School child sitting at desk looking a bit sad
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OPINION: Kids no longer the centre of education

Opinion 30/09/2021

OPINION: There is something going wrong with education in New Zealand and parents are starting to worry.

Our academic results in literacy, numeracy and science are heading downhill when compared with all other developed countries. But we have a Government in denial.

Changes in NCEA with Level 1 Accounting, Business Studies and Economics all becoming generic Commerce show this Government’s priorities. Truancy rates are shameful with only 67 per cent of kids attend school regularly. A report has been requested by the Education and Workforce Committee to find out why.

We must get back to basics. All students who attend school regularly and can read and write have a good chance at succeeding in life. That’s a fact.

A teacher’s role is more difficult these days due to successive government policies, society’s expectations, and the way we are told to treat young people. I was a teacher for 22 years. I know the pressure teachers face. It’s now expected that teachers are IT and computer experts.

That they will write reports that will probably never be read, in case the Education Review Office turns up.

They are social workers, who listen to, and advise young people, often because these kids have no one else who will listen. They are Truancy Officers, having to phone home, speak to parents, have individual meetings to show we are doing everything they can. ERO will demand it.

They are dieticians. Making sure parents have provided a nutritious lunch and chopped their apples into small enough bites. Knowing that the kid’s who eat potato chips for lunch are probably truant.

Government provided school lunches can wait for another day.

They are behavioural experts, dealing with an ever-increasing range of abusive behaviours in the classroom that only a few years ago would be 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.

They are sports coaches and mentors, after school and at weekends. I could go on.

The pastoral care expected of teachers is hard work, and most of it used to be done by parents. As did our kids early reading skills.

And teachers get thanked with a wage freeze. Then these teachers 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 our young people also 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 should be filled with an honest, warts and all, look at how New Zealand has developed over the past two hundred years and beyond.

I come from Nelson and we have a fantastic Italian community who have been part of this country’s history for 160 years and made a huge contribution. Their story deserves to be heard. As do Nelson’s German settlers who arrived in 1843 and without whom New Zealand’s winemaking industry wouldn’t be the same.

My grandfather fought in WW1, alongside the Māori (or Pioneer) Battalion, against a common foe. I am very proud of him and the contribution my ancestors have made to this wonderful country since 1842.

We must teach our kids about the development of music, business, civil rights, science, and sport, all of which every race of New Zealander contributed and helped shaped this country to what we have today.

The proposed History Curriculum leaves very little room for these historical facts. Our kids deserve better.

The re-naming and re-focus of the Ministry of Education (MOE) is a ridiculous, patronising document and shows where the focus of education is heading. Unfortunately, it’s not young people. MOE will now be called Te Tahuhu o te Matauranga.

We have a Government devoid of looking outside the square and is more interested in preserving its union affiliations than caring for our young people.

Mt Hobson Middle School in Auckland is a good example of a Minister who either doesn’t care or has just been too busy. With a proven history, and ticking all the boxes, we have a school desperate to get Designated Character School status to fill a gaping hole in the education of diverse learners.

But we have an out of touch minister who thinks everything is okay and ignores the anguished pleas of parents who have to pay for their own teacher aides for their children because the school can’t provide them. Charter Schools work 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 and say how they feel. The repercussions of saying what you think can be career destroying and many good teachers are leaving their wonderful careers disillusioned. That is sad because teaching is a fantastic, rewarding career.

Parents have every reason to be worried about education.

This opinion piece was written by ACT’s education spokesperson 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.