Catherine Delahunty

“Choice” versus fairness in education

by Catherine Delahunty

Why is it that this country continues to adopt failed models from elsewhere instead of strengthening our own structures based on our own experience? The schools and communities of South Auckland and Eastern Christchurch are being used to justify ideological experimentation. After all there are many good schools doing their best in these regions and many parents who support their local schools.

I haven’t seen any parents marching for the right to set up a Charter school or demanding more “freedom”. I have seen some of the overseas literature on the failure of the Charter model and it’s a sad and sorry tale about reinforcing inequality.

So ACT as in John Banks has persuaded the Government that Charter schools (a model of privatisation of the public good) will somehow make education work better for all. How this is supposed to happen via performance pay, cheery picking and lack of accountability is anybody’s guess. Undermining the public education system will not fix poverty and inequality but then not everybody really wants to. A low wage economy needs to keep some of its population unskilled and unemployed to keep those wages in their place.

If the Government really cared about education we might have discussed learning models at the Education and Science Select Committee. In the last three years we spent a tiny percentage of our time talking about learning let alone “reforms” like National Standards. We might have seen some mention from the Government of the Charter Schools option during the election campaign. However there was no public signal that privatisation of the public education system was going to be part of the new regime.

Without being melodramatic (or not very) I do find it an evil use of language. They are pushing the idea that low income communities would have more “choice” if the public system was competing with a privatised model of schooling funded from the public purse.

During the election campaign I launched our education policy at a primary school in Manurewa East which celebrates its cultural diversity and has wonderful support for its students. It was a happy place with music, colour, vegetable gardens and a passion for education.

Over the last two years I have been a regular visitor at a low-decile school in South Wellington which has just had a fantastic ERO report and has a very high standard of parental involvement. I could also wax lyrical about the Victory school community hub in Nelson and the incredible achievement record of Te Waiu o Ngati Porou kura in Ruatoria.  These are quality public schools and kura kaupapa. They are flexible and meet students needs without business rhetoric or models. Their secrets include dedicated teachers, community support and cultural respect

The Green Party is not saying the public system has no issues. Schools manifest our society with all its inequalities and challenges, but cannot of themselves fix the growing inequality. We know there are numerous issues that need work and resources. But we know what the word “public” means and what values and benefits it protects, and we are ashamed of what this Government is proposing to do.

Published in Society & Culture by Catherine Delahunty on Wed, December 7th, 2011   

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