Three days a week I head to work at several early childhood centers. I love my job. I take my toddler with me on two of these days. For many parents the work and childcare balance is a weekly struggle. A juggle to meet everyone’s needs. Taking my youngest to work with me creates peace in our lives and provides stability for our children.
I have an older kid too. She’s not under my wing as much as I’d like, but that is what happens as kids get older. She is however, under the protective watch and guidance of trusted adults each day. They are all at once her teachers, our friends, our partners in politics and also part of a wider group of people who have collective philosophies and aspirations for our children. This school is small, and it meets the needs of its children as best as it possibly can. It is a real community.
These places, my work and our school, are absolute community hubs. Every other week someone new arrives, a new whānau is taken into the fold. They are eagerly welcomed with open arms. They are accepted and absorbed….whether they see it coming or not! Education centres are crucial meeting places. They bring people together, at a time when new little lives are coming into fruition. At their best, places of education should be equalizers, and they should be there for everyone. No matter what your needs are. And for the most part, schools are these things.
I say all this, because there have been two pieces of news in two days this week that have worried me greatly. As a teacher with a background in special education, with a child who requires extra learning support, I feel under-valued as a teacher, fearful for my child’s future educational possibilities and fiercely protective of her rights as a citizen and learner in this world. And I feel worried for everyone actually, for our communities who strive each day for the betterment of children.
Hekia Parata,you have stung twice. And it really hurts.
First you say that youth aged 18-21 years will get less funding, which will be reallocated to pre-schoolers. My first thought straight off the bat is that I just don’t believe you. I doubt this will happen. Well, I don’t doubt you’ll authorise funding to be taken away from those who need it, but I can’t see it going anywhere else productive. Here are the reason this makes me furious:
- Kids aged 18-21 in the education system are at a critical turning point in their lives – they are being supported so they can live as independently as possible. To live lives that are fulfilling. You know, the kind of stuff we all want and expect at the end of our schooling. These young people can be painfully aware that their peers have moved off into work or further training and education, and that they are still at school – this is hard. However, staying on may make them happier too.
- The whole idea that youth with extra learning needs can stay at school until they are 21 is because they need MORE, not less – hence the extra three years. Is this not blindingly obvious? More. Not less. Yes, littlies need early intervention too, but not at our youths’ expense.
- For many families it takes a long time to establish that their children need extra learning support – not from lack of trying either. For some families this isn’t clear until their children actually start school. So these kids could miss that early intervention and the support in the last stages. Sure, extra funding for ECE may catch more children who might otherwise fall through the gaps. But if you take my kid as an example – a child who started ECE, and then on to Kōhanga from age 2.5yrs, with a specialist teacher for ORS children as a mother, it still took us 4.5yrs to diagnose her needs- it is not always simple.
- Finally, why does it have to be one or the other? Are all children not worthy, regardless of age or stage?
Hekia is trying to make this move under the guise of a more inclusive education system in which she says there needs to be more “clear accountabilities” and “at the moment we mostly focus on and measure inputs”.
To quote Stuff – ‘This would mean schools would need to show students receiving funding had made progress in their academic achievement, which would be measured through their National Standards and NCEA results.’
Thank goodness my kid’s school refuses to drag our children through the time-consuming, unhelpful and ultimately humiliating process that is National Standards. If they did, my daughter would be WELL BELOW, all the time. Well, she ain’t below anything Hekia.
Again, a few pointers:
- National Standards compare children against each other. How fair is it for a kid with a developmental delay, or a sensory processing disorder to be pitted against a child who glides through academic learning? What does that achieve, and for whom?
- When you measure kids who don’t fit the mould with NS, they bring down the whole school’s score – by which I mean, the final NS results for a school appear lower, which puts pressure on the teachers who are already doing their best. NS are not reflective of what the teachers DO do and how individual kids progress themselves, from their own starting points. This is what matters, not how they compare to others.
- NS only measures some areas of learning, and disregards the arts, much of technology and science, and critically – social learning. Yes, these things are all inseparable from each other, but NS sure knows how to drill down to the fine points to compartmentalise learning. Some kids won’t necessarily thrive in academic subjects but that may not matter, depending on how everything else goes for them. Again. My kid would look like a failure on paper to Hekia, but she’s never seen her in centre stage.
I’m glad Labour’s Education spokesperson Chris Hipkins chimed in with some sense. ‘using those measures was “utterly uninclusive” and “bizarre”. Kids are receiving ORS funding because they have a serious impairment or physical disability. To suggest National Standards or NCEA as a way to assess their success and the quality of their education is ridiculous.’ I couldn’t agree more.
And the second sting from the Hekia machine…
She is suggesting that some children could learn entirely online from providers who are ‘COOL’. That is, a ‘Community of online Learning’. This proposed change is part of the Education (Update) Amendment Bill introduced to Parliament this week.
COOL Providers could be schools, tertiary providers or *shudder*, private industries. The former is not too far-fetched. I can imagine some schools setting up online learning for children who may do better at home, or who have a mix of on and off site learning. Tertiary education providers delivering entirely online is nothing new. But private industries?! Here are my points:
- Private industries have no place in schooling. They are out for a profit, nothing else. They may say otherwise, but they are not primarily for the benefit of children. End of story. No one can convince me otherwise.
- Hekia sells this as an effort to appease digital companies who have made it clear to the government that there are not enough school leavers entering the work force with the skills required for working in technology. Saying that technology can just teach the kids technology is like whacking kids over the head with a maths text book, or expecting children to learn to play instruments by simply watching a band play all day, or sitting in a room full of instruments. Kids need support and direction from people.
- Social connections and relationships are the most important factors in any learning. We need more people not less. More skilled teachers for all students to meet ALL needs, whether they need extra support or not. Better teacher to child ratios.
Going back to my first statements about how wonderfully immersed my family is in our children’s educations, and how important these sites of education are for us each day. They are not just places our kids go to learn. They are places for all of us. There we meet other families whose children may be on a similar path to ours. We swap notes and support each other. We up skill ourselves. Our children know there are many adults who have their backs. They know they belong somewhere, that they are a part of something that matters. That they matter. Critically, they see their parents interacting positively and meaningfully with their teachers. There are no barriers. We are teams, for the benefit of our families.
Hekia, please do not remove the funding that so many young people rely on in their final years, within the safety of their schools. It is crucial for that big step they take into the world , a world which is ultimately not made for them, that is hard enough. The more knowledge and resources they take out there with them the better, for them and for society as a whole.
Hekia, please stop side lining us teachers. We understand kids, we know about teaching and learning. It is what we do. We are professionals, we are experts. We are telling you that relationships are what matter. That connection is what supports children. It gives them confidence, courage, and companionship. These things are invaluable and National Standards doesn’t measure them. Computers can’t teach them. But communities do. Parents know who has their kids backs and who doesn’t. Don’t pull the rug out from beneath us. Make the foundations stronger instead.
Lastly, Hekia – watch this, because every kid does need a champion. Educationalist Rita Pierson breaks down the importance of relationships in learning, and life. I have lost count of how many times I have watched this and it still makes me laugh, and cry.