New Zealand has a very good education system. That’s beyond debate. Can we make it better? Yes, we can and we must. We must make it heaps more betterer.
As a passionate New Zealander and as a mum, I want to see an education system that delivers quality learning for every child and young person every day. Their achievement matters, to their families, their communities – and to me.
I visit schools right across New Zealand on a regular basis, and after the torrents of abuse have died down, I speak to teachers, principals and parents about what I, as the Education Minister, can do to support them to ensure our kids are achieving.
For example, I can open my mouth and tell them to do things I think are important. They can listen to me or they can strop and moan like a grumpy old man.
The proposed changes that we’re making in education are all about putting our kids at the centre of the education system, lifting the educational success of every young New Zealander.
This means ensuring we get the right amount of funding for each child. There are so many options in modern education. Back when I was at school in Ruatoria we had nothing. No pencils. No books. We didn’t even have a classroom or a teacher. There were 753 students in my class. At the start of the school year they took us to the top of Mt. Hikurangi and left us there. You graduated if you could make it back to Manutahi School by the end of the year.
That was real learning. And even though I never had a teacher, my teacher was the best teacher I ever had.
These days school need to be supported in making the same kind of courageous decisions for kiwi kids. Each year we spend over $11 billion on education.
As I’ve often said, “That’s a shipload of money,” because so many people I know use that term when referring to a large amount of something.
We increase spending each year and the spending review we are currently engaged in is looking at everything. We want to provide schools with more flexibility and choice. We want them to be able to be flexible enough to say, “Hey… We’ll paint the junior block and put a beginning teacher straight out of university in front of our most vulnerable learners.” At the moment they can’t do that.
School communities have to spend some of their money on teachers. That’s such a shame.
I’ve consistently listened to the teacher unions since I came into the education portfolio, regularly meeting with them and working with them on a number of important initiatives. I’ve also told them they are just plain wrong. There’s nothing more motivating than an Education Minister telling teachers how wrong they are.
This is about lifting the learning potential of every child. Our spending cuts in the Early Childhood and Special Education sectors have allowed kiwi children to grow and prosper.
It’s about preparing young New Zealanders for a contrary, challenging, exciting world where they will spend their working lives sitting 3 hour external exams and being assessed against their workmates as to whether they meet the standard.
* Hekia Parata is the excellent Education Minister of New Zealand