Neglecting our Children is Neglecting our Nation

In 1994 Neil Postman wrote a non-fiction cautionary tale called The Disappearance of Childhood. In it he made the case that much for what we had come to value for that stage of life came though both the invention of the printing press and the public education allowed for both the separation of information available to children and adults – as well as increased ability to protect children for a longer period of time.

Up until that point, especially for the poor, childhood was short and long way from innocent or ideal.

In many ways this is the best time to grow up but in New Zealand we take scant care for many groups and are extremely naïve about the impacts that social media, exposure to bizarre and completely perverted “adult” content on the internet, the down-ward pressure thrown at them by adults trying to build vested interest pressure around “crises” like climate change, gender identity, racism, etc.

This government has almost entirely neglected education so far. Their Minister has three other major roles and has made no meaningful change at all to reverse that qualitative slide all indicators are showing. Although I have met competent communicators, lawyers, and fully committed bureaucrats in senior Ministry of Education roles I am yet to meet a highly competent and inspiring educator (and I have been around teaching since 1991).

I can fully back up all of the above. Thankfully other people are starting to notice the sinking of our, once world leading, education ship. I was going to edit the article below into key points but just about every line is a stunner.

Adults in NZ – especially the politicians – don’t really give a crap. The opposition parties are starting to point this stuff out but the have to actually come up with proposals (and this must not include going back to Charter Schools – you are welcome to ask me why).

Here are a few things that would make huge change but will require National and Act to provide for groups that are unlikely to be their political friends; i.e. they might have to do good for the sake of it – not political gain.

Dive in regular school attendance rate bodes ill for the future economy

In 2019 only 57 per cent of children attended school regularly.

If education is an economic indicator of where New Zealand will be in 30 years, alarming school attendance rates suggest the country is in trouble, says independent economist Cameron Bagrie.

In 2015, 70 per cent of children regularly attended school, by 2019 that number had become 57.7 per cent and “lord knows what the Covid (year) number is going to look like”, he told a DairyNZ forum in Hamilton, to which more than 350 turned out or watched from other regions.

“I thought initially it was older kids wagging. But it’s not. The biggest decline we’ve seen is in primary schools,” said Bagrie.

“If you’ve not regularly attended school, what are your odds of being a regular attendee at work?”

The Ministry of Education responded that the latest attendance data for term 2, 2020, showed 64 per cent of students attended school regularly during the last seven weeks of the term, compared to 57.7 per cent in the corresponding time in 2019.

The ministry said attendance was “a priority issue”.

Bagrie told the Herald that education was the “epicentre” of New Zealand’s future.

He suggested school attendance was unlikely to improve with children living in motel emergency accommodation and “bouncing” around different areas because of the housing crisis.

“We can’t disconnect this from the housing market.”

Regularly attending school was classified as turning out 90 per cent of the year, Bagrie said.

“That 2019 stat means 42.3 per cent did not turn up regularly. Forty-five per cent of Māori and Pasifika kids regularly attend school. I wonder why those statistics are not getting more of an airing?”

No one in the Hamilton audience picked education when, at the start of his presentation, Bagrie asked what was an important economic indicator for the country’s future.

In the Waikato, only 53.3 per cent of children regularly attended school, he said.

Only Northland and Bay of Plenty had a worse showing.

“We are now in an economic time when it’s all about people. The past 20 years it’s been shareholders at the top of the pile. Now we’re going back to a stakeholder model and Covid has highlighted we need to invest in people.

“It’s not just about investing in training for the workforce – this goes back to what is going on the school system. We can’t disconnect this from housing.

“Is there a health connection here? We need to be looking at this. We have data per school, make comparisons, start to break it down and see what is driving it.”

Bagrie said that was the job of the Ministry of Education but despite it identifying falling school attendance as a “systemic trend”, there didn’t seem to be much action or “deep diving” into data, which was a fundamental issue.

“The answers might be connected to the health system and to housing but let’s start to connect the dots and come up with a programme.”

A response from the ministry said attendance was a priority issue.”

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