The series of reports add much detail to an initial report published in late January – Education Matters to Me – Key Insights. That report didn’t mince words, the summary concluding:
“Our education system needs to cater for all of the children and young people of Aotearoa New Zealand. From what we heard, it currently is not. Children and young people are experts of their own experiences in education. They have the right to have a say, and have their views heard in decisions that affect them.”
The new series of reports expands on the six areas of enquiry that framed the study, and draws insight from the responses of more than 1600 students, on what they see as important to their experience of education, and on the reality of going to school.
The reports are designed to inform and stimulate public consultation when the Statement of National Education and Learning Priorities is developed this year.
President of the New Zealand School Trustees Association Lorraine Kerr says that our education system cannot hope to meet the needs of its most important stakeholders without their input.
”We can talk about the kind of experience we are trying to give our children and young people. But only they can talk about whether that is what they are actually getting.
“As educators, policymakers and advocates we often talk of the need to be ‘child centred’ in our approach to education, yet we rarely provide mechanisms for the people at the centre of our work to be heard directly. Our decision to engage with children and young people directly, and provide a vehicle for their views to be heard, is an important way of demonstrating our commitment to putting students at the heart of what we do.”
“Children and young people are experts on their own experiences in education”, says Andrew Becroft, Children’s Commissioner. “They have the right to have a say, and have their views heard in decisions that affect them. Children’s views always add value and improve services.”
The study sought to engage a diverse cross-section of young people in an online survey and in face-to-face interviews – including those from a Maori and Pacific background, from low socioeconomic circumstances, and with diagnosed learning difficulties and disabilities.
Some key insights from each report
Experiences of tamariki and rangatahi Māori
“I was asked to do a haka for some visitors to school because the principal wanted to give a cultural experience. But it was annoying because that’s like the only time he cares about Māori culture.” (Student in secondary school, Māori).
According to the authors of the report, tamariki Māori that were canvassed spoke strongly about their desire for others to understand their lives outside school, and the importance of family and their place within whanau.
Some spoke of their experiences of racism, and of feelings of cynicism toward educators and schools who they felt had a tokenistic approach to Maori culture.
A theme that came through strongly was the fact that many young people feel they can’t learn without first having a trusting relationship with their teacher.
Although the question wasn’t specifically asked, many students said that bullying is something they would change about the school environment.
“I’d make sure everyone had a friend to be with throughout the day because being alone makes you sad sometimes” (Secondary school student, NZ European).
“Good teachers, teachers who are helpful, they make the difference between me achieving and failing.” (Student in alternative education, Māori).
Some young people spoke about the fact that they feel like school is trivial and irrelevant when compared to the reality of their lives.
Again, relationships with teachers, and perceptions of inclusion – feeling that their teachers know and respect them, understand the way they learn, emphasise their strengths and share high hopes for their future – came through strongly as both barriers and reinforcements to their educational outcomes.
“I was the class clown and the teacher would get annoyed because I was distracting but I felt they didn’t give me attention or support me…this touched my heart. I got kicked out of class, then I had gaps and I felt lost. Their attitude was to go catch up on your own.” (Student in alternative education, Tongan/New Zealander/ Samoan/British).
If I was the boss
Coming through strongly in this thread of the enquiry was the fact that students would like their schooling to provide them with more opportunity to play and explore for themselves, inside and outside school.
“This playful dimension of learning is fundamental to the happiness and healthy development of children and young people. It is also integral to maintaining interest and engagement in school – making it fun,” say the authors of the report.
“I love free play time and getting outside so that I can actually breathe” (Primary school student, Kiwi/Canadian).
Progress and achievement
Children and young people said they want to make their family proud. Relationships are a key motivator for them, to attend school and keep trying to improve. They want their teachers to know their goals, and to help them amplify their unique strengths. They talked about the impact of their physical space on their ability to learn, and the importance of relationships, especially when bullying happens.
“To finish school, to get an education and qualify for a job in the future. To raise my children better than I was raised. Have no violence around my children. To raise my kids in an environment that is healthy for them and keep my children in my care” (Student in teen parent unit)
A theme that emerged in this thread was that students who transition between institutions or classes frequently need extra support to feel included, and to develop and maintain relationships, or they can tend to feel left out of school life.
“When a teacher changes in the middle of the year a better hand over on what has been taught and what needs to be taught is required” (Secondary school student, NZ European)
The Education Matters to Me detailed reports can be downloaded free from www.occ.org.nz and www.nzsta.org.nz