By John Tamihere
The fallout from last week’s Budget continues and is best highlighted by not just teachers but thousands of parents being upset.
The new Minister of Education, Hekia Parata, trimmed $42 million from the total school budget. Whilst this sounds a lot, we spend hundreds of millions on early childhood, primary, intermediate and secondary schooling; we employ 50,000 school teachers who are supported by thousands of teacher aides and thousands of administration support staff; all schools have cleaners, caretakers and a community that considers the school and the wider school family a part of their community.
For $42 million the Minister has bought a fight with one of the best organised unions in the country. Further, each one of these schools have school trust boards with members elected from the community to represent the community’s interests. If any Minister is going to touch schools they have to have a very good case to do so. The pennies and dimes being saved might be good from a policy perspective, they might even be good in lifting education standards, but, like all things, your policy has to pass the political test. Many great policies that will work, that do save money and that do get better outcomes fail the political test.
Hekia Parata has worked as a senior public servant and went on to set up a very successful public policy consultancy with her husband, Sir Wira Gardiner. They know all about the system and the process. I think they believe that they know all about the politics as well. Welcome to the real world Hekia.
Hekia rightly argues that she came from a class of 42 children at primary school, virtually every one of those children did exceedingly well and that this was attributable to the quality of the teacher, not the size of the class. I also was educated in the 60s and 70s and what she argues is correct.
Only she missed one little bit: New Zealand in the 60s and 70s had teachers that were universally supported and respected. Discipline and order was like night and day. What the teachers said was law and this was backed up by all of the teaching staff, the local policeman and more importantly, mum and dad. Further, the community we grew up in was widely church and faith-based lead. Most kids left school knowing how to read, write and count. We no longer live in the New Zealand of the 60s and 70s. The quality of the teacher does count and, in fact, counts far greater than the number of students in a class.
But without all the other measures, the number of children in a class does count. It counts politically and that is why Hekia Parata and John Key will slap the handbrake on and take the foot off the accelerator on this one.
Undoubtedly Parata has a future in politics, she just has to learn to understand it a bit more.
Sunday News, 3rd June 2012