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The New Zealand mathematics curriculum: A critical commentary

Academic Editor: William Guo

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  • The redesign of national curricula across the Anglophone world since the 1990s is demonstrably shaped by common policy trends. Focusing on the profound and uncritiqued changes that have been implemented in New Zealand education, this paper provides a critical commentary on the characterising features of the current New Zealand mathematics curriculum, describing a context within which mathematics education at schools is severely compromised. Drawing on the evidence available from large-scale international indicators, such as PISA and TIMSS, to benchmark associated curriculum changes implemented by the New Zealand government, we hypothesise that the ongoing decline of student mathematical achievement is the result of four main interdependent features which characterise the New Zealand curriculum. The features are (1) its highly generic non-prescriptive nature, (2) a commitment to teacher autonomy in curriculum knowledge selection, (3) competency-based outcomes approach, and (4) a commitment to localisation in curriculum selection. Recognising socio-political forces and ideological and intellectual ideas associated with those forces, we discuss each characterising feature, in turn, to show how they contribute to and draw from the others to create a 'curriculum without content'. We conclude with explicit recommendations and a call for future studies to establish the extent to which each of these four features contributes to the decline of student achievement.


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  • Figure 1.  Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) benchmark indicators (adapted from [11], p. 7)

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