ACT MP Chris Baillie: There's something wrong with education in New Zealand

Opinion 16/08/2021

OPINION: There's something wrong with education in New Zealand and parents are starting to worry. Our academic results in literacy, numeracy, science are heading downhill fast when compared with all other developed countries. We have a Government in denial.

Changes to NCEA Level 1 Accounting, Business Studies, and Economics, all becoming a generic "commerce", show this Government's priorities. Truancy rates are shameful: 67 percent of kids attend school regularly, and a report has been requested by the Education and Workforce Committee to try and find out why. We must get back to basics. All students who attend school regularly and can read and write will have a good chance of succeeding in right. That's a fact.

A teacher's role is more difficult now due to successive Government policies, society's expectations, and the way we're told to treat young people. Teachers now have to be computer experts, writing reports that will probably never be read in case the Education Review Office turns up. They're expected to be experts in their teaching field, but the teacher training leaves a lot to be desired. Here's a quote from a trainee teacher: "I swear to God, and I'm not lying, we had one 1.5-hour lecture on how to teach children to read." That's unacceptable. Teachers have to be social workers, truancy officers, dieticians—making sure parents have chopped their apples into small enough bites and behavioural experts, dealing with an ever-increasing range of abusive behaviours in the classroom that only a few years ago would've been deemed unacceptable. It's a sad state of affairs when a student can tell a teacher to get "effed", be dealt with by the school as they see fit, only for the school to be made to apologise two years later. Teachers also have to be sports coaches and mentors, after school and at the weekends and I could go on. The pastoral care expected of teaching is hard work, and most of it used to be done by parents, as did early reading skills and they get thanked with a wage freeze. Then these teachers have to go home and be parents to their own kids.

We have a Government that is not only obsessed with ramming its divisive agenda through every policy and bill it produces, but one that will quite happily make sure young people get the full force of this dangerous agenda. The proposed history curriculum is a perfect example of where this Government's priorities lie. We all think New Zealand's history should be taught in schools. It used to be, it was part of the social studies programme, and many projects were precisely aimed at informing each other about our history. But it did leave gaps, and these gaps should be filled with an honest, warts-and-all look at how New Zealand has developed over the past 200 years and beyond. We can't cherry-pick history; it is what it is.

I come from Nelson. We have a fantastic Italian community who have been part of this country's history for 160 years, and they've contributed heaps. Their story deserves to be heard, as do Nelson's German settlers, who arrived in 1843 and without whom New Zealand's wine industry wouldn't be the same. My grandfather fought in World War I alongside the Māori, or Pioneer, Battalion against a common foe. I'm very proud of him and the contribution my ancestors have made to this country since 1842. We must teach our kids about the development of music, business, civil rights, science, and sport, in all of which every race of New Zealander helped shape this country to what we have today. The proposed history curriculum leaves very little room for these historical facts, and our kids deserve better.

We have a Government devoid of looking outside the square and that is more interested in preserving its union affiliations than caring for our young people. Mt Hobson Middle School in Auckland is a good example. The Education Minister either doesn't care or has just been too busy. With a proven history ticking all the boxes, we have a school desperate to get designated character school status and to fill a gaping hole in the education of diverse learners. But we have an out of touch Minister who thinks everything's alright and ignores the anguish of parents who have to pay for their own teacher-aides for their children because the school can't provide them. Charter schools worked, and ACT's education policies put the kids first.

Schools should be the bastion of free speech, but even teachers are afraid to speak up in how they feel. Repercussions of saying what you want can destroy their careers. That's really sad, because teaching is a fantastic, rewarding career. Parents have every reason to be worried about education.

ACT MP Chris Baillie

Before entering Parliament, Chris worked for 22 years as a teacher for students with special learning needs, and before that 14 years as a Policeman. Chris also owns a small business employing 30 people. He has a strong interest in sport and music, being an enthusiastic supporter of the local Nelson jazz scene.