By: Nicholas Jones

National MP and former Education Minister Hekia Parata. Photo / Mark Mitchell

The former Education Minister said the education system here had an architecture that was one of the best in the world.

“But like my generation and smart phones, we use only a small amount of its potential.

“I saw my job as rewiring that system and leveraging that architecture to make sure it serves every kid … to pick up those that the system left behind.”

Parata also sounded a warning against an expectation for schools to move beyond their “core business” of causing learning to happen.

“It is not the job of schools to become the default for everything young people should learn. As Minister I was lobbied to have schools become social welfare hubs, health hubs, provide financial literacy, sex education and so on.

“Schools are not our mothers and fathers. They are not our families or whanau … theirs is already a huge responsibility – to educate our kids.”

Parata was elected to Parliament in 2008 and served as Education Minister from 2011 until April this year.

Her decision to retire was unexpected, particularly because she was only part-way through the biggest education reforms since 1989, including an overhaul of school funding, now in the hands of new Education Minister Nikki Kaye.

Parata has had her low moments in the portfolio, with most occurring in 2012 – the year she calls her annus horribilis.

That saw an embarrassing U-turn on plans to increase class sizes, a backlash against her handling of proposals to merge or close Christchurch schools, and the implementation of the disastrous Novopay school payroll system.

“I completely accept that we got some things wrong,” she said tonight. “But there wasn’t a manual for those circumstances.”

Parata said New Zealand’s public service was the best in the world – small and precious, like greenstone. She thanked Peter Hughes, Iona Holsted, Karen Poutasi, Katrina Casey and Coral Anne Child, and a number of her staff.

Parata entered Parliament in 2008. Her voice caught as she paid tribute to her family, her two daughters and husband, Sir Wira Gardiner.

“To Wira, my pragmatic, phlegmatic, soldier protector. Thanks for looking after our girls, thanks for tweeting right back at them, thanks for this decade doing this stuff.”

As a Minister Parata had a reputation for using jargon and giving answers that could be difficult to decipher. In her speech, she apologised to the Press Gallery.

“I just could not shake the conviction that if I just explained why, you would all say, ‘Oh, now we get it – okay, we won’t report it the way we were going to.’

“And sorry to all my press secretaries – I just couldn’t get the knack of the sound bite.”

She recalled having the energy and resources portfolio and being “pretty much excommunicated” from her tuakana iwi, Te Whanau-a-Apanui, for approving gas and oil exploration in the Raukumara Basin on the East Cape.

“Somewhat awkward, given we have a home there and would have to drive past garages and fences saying, bilingually, just what an egg I was.”

Then she was appointed Education Minister – Parata’s dream job: “the reason I ran for Parliament”.

“When the then-Prime Minister [John Key] rang to tell me I practically perforated his ear drum, I was so excited. Apparently that hasn’t often been the response to being offered the portfolio.”

In closing, Parata said she had loved her time in Parliament.

“And so to those who gave me advice, told me where to go, and how quickly I could get there – I’m on my way.”

Source: NZ Herald


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