So says Education Commissioner Gail Townsend in response to confusion over Finance Minister Mark Brown’s suggestion last month that the Cook Islands had achieved 100 percent literacy.
Townsend says education has invested a lot into literacy and numeracy, but says reaching 100 per cent is a lot like losing your goal amount of weight.
“The first 10-15 kilograms are easy, but it’s those final few that are really hard to get rid of. It’s the same with our literacy numbers. We have seen a good increase, but trying to get the final few numbers is going to take more time.”
With such a small number of children to make up the statistics, even the tiniest change can look more alarming on a graph, she says.
“When you’ve only got maybe five kids from Rakahanga in grade four literacy, just one failing drops the overall number by 20 per cent.”
For this reason, she says they often see what look like big drops or swells in the statistics from year to year.
“Small changes from year to year are to be expected, it’s only when it continues over a few years that we start to see a problem.”
In its 2015-2019 Statement of Intent, the Ministry of Education reported improved literacy, in both Maori and English, and numeracy outcomes for grades three, four and eight.
In grade four, 80 per cent of all students were at or above the expected level and 85 per cent of grade eight students were at or above the expected level.
Townsend says these results reflect a push by the Ministry to improve literacy and numeracy, especially as their number one priority.
The number of students achieving NCEA levels one, two and three is also on the rise.
In 2014, just over 70 per cent of Cook Islands’ students achieved NCEA level three, a 15 per cent increase from 2013 numbers.
Townsend says they have moved from pushing the University Entrance qualification to pushing over all NCEA achievement as more students are looking outside of university to get into their desired industry.
“We have found that more students are recognising the benefit of staying on the island to study or work in internships, which is great. We want more people to stay here.”
Townsend says the Cook Islands are always looked to as a Pacific representative on education at international conferences and meetings.
“We are seen as a leader in the Pacific, and this is reflected in our progress year to year.”
Statistics reports on education for 2014 will be available in July/August when the new financial year begins.