The Education Gap

A report out by UNICEF yesterday shows that New Zealand has some of the most unequal education outcomes in the world. This is partly explained by our higher than average rates of poverty, but also by our education system.

According to Stuff:

Aotearoa ranked 33rd of 38 for educational inequality across preschool, primary school and secondary school levels in Unicef's Innocenti Report Card, which looked at the gaps between the highest and lowest performing pupils in OECD countries.

What has happened to the country that once prided itself on a fair go? On equality of opportunity? The myth of the egalitarian Kiwi paradise is truly dead and buried.

More than just schools

The problems start even before school, with some children turning up 2 years behind their peers developmentally. We can’t blame the parents for this. Many of them are working hard to keep food on the table and don’t have time to give their children as much attention as children in better off families. 

The solution here is to invest in free, high quality, full time early childhood education. This would provide a much better return on investment for our future citizens than free tertiary. And if we all agree that teachers deserve to be well paid, and parents are important first teachers, why don’t we pay parents as well? Both of these ideas are part of The Opportunities Party Thriving Families Package.

When children turn up to our education system 2 years behind, they never catch that time up. In other words, our education system is doing a pretty poor job of closing the gap between rich and poor.

This is not the fault of our teachers. They are generally overburdened with bureaucracy and are working hard. Reducing the amount of testing and letting them teach would make a difference.

But the core of the problem lies in the design of our education system, particularly the failed experiment with “Tomorrow’s Schools”. Letting people choose schools has led to ‘white flight’ from schools in our poorer areas. The result is schools that less like our country and more like ghettos.

Let's fix this

If we want our schools to ensure everyone gets a fair go, then we have a choice:

1/ Either our schools have to look like our society;

2/ Or we have to pump a LOT more money into our poorer schools to allow them to close the gaps with schools in richer communities.

The Opportunities Party prefers the first option.

The evidence behind this is becoming increasingly clear. The school’s community makes a massive difference to the school’s performance. The community sets the expectations for learning and provides role models for the students. Students also learn from each other. Most importantly the resources that the parents have make a massive difference to the school and student performance.  

This doesn’t need to come at the expense of good performance. Some of the best education systems in the world have much lower equity gaps than we do.

At the moment our education system is increasing the gap between rich and poor. This isn’t the Aotearoa New Zealand we all want to live in.


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