A commitment to fully free education is the only way to tackle New Zealand’s high level of education inequality, the spokesperson for the income equality group Closing the Gap, Peter Malcolm, said today.

Malcolm, a former high school principal, said that while the renewed political focus on education was good news, an unequivocal commitment to free education at all levels was needed across the political spectrum.

“We’re pleased to see political parties turning their attention to education, and things like the promised funding boost from National and goal of free tertiary education from Labour are solid steps forward,” he said.

“But we stand with the other 36 members of the Equality Network in calling for a promise of truly free education, together with a commitment to tackle inequality in all its forms.

“I saw firsthand, as a principal, the shocking levels of education inequality in New Zealand, and it’s going to take much more than some extra funding to turn that around. Education needs to be part of an across-the-board commitment to reducing inequality, which is now endemic in all sectors – health, wealth, taxation, housing.

He said the role of the housing crisis in teacher shortages was just one example of how all these inequalities are intertwined. “Sector by sector approaches are one part of the solution, but bold structural changes to taxation, benefit levels and minimum wages are crucial.”

As the Principal of Auckland’s Massey High School Glen Denhim said, “When a child from a disadvantaged home starts school, their development can be 19 months behind that of their peers. We have a special duty to the poorest children for whom education is the best and often the only route out of poverty. In the 21st century it is not acceptable that family background and geography have such an effect on a child’s educational outcomes. We must work together to close the education gaps in our education system.”

Closing the Gap is part of the Equality Network (EN), a non-partisan organisation of 37 members united by the vision of a more equal Aotearoa New Zealand.


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