Tuesday, April 05, 2005

(Media/ACT) ACTion on education

ACTion on education
But few turn out to hear about their formula

(Michael Kopp, Hutt News - 29 March)

About two dozen faithful turned out to hear ACT leader Rodney Hide stand in for education spokesperson Deborah Coddington at a public meeting in Lower Hutt early this month. He didn't disappoint those who made an effort, his stentorian Parliamentary voice filling the church hall with his admonitions about New Zealand's "failing education system" and how to fix it.

Before Hide's main event speech, a succession of ACT MPs and newly minted candidates warmed up the crowd with horror stories and the ACT mantra that education is not just about each child's future, but New Zealand's future. For example:
* Brain Drain - 25 per cent of tertiary qualified New Zealanders are living overseas, about twice any other OECD country.
* Taking their kids - not only are the best and brightest leaving for overseas work, but for education for their kids - they no longer have faith that NZ has a world-class education system.

ACT's candidates for Rimutaka, Ian Gaskin, and Hutt South, Lindsay Mitchell, who "single-handedly launched a campaign to abolish the DPB", were introduced. Mitchell, "well-known on talkback, well-known to Steve Maharey, a hard worker who delivered flyers for this meeting to all schools in the Valley (but the audience was almost all middle-aged or older), and a "very-very gutsy person".

Mitchell said the education system deprives families of choice. "How many children are being forced to go to unsuitable schools because the current sustem actually penalises the least well-off?" she said. To place a child in a private school, parents have to pay twice, once through tuition and once through school fees.

MP Ken Shirley reiterated his attack on Te Wananga o Aotearoa. "They call themselves the University of New Zealand, but they have 60,000 students. That makes it the biggest university in the Southern Hemisphere. But in fact they're not a university. Anything you can imagine has been approved as a course. Basket weaving. Golf. I don't know that the NZQA has ever turned down one course."

Mr Shirley claimed that many people were enrolling without even knowing it. "We don't want to close the wananga down; we think the concept is fine, but it has to be tidied up and regulated."

Then Hide came on, slowly warming to his subject. "We live in the greatest country on Earth. We are a good people, we look after ourselves, we look after each other, we work hard, we're entrepreneurial. But nothing we can do will matter if we don't have the best education system. It's not just about the 3Rs. But I'm a little old-fashioned about education. I do think learning to read and write is important."

"But we have to teach more. Our kids haven't learned to turn up on time. Basic values that you need in order to succeed as a person and a country have been mushed out of our young ones."

Hide says educational priorities are wrong: "Our schools pump students full of self-esteem. They feel like they can do anything, even when they can't read. I hate the idea that we're bringing our kids up to think, if you try hard, that's enough. Trying hard isn't enough."

How would we know if our school system was working? "By exam results", he said. "We've got to take away this PC nonsense. We have to get rid of the false world we give our kids in schools, that doesn't match reality. In the real world, trying hard doesn't cut it, you want actually to achieve."

Hide also attacked the decile funding system and promised ACT would support funding to follow kids to whichever school parents choose - but said he doesn't favour a 'voucher' system. "The idea that poor schools have to be bad schools is also absurd. I've been to some of the poorest places in the world... and they have some of the best teachers anywhere. The kids learn - because they want to learn."