There are strong moral and spiritual forces linked to the stories about our nation – in terms of national identity, to the connection we have to others within this country and to our relationships with other countries. With regard to the introduction of charter schools how does New Zealand want to see itself and portray itself to the world going forward? A society divided? I hope not.
I can understand why Maori wish to see the implementation of an alternative schooling system which has been sold as the answer to their problems; I also understand the desire to improve Maori educational outcomes and I fully support those desires and needs. I understand that our “Western” oriented education is not serving the interests of Maori communities. I fully concur with Tariana Turia’s sentiments that “the education system’s failure of our children has gone on for too long. Maori communities and educationalists have been responding to these failures for the past two decades by setting up alternative schools and learning centres — the goal, to address not only the loss of te reo Maori but also the poor educational outcomes experienced by Maori students“. (See http://www.gisborneherald.co.nz/opinion/column/?id=32408).
Yet I have grave concerns that charter schools will not provide the panacea so desperately sought and needed.
In a recent article in the Herald, John Banks said, “This is going to be a paradigm shift for some of our poorest families in this country – particularly Maori and Pacifica.” (See http://www.nzherald.co.nz/nz/news/article.cfm?c_id=1&objectid=10883106). This statement does not reflect the reality of educational outcomes experienced in other countries. Again, as a citizen of New Zealand I want to see Maori and other groups in New Zealand thrive and attain and achieve all that they desire. But are charter schools the answer to their problems? I believe what we are discussing here has to do with inequality not educational policy.
The real solution to abolishing inequality is not found in changing the education system but in focusing on our communities as a whole (in all their colour and creed) rather than on the interests of separate groups like Maori, Pacifica or particular religious groups – instead we should focus on ‘community building’ as a means to prosperity and as a goal in its own right. The only way to do this is to create the proper conditions for the education of our communities together.
I believe that as a nation we are a community based country and as such, all communities have the responsibility to help those communities struggling to achieve their goals. If the prevailing economic system leads to people without the proper qualifications and thus unable to find work or does not provide jobs that do not pay a livable income then that system is not working in the way it should. Then the economic system should change – not the educational system.
There should be mounting concern about the increase of inequality in New Zealand and the lack of opportunity for all members to fully participate in this society. The magnitude of the inequality and the lack of opportunity in New Zealand today is hard to deny. There is an ever growing gap between the rich and poor. And the rising levels of inequality suggest that inequality in the future may be even worse than it is today.
Government policies have been central to the creation of inequality in New Zealand – and, I am convinced that charter schools/ partnership schools will prove to only increase that inequality. I am strongly of the opinion that in the, end introducing charter or partnership schools will not change the desired outcomes for Maori, Pacifica or Pakeha for that matter. Any inequality that exists is the cause and consequence of the failure of a political system which in turn contributes to increased inequality – this is the vicious downward spiral we are all descending into – not just Maori.
In many Western societies students describe the dilemmas they are confronted with: when you are out of work, how to best enhance your prospects? Disparities in household income are related to disparities in wages which are in turn are related to disparity in education – and inequality in both is increasing – across the board. The end result is that we are creating a society that is increasingly divided.
The introduction of charter schools will enhance an already divided society. But the division is not between the poor and the rest of the population but it is between those New Zealanders who see New Zealand as a community based society and recognize that the only way to achieve sustained prosperity for all is to have shared prosperity, and those who see that differently; ultimately the division is between those who have some empathy for those who are less fortunate than themselves and those who do not.
If a country does not give the population the education they need to earn a decent living and become contributing members of society, if a society provides so little opportunity that many people become alienated and demotivated, then that society and its economy will continue to function less and less well – which is exactly what is happening in New Zealand today.
The creation of charter schools is an easy way for this National Government to wash their hands of a problem – to leave Maori and other marginalized groups to flounder on their own. This is not the making of a well functioning community nor of a great Nation.
It comes to me as no great surprise that the wealthiest New Zealanders are promoting an educational model which is likely to be of benefit only to themselves. As for myself I do not want to be a part of a society which is increasingly going down a pathway of segregating itself into disparate interest groups. I want to see my children sitting alongside their Maori, Chinese, Catholic and Anglican peers. Let’s stop trying to segregate our society : after-all it does not reflect the reality of global citizenship. I urge Maori not to place themselves in a position where this Government and subsequent governments say “they have only themselves to blame”.
There are many ways in which Governments alter the dynamics of wealth – the provision of a free public education is one of those ways. A Government can affect the extent to which an individual’s education and inherited wealth depends on that of his parents.
We need to decrease inequality! So what decreases inequality? The answer is to be found in the result of investments in education and programs aimed to protect citizens and particularly the poor. This is what Maori and the whole of New Zealand should be clamouring for – a good public system for all. The tendency to under invest in public education are manifest in indicators that our society is not functioning as it should.
Maori – please rethink your positions in this regard. Let’s make New Zealand a more integrated society not more disparate. I do not believe that the introduction of charter schools is in the long term interests of Maori or the Nation. This is an economic driven policy which absolves the Government of one of its core fiduciary responsibilities – public education. It is not the one-off opportunity to get things right as presented by the present Government. Educators and citizens of New Zealand alike do not be fooled.
Tariana Turia said, “The Maori Party would not wish to deny our Maori communities the chance for educational success under alternative models” and neither would I but I do not think this is the way to proceed.
~Future Proofing for a sustainable, participatory, democratic society.
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