Equitable and excellent education?

Chelsy Killick
Insights Newsletter
2 October, 2020

“We shape an education system that delivers equitable and excellent outcomes.” That is how the Ministry of Education describes its purpose.

If only that lofty statement had anything to do with the on-the-ground experience of schooling in New Zealand.

I am not an education academic or professional. I am a mother of two children, one in primary school and the other now at college. I get to observe the education system daily. “Equitable and excellent” is not how I would describe it.

For all of us, 2020 has been a weird year. It was especially challenging for school children.

Despite efforts at remote learning, the closures during lockdown meant children missed out on six weeks of school.

As a parent, I would have liked to see efforts by our schools to make up for the lost time. I have been disappointed.

By the time my daughter starts an eight-week summer break on 8 December, her college will have had four teacher-only days since the end of lockdown. Teacher-only days are often on the Friday before a long weekend and/or the Tuesday after. It’s the same at my son’s school.

I do not need economists to tell me that children will pay a price for missing out on education. The weeks and months without formal education will come back to bite them. Yet it seems the costs of lockdown will be paid by children, not teachers.

Then again, perhaps attending school makes little difference anyway.

I am dismayed at my children’s poor spelling, so I raised it with their teachers at the latest parent-teacher events.

By all accounts, my children’s teachers are lovely people. They are in their mid-20s. They enjoy their jobs and are enthusiastic.

However, when challenged on my children’s spelling, both of my children’s teachers told me that they themselves could not spell either. They did so in such a relaxed way it made me wonder if my expectations were too high.

I thought schoolteachers are there to pass on knowledge to their students. How old-fashioned of me.

And that was when I remembered the Ministry’s “equitable and excellent” value statement.

I see nothing equitable or excellent about a school system that puts underqualified teachers in front of my children, and where schools feel no pressure to even try to make up for time lost to lockdowns.

The way schools are run, I sometimes wonder about priorities. Are schools there to keep teachers happy and employed or to teach our children?

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