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Education System Discriminates Against Intelligent Children

© Peter Zohrab 2011

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(Open Letter to the New Zealand Prime Minister)


Dear Mr. Key,

This may seem strange, but it has recently been proved statistically that the National Certificate of Educational Achievement (NCEA) discriminates against intelligent children.

If you look at page 58 of the Research Publication "Forming Adulthood Past, Present and Future in the Experiences and Views of the Competent Learners @ 20", you will see that it says:

There was little difference in performance on the cognitive measures between those who had left school without a qualification and those who left with NCEA Level 1, or Level 2. It was levels of performance on the attitudinal competencies that appeared to make the difference in gaining a qualification, and gaining the more useful NCEA Level 2 rather than NCEA Level 1, or nothing.

Looking forward, using low and high performance on the competency measures as our unit of analysis, we found that early low performance often does not lead to difficulty gaining a school qualification. What teachers and parents do, their interaction with students and the opportunities they provide children and early adolescents, do matter. The first three years of school are particularly important.

Most of those with early low performance at age near-5 went on to gain NCEA Level 2 or Level 3.

As you can see, the researchers, here, are taking NCEA as the target, and talking in terms of teachers and parents helping early low achievers to reach that unlikely target. However, that is not the only way to interpret these results, in my view.

The cognitive tests used at primary school, as far as I am aware, are much more reliable measures of actual ability than is NCEA, where so much is dependent on subjective teacher assessments and relationships between teachers and students. The primary school cognitive tests do not test anything that students can revise beforehand, so "exam nerves" are not likely to affect results. Whereas the researchers talk in terms of teachers and parents helping early low achievers to improve their performance, the flip-side of that is that early high achievers must be being obstructed from reaching their potential!

The levels of performance on the attitudinal competencies are much more able to be influenced by teachers than the levels of performance on the cognitive competencies, so the logical conclusion is that teachers are (probably) negatively influencing the attitudes of many intelligent students, which results in them performing less well than they should do at NCEA.

There is an obvious bias in this research: the two researchers are both female, most teachers are female, the Minister of Education is female, girls are doing much better than boys at NCEA -- and yet sex/gender is not one of the variables that was taken into account in this piece of research!! If you read Fergusson, D.M., M. LLoyd, and L.J. Horwood (1991), you will find the following conclusion:

... in the areas of reading and written expression teachers showed consistent tendencies to evaluate the performance of girls more favourably than the (sic) boys even after adjustment for gender differences in objective test scores were made.

As a long-time student, teacher and lecturer and parent, as well as a former member of the National Party, I am in a position to write a whole book on anti-male bias throughout the education system and political parties. I see no sign of your current, female Education Minister doing anything about the way that the education system is oppressing boys, so I hope you will contemplate a reshuffle after the election!

Even if the discrepancy between primary school cognitive test results and NCEA results does not affect boys worse than girls, NCEA is shown by this research to be a non-objective means of assessing student abilities and our female-dominated school system is show to be biased in its effects on individual students.


Fergusson, D.M., M. LLoyd, and L.J. Horwood (1991): "Teacher Evaluations of the Performance of Boys and Girls," New Zealand Journal of Educational Studies Vol. 26, No.2.


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Peter Douglas Zohrab

Latest Update

4 August 2017