Global Financial Crisis and the Canterbury Earthquakes. However, the state apparatus was much more functional than it is today.  

The challenges facing the new Government today are far more acute. There is no point in incremental reform when, for example, half of our students do not attend school regularly and a similar proportion cannot read and write at an adult level. 

Incremental reform is not enough when hospitals have long waiting lists and people have difficulty registering with doctors. 

It is not enough to make incremental reforms when gangs and retail crime plague our inner cities. 

All these social and economic ills require more than small steps. They require root and branch reform. 

Future historians will judge the new Government by its results. The new government will only be deemed successful if it fundamentally turns this country around.

Opposition for a four-year term?
Max Salmon | Research Fellow |
The election has come and gone. While Wellington sits in stasis awaiting Winston’s next press scrum, New Zealanders might be forgiven for feeling that we’ve only recently been here before.  

New Zealand has one of the world’s shortest parliamentary terms. There are familiar arguments in favour of increasing its length. Four-year terms would mean less spent on elections. Three-year terms mean election periods eat up one of every ten days that a government serves (before you adjust for sitting days). Short parliamentary terms constrain medium- and long-term policy thinking.  

Nonetheless, longer terms are often seen as a beltway issue, endorsed by politicians but not something that energises voters. That perception was reinforced by referendums on extending term limits in 1967 and 1990. The public voted nearly 70% against on both occasions. Shorter terms may also constrain our parliament, which lacks constitutional checks on its power. Nonetheless, there is an underrated potential argument in favor of four-year terms – stronger opposition parties.  

Since 1960, only one government has failed to win at least a second term, which lets opponents argue that we effectively have six-year terms. I would argue this may be the result of a flaw in our system, if we consider the political reality for parties entering opposition. 

Incoming governments are said to have one year to acclimatise, one year to legislate, and one year to campaign. Perhaps we ought to have a similar model for the opposition: They have one year to stick with their old leader, one to pull out the knives, and one for their new leader to become electable.  

Opposition instability is a growing issue. From 1993 to 2006, we had six Leaders of the Opposition. Over the same period from 2006 onwards, we have had eleven.  

Often compounding the problems for parties newly relegated to opposition is a self-destructive culture of in-fighting and leaking and an inevitable departure of experienced MPs, unimpressed by the prospect of six years on the opposition benches.  

Of course, benefits to the opposition from a longer term would be difficult to empirically establish, even via comparative analysis. Nonetheless, it remains an interesting idea in the debate around term length.  

Three years may simply be too short a time for a new opposition to recover from defeat and regroup. While difficult to prove, it must be better than the constant knifing of the last two decades. New Zealand benefits when a government is challenged by a healthy and strong opposition.  

Eliminating human error
Dr Michael Johnston | Senior Fellow |
When it comes to the annual NCEA exam round, no news is good news. News about exams almost always signals that something has gone wrong. Unfortunately for NZQA, the exam round was in the news last week.  

Students were locked out of an online English exam when too many tried to log in at once. NZQA said it prevented students from logging in when its technicians noticed that “the system slowed.” For those unfamiliar with public service patois, that means it had ground to a complete halt. 

Students who were locked out were instructed to complete the exam on paper instead. Unfortunately, paper copies had not been provided to schools. Teachers had to scramble to print them. 

We should cut NZQA some slack here. It’s not as if they knew in advance how many students were entered for the exam, or that they’d all try to log in at exactly the time NZQA had scheduled.  

Some might think we should revert to pen-and-paper exams to avoid occurrences like this. Instead, I think we should take the use of technology in exam delivery even further. Online exams are a good start, but if we embrace Artificial Intelligence (AI), NZQA can eliminate human error and keep the exams out of the news. 

An obvious move would be to have AI set the exams. AI bots are future focused. They know which of their hallucinations students need to know about. And if AI also marked the exams, we could avoid confusing human markers with any AI-generated ‘alternative facts.’ 

But the real game-changing improvement will come when, instead of students, AI bots sit the exams.  

Luddites might object that, if students don’t have to sit exams, they won’t bother learning anything – but that argument misses the point. In this brave new world of AI, students don’t need to learn. Anything a human being can do, AI can do better. 

In the future, our schools will be populated entirely by AI bots. AI teachers will prepare AI students for exams set, sat and marked by AI. Human error will be gone – not only from the exam round, but from the entire education system. 

That will free young New Zealanders to spend their time gaming, watching internet porn, bullying one another on social media and participating in ram raids. 

On reflection, maybe a certain amount of human error isn’t such a bad thing after all. 

On The Record

Initiative Activities: To listen to our latest podcasts, please subscribe to The New Zealand Initiative podcast on iTunesSpotify or The Podcast App.
All Things Considered
Copyright © 2024 The New Zealand Initiative, All Rights Reserved

Unsubscribe me please

Brought to you by outreachcrm