By: Peter Jackson

Northland Age editor-in-chief Peter Jackson

This shameless election campaign surely reached its nadir last week with National and Labour releasing their education policies.

But don’t bet on it. With more than two weeks to go there is still time for further progression from the sublime to the ridiculous.

There is one sector of the educational shambles that is desperately crying out for attention, and it isn’t tertiary students or primary kids who yearn to learn a second language.

It is the kids who don’t have a chance who need attention, but National and Labour aren’t interested in them. They don’t vote, and their parents probably don’t either.

They will continue to wait, month after month after month, for a foetal alcohol syndrome assessment, a mental health/psychological assessment, and when they finally get it they won’t be given the help they need to address it.

They will continue to disrupt their classes, to attack other kids and their teachers, to smash furniture, to display symptoms that will deprive them of any chance of benefiting from their years of compulsory education.

They, as Te Tai Tokerau Principals’ Association president Pat Newman warns, will continue on the path that will inevitably lead them to prison. They are doomed to lives of violence, illiteracy, unemployment, drug and alcohol addiction.

And when they become adults they will produce children in their own image, perpetuating the cycle.

There aren’t that many of them. Mr Newman reckons there are fewer than 200 in Northland (although thousands more are failing less spectacularly).

They could benefit enormously from a fraction of the money that the two big parties are offering to chuck at tertiary students, who do vote, and the kids who don’t need help, and who National reckons need the added challenge of learning a second language.

At the very best these damaged kids will become bilingual prison inmates, but nothing will change for them. They will continue to emerge from the system with nothing to show for more than a decade of compulsory instruction, while National and Labour persist in broadening the gap between the educational haves and have nots, and ignore the screamingly obvious fact that additional resources are needed at the bottom, not the top.
Their policies make no sense on any level.

The Northland Age has long argued that tertiary education should be free. But there is a but. If degrees are to be bestowed without cost to the student, the university curriculum has to be culled.

Give free degrees to engineers, doctors, nurses, teachers, architects, even lawyers (although we have more than enough of them already), qualifications that will benefit the students, and more importantly their country. But not the rubbish ‘qualifications’, those with no meaning and no value. Bin them entirely, or let those who pursue them pay for the privilege.

Make universities intellectually elitist again. Set the bar for entrance at a level that will admit only those who genuinely have the ability, and the desire, to benefit society.

Treating university entrance as a fundamental human right is ridiculous. Universities are not places for those who wish to indulge themselves in studies that have no value. The right to pursue an education at the highest level at someone else’s expense is not God-given.

Making meaningful tertiary education free will achieve a couple of things. It will enable universities to focus on what they should be teaching, and teaching it better than they are now. And it will open the door for people who have intelligence and ambition, which under the current system will never be realised because of the cost.

The criteria for university entrance should be intelligence and attitude, not willingness to rack up a huge debt. Universities should be for our best and brightest, regardless of their family or social circumstances.

Labour will never do that though. No party will. For a start, culling the curriculum would add significantly to the dole queue, and no government wants that.

When it comes to structuring tertiary education, the only factor that interests politicians is the potential to gain votes, even if making all degrees free will only tempt universities to cast their net even wider.

It will reduce the quality of candidates, it will encourage the offering of low-hanging, valueless qualifications, and it will undermine the value of genuine qualifications.

This policy will simply add another gear to the conveyor belt that tertiary education has become, with the emphasis increasingly on quantity over quality. This has happened in other countries, but yet again we have a political party ignoring the evidence of others’ mistakes, because all that matters is winning an election. Who cares what damage is done in the process?

National’s foreign language policy is even dafter. Primary education should lay the foundation for what is to come, beginning with the seemingly unfashionable 3 Rs, which goodness knows how many kids aren’t getting, and without which everything else is always going to be a struggle.

We know that we long ago reached the point where some students are reaching university with such poor reading and comprehension skills that they can’t understand their course content. Does any politician know that? Do they care?

Teaching primary kids a second language isn’t going to change that. And where are these thousands of teachers of Mandarin, Korean, Japanese and whatever else going to come from? We were told last week that 80 per cent of schools in this country are under-staffed and/or struggling to fill vacancies, while others are having trouble finding relievers.

That is a problem that demands urgent attention, not ridiculous additions to the curriculum.

How likely is it that schools that can’t find people to teach the times table will be able to find those needed to teach a foreign language?

There is more to National’s policy though. It has promised to send children’s progress reports to their parents via their smart phones. That assumes that the parents will have a smart phone, that they are interested in what their child is achieving, and will actually read said reports. Or be able to.

It is not clear whether smart phone technology will be used to break the news that their child has stabbed a teacher, or in what language.

These two parties, one of which will lead the next government, have displayed an appalling lack of appreciation of the real world they wish to govern. They insult our intelligence by appealing to the venal instincts of a large bloc of voters, chucking money at them and their parents whilst ignoring the calamity that as long been unfolding before them.

They are not interested in improving the education system. They are not interested in helping the most vulnerable kids in this country. They are not interested in enabling teachers to teach receptive kids to the best of their ability.

They just want to win an election, and the best means they can see of doing that is giving money to people who need it the least. They have no interest in doing what is right.

Labour prattles on about inequality but will do nothing to address it in terms of education, while National says it’s a myth, despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary. Both are happy to squander a large part of this country’s most valuable resource, because it suits them to do so. A plague on both their houses.

Pity the USS Enterprise is a work of fiction. The temptation to beg Scotty to beam us up is growing with every passing day.

Source: Northland Age

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