Originally conceived before the 2023 election, the Aotearoa Educators Collective (AEC) has now officially materialized as a forum for educators and scholars to engage in forward-thinking, research-driven dialogues surrounding contemporary educational issues.

Comprised of a diverse array of academics, principals, and teachers, the collective endeavors to foster a supportive environment for education thought leaders. According to spokesperson Peter O’Connor, the primary objective is to advocate for a nonpartisan educational approach that removes political interference from classrooms, allowing teachers to focus on their core responsibilities.

The inaugural event, held on Wednesday, marked the collective’s official debut, drawing over a hundred attendees from both in-person audiences at the University of Auckland and online participants from across the nation. Chaired by AEC spokesperson Peter O’Connor, who also serves as a Professor of Education at the University of Auckland, the panel featured prominent figures including Lynda Stuart, Principal of May Road School; Rebecca Jesson, Associate Professor of Education at the University of Auckland; and Jodie Hunter, Professor of Education at Massey University.

The discussion centered on identifying the genuine crisis within the education sector. Panelist Jesson underscored the systemic inequities prevalent in New Zealand’s education system, citing stagnant performance levels on international assessments like the Progress in International Reading Literacy Study (PIRLS) test since 2001. Disaggregated data revealed that students grappling with housing instability consistently rank among the lowest performers. Jesson emphasized that such disparities underscore the country’s fundamentally unequal educational landscape.

Stuart echoed these sentiments, characterizing the current educational milieu as a political pawn, wherein issues of inequity and resource inadequacies are swept under the rug. Hunter further emphasized the deficiency in prioritizing and resourcing professional development initiatives, exacerbating existing disparities.

The consensus among panelists was clear: systemic transformation is imperative to address entrenched educational challenges. Rejecting superficial policy measures like mobile phone bans and minimum proficiency requirements in core subjects, the AEC reaffirmed its commitment to tackling substantive issues.

The panel also delved into contentious topics such as the role of initial teacher education and the potential pitfalls of increased standardized testing, likened to the controversial National Standards era.

Concluding the evening, O’Connor rallied academics and educators to join the AEC, emphasizing the power of collective action in effecting meaningful change. “If we want our voices to be heard, we must unite,” urged Hunter, encapsulating the collective’s ethos of solidarity and advocacy.