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Chart of the month: Māori education critical to unlocking opportunities

Māori education outcomes continue to lag behind other groups in New Zealand. This lower attainment highlights a need to change what we’re doing to ensure that Māori succeed in education. Increasing Māori education outcomes will not only unlock more opportunities but will also give New Zealand the skills to enable us to prosper. A focus on Māori education outcomes is even more important given the growth in Māori in the working age population over the next 10-20 years.

Although New Zealand’s educational attainment has improved over recent years, this progress hasn’t been felt equally across all groups. The previous government’s Better Public Service targets focused on raising the number of school students with NCEA Level 2 – an important goal, and one that was met. Yet the focus on Level 2, to create a general foundation for young people to achieve, seems to have come at the expense of the next step in education. If NCEA Level 2 is the foundational platform, Level 3 is the qualification that gives young people the specific skills and knowledge to get into a job or prepare for further study. Yet even though Māori educational attainment at NCEA Level 2 has increased, there’s been less of a gain for Level 3. In 2017, the last year we currently have data for, 85% of non-Māori achieved NCEA Level 2 or above, compared to 68% for Māori. This achievement rate highlights a 17 percentage point gap, having fallen from a much wider gap of 27 percentage points in 2009 (see Graph 1).

Graph 1

But for Level 3, the gap was 25 percentage points. In 2017, 60% of non-Māori, but only 36% of Māori, school leavers had achieved NCEA Level 3 or above (see Graph 2). Not only is the gap wider at Level 3, but the gap has also barely changed, down from 28 percentage points in 2009 to 25 percentage points in 2017.

Graph 2

Māori educational outcomes are improving, which shows progress in enabling Māori to access more opportunities in life. But the gap still remains too large.

Data for 2018 school leavers is expected to be released over the coming weeks, and it will be interesting to see if the NCEA Level 3 gap closes further.

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