Education: The perfect political storm for underachievement continues

Guest Post:

By Alwyn Poole

I am biased – education is my life work – but I think Shamubeel Eaqub is right, the children were overlooked this election. As he points out; in 2016 46% of school leavers did not have UE. This group is disproportionately from the lower income households, Maori and Pasifika.

Why a “perfect political storm”?

– From a National Party perspective, they were never going talk about ongoing failure in education as they had the nine most recent years to bring about remarkable change and had failed.

– From a Labour Party perspective, they cannot be seen to criticise outcomes in education as they risk being critical of the vested interests in the teaching profession.

– The Greens did not even have an education spokesperson as a current candidate.

– Clearly Bill English thought so little of David Seymour’s efforts as Under-Secretary for education that saying see-ya-later post-election did not have him reaching for the tissues.

And no one else even had a set of policies getting air time.

As Eaqub’s article makes clear – most students are doing okay and I doubt that the majority were thinking of those that aren’t when they placed their ticks. But, then again, they had no real education policies presented to them that made them think about that choice. Can you recall any of the leaders’ debates focusing on this area? Maybe National had fooled them into thinking that there had been significant progress but Labour did not significantly challenge that position.

In terms of education, our politicians and bureaucrats are a bunch of Chamberlains when the children who are not succeeding need Churchills.

When Chris Hipkins says National Standards are nonsense he is right – but what is his alternative radical solution? The “standards” show that 25% of children throughout primary school are functionally illiterate (even The Lego Movie pointed that out for Middle Zealand) but all he proposes is hiding the problem – as opposed to solving it.

What are radical but feasible proposals?

1. Require all primary teachers to have level 2 NCEA Maths, English & a Science (preferably level 3) as an entry requirement. If the current teachers have not got those (or equivalents)  they should have to gain them through our life-long education system. Without those levels competence and confidence in important areas are unlikely.

2. Radically fund decile 1 -3 schools. Many on the left excuse failure in school on the basis of home disadvantage and social equality. Of course, some children start behind. Schools are about change so resource them to bring about the change. Some complain about the successful fund-raising of decile 7-10 schools and want to stop parents being able to donate to help their children. Bizarre. We should take advantage of the fact the parents in the higher decile schools will raise money to help.

However we need to resource the lower decile schools to break down the barriers; pay teachers more to work in those schools, have class sizes of no more than 15, provide uniforms and stationery and actually believe and work or change.

3. Introduce an apprentice scheme for teachers that allow people with 10-15 years industry experience to enter the teaching profession without having to drop at least one year’s income (something very hard to do in your 30s or 40s). This could easily solve the teacher shortage and bring great people into the profession. The teachers’ colleges (e.g. University of Auckland under Graeme Aitken) won’t like it because they would lose their gate-keeper status and potential funding – but tough – if it works for children it needs to happen.

It is also important to do what you can for those that you can. There is a pathetic thread that runs through our society that if you can’t help everyone then don’t help anyone. Incremental gains are important.

When the major politicians finally get to the negotiating table it will be significant for the future of NZ if the minds of the children of our nation are a part of the discussion.

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