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Issue Analysis: Primary Students Lack Math Ability in New Zealand

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Primary students lack math ability in New Zealand

Due to the national math instruction system and a lack of ability in math teaching, primary school students between years 4-8 have insufficient math capability and have fallen behind other English-speaking countries in math.

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Based on these facts the author believe that even though it is a problem, but it can be solved, first, the author will support his opinion by illustrating this phenomena from two aspects: teachers’ low math teaching level and students’ deficient math ability.

Second, the author will analyse the relevant facts and provide some functional approaches which could change these circumstances.

New Zealand primary students’ ability in math has declined markedly between Year 4 and Year 8.

The Education Review Office (ERO) report[…] found children’s confidence and ability to do maths fell between years 4 and 8, a period in which achievement has been “dropping alarmingly for some time,” (Redmond, 2018)

It is said that some primary students cannot perform basic calculations, for example, some grade 3 pupils, they cannot work out  the correct answer to “6+6”, and after enrolled in middle schools,  many count with their fingers.

Today, some elite schools have refused to accept students without showing an acceptable level of math capability when they are accepted by middle schools. They can use calculators in math course which means they have fewer opportunities to practice basic math A.

This is important because in current workplaces, visualizing and analysing different forms of data has become critical part of people’s jobs, consequently students’ basic math ability should be cultivated from primary schools.

There are two main reasons for this fact which is mentioned above.

First one is the national math education system and the second one is the school teaching procedure and teachers’ bad teaching capability.

Nearly 20 years ago, a national math education system which is called Numeracy Development Projects (NDP) was rolled out to most of the primary schools, the goal of which is to help pupils improve math ability by professional guidance. There are large amount of materials which are relative to math education in its official website, New Zealand government spent about 70 million dollars on it,

However, it has been proved that it is the main cause of primary student’s weak math ability. In this system, the basic math ability such as addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division are not emphasized which has held children’s math back.

In addition, teachers in primary schools of New Zealand lack sufficient math teaching ability. Due to past their math education, most of the primary school teachers do not give up obsolete concept of math instruction, which has negative affected math ability, “Without trying to knock primary school teachers, their proficiency in the subject is absolutely essential for student achievement. You can’t teach maths if you don’t know maths.” (Arthur-Worsop, 2015), some primary school teacher lack of basic math ability, in addition some teachers instruct dissimilar classes at the same time, which has made them not specialists in math teaching.

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Furthermore, usually pupils are grouped according to their math ability in math course which has been proved by some students who have enrolled in university. The learning math eagerness of students will be declined, then finally made them given up math thoroughly.

In order to improve pupils’ math competence, primary schools and government education department should take some measures to make a necessary alteration, first one is improving teachers’ skills and changing their teaching methods, the second one is recruiting more professional math teachers.

Firstly, these schools’ math achievement has been improved due to the planned and marked professional learning and development which they have taken part in at schools.

School can provide the weak math ability students with extra assistance by using effective ways which are named as beginning short-range interferences, and teachers can gain help from the long-range plan can enable them to focus on these students.

In some schools teachers have been begun to change their teaching styles, for example inquiring teaching module has been introduced to math course classrooms, these new teaching ways focus on both content knowledge and teaching practice which has some similarities with professional learning and development through this method.

Teacher’s confidence can be strengthened by teaching new method which is teaching the whole curriculums in the daily teaching, because teachers are able to enlarge their knowledge s cope through the way, and decide what should be taught in certain level.

After knowing the whole curriculum, teachers employ the mixed group teaching instead of teaching groups of the same way, over time students who are in the insufficient ability group has improved, because their understanding of math has been upgraded, and teacher will have realized the benefit of the mixed group teaching.

Moreover, not only do teachers’ work closely with parents, whanau and special mathematics, but also the school which has refined math teaching changed their teaching ways even some schools have triggered the need for more extensive professional learning and development.

Secondly, having enough professional math teachers improve math instruction level. Many schools lack enough competent teachers, so one teacher has to teach more than one subject which leads him or her to be incapable to math teaching, full-time math teacher will improve math teaching level, and enhance students’  math capacity.


In conclusion, there are many elements which can affect pupils’ math ability, such as changing math education system, improving teachers’ capability and teaching method and so on, then government and schools can make some change within the Numeracy Development Projects (NDP) gradually, because of math ability has tremendous relationship to children’s career and lives, so it is necessary to improve their fundamental math skills.


  • Arthur-Worsop, S. (2015, 6 6). ROTORUA DAILY POST. Retrieved 5 2019, from NZHERALD:
  • Gerritsen, J. (2018, 12 4). NEW ZEALAND EDUCATION. Retrieved 5 2019, from RNZ:
  • Redmond, A. (2018, 2 19). Education. Retrieved 5 2019, from STUFF:

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