It’s important that our young people’s education performance has been front and centre of the news over the past month. As I write, it remains to be seen what action, if any, the Labour government will take to address the many education failings cited by our primary and secondary school teachers when they went on a one-day nationwide strike.
We can perhaps be forgiven for suspecting that the teachers have begun to realise that the current government is by no means a shoo-in to get back into power. It is clear that as well as seeking redress for their genuine issues, teachers were laying down a marker to keep the current government’s attention focused on their needs and remind Labour of their voting power.
I do not in any way suggest they should not do so. In my view, nothing is more important to the country as whole, and the business community in particular, than the need for a well-educated, well-focused, and literate cohort emerging into the workforce.
Sadly, as best we can tell that has not been happening. Nor is it likely the recent strike will make much difference. Leaving to one side the vicissitudes of Covid 19 – which cost some lost school time – what is a major long-term concern is the large number of children who are simply not being educated. The reason being that, even now when schooling is returning to something approaching normal, education is losing its appeal for many young people.
It is evident that the expanding sprawl of social media has had some impact on increasing educational distraction. But that is a global issue and not the only reason. According to recent news reports, truancy numbers are going up and are now thought to be around 40 percent. Schools are struggling to keep track of absent students.
More “truant officers”
Education Department data reports that New Zealand has around 2,500 schools, the majority of which are state and state-integrated, funded by the Government. It is important to note that funding for “truant” officers is a discretionary decision that essentially comes out of individual school budgets.
And according to a recent Parliamentary question time answer, the government just doesn’t actually know how many truancy officers are currently in schools. Apparently, the government doesn’t keep that data.
However, the government recently announced that it was pouring $74 million into a truancy package, creating 82 “attendance officer” – formerly “truant officer” – roles. It is difficult to imagine that this latest injection of funds will have much impact on the problem.
New Education Minister Jan Tinetti suggested the support would make a difference in attendance rates. According to Tinetti, a former Tauranga school principal, attendance began to decline in 2015, but Covid had made the problem worse.
Tinetti replaced the current Labour Prime Minister in the education role. Chris Hipkins’ own tenure as minister included supervision of the much-criticised attempt to gather the country’s polytechnic institutes into one national organisation. In his latest incarnation he has basically relegated Labour’s former supposedly critical policies to the “too hard and expensive” basket, in his bid to win Labour another election.
By 2026, the Ministry wants to increase the number of children attending regularly – defined as over 90 per cent of the term, or on average more than nine days a fortnight – to 75 per cent.
As respected independent economist Cameron Bagrie noted in a recent news report: “If you’re looking at [school] achievement or attendance, you’re going to be really worried about where New Zealand is going to be in 30 years.”
According to Tinetti, the government is “going back to basics on attendance”.
To which one can only ask, why did it take you all so long?
More from David Porter: Watching crypto value evaporate