Tuesday, July 26, 2022

Alwyn Poole: Education and the supply side of inflation

Yesterday this headline was in the NZ Herald: Missed opportunity: $3 billion lost in NZ each year due to lack of productivity.

There are two broad sides to determining the general price levels in an economy – the demand side and the supply side. Inflation can be caused by over pumping the money supply making interest rates low and spending relatively easy. Government spending can also play a huge part and there is no doubt that this government, under Grant Robertson, has borrowed [and] spent appalling amounts of money.

When challenged on this Robertson guffaws and repetitively asks people if they would prefer that the government wasn’t investing in education and health. It is a perspective that crumbles under the slightest scrutiny. “Investing” by nature implies a return. We are saying no such return in education (quite the opposite) and, although it is not my field, our health system does not appear to be thriving. A very significant amount of what Robertson is allocating is poorly targeted and highly wasteful. It is a pet hate to hear members of government saying the “they are putting money into … such and such”. It is as if they genuinely forget that it is taxpayers, current and future, that the money belongs to and that it should by no means be spent with impunity.

On the supply side, anything that can improve productivity and/or lower costs for business can increase supply and put downward pressure on prices. Possible measures to consider are free trade in business inputs, well-targeted immigration, decreasing GST and other business taxes, reducing business compliance costs and, of course, a fabulous education system.

A fabulous education system is one that caters to the needs of every child and engages every family. It is one that provides deep foundations in numeracy and literacy. It is one where schools are well lead, where teachers are passionate experts. It is one where young people emerge highly informed, skilled at learning, free and critical thinkers and with high aspirations for life and careers. Our education system is, at present, far from fabulous.

At present we have become focussed on attendance. It is a symptom of deeper systemic issues. That 57 per cent of students only are attending fully is the number often quoted. For decile one and two students things are, of course, much worse. They attend fully at less than 40 per cent.

One of the ridiculous things about the recent Education and Workforce Select Committee inquiry into attendance is that only 6/2600 schools bothered to submit. The recommendations Hipkins/Tinetti chose to implement were very poorly researched. The report is another bad education joke. I saw Jan Tinetti recently and asked why members of the committee did not go out to 15 schools where attendance is low and 15 where it is high and find out why in both? Surely the key thing they needed to know.

She had no answer because the truth is that a significant amount of fault would fall back on the quality of schools and their programmes, the quality of school leaders and teachers and the oversight of the ministry. These are not things this government would wish to admit.

Why would a child go to school if the school is of poor quality, they are not learning much and they just don’t see the point. So much happens in our schools that has nothing to do with the education of young people and kids see through it.

Long-term improvement in attendance requires massive improvement in our schools. The children have to be drawn back and then effectively engaged. They, and their parents, need to see the point. This clearly does happen in some of our schools. New Zealand needs to learn from those exemplars.

It is no quick fix for current inflation, but generating a highly productive and aspirational workforce through education, that works for children of all kinds and regardless of socio-economic background, is the key to long-term health of the economy and nation.

Alwyn Poole, a well-known figure in the New Zealand education system, he founded and was the head of Mt Hobson Middle School in Auckland for 18 years. This article was first published HERE

1 comment:

Barend Vlaardingerbroek said...

Educational expenditure should be regarded as an investment i.e. with an expectation of a return. That return is measurable in terms of human capital acquisition - skills and attitudes that eventually lead to greater productivity. Healthcare expenditure is not an investment in that sense. Admittedly, basic measures such as controlling infectious disease can result in a more productive work force, but this applies only to the poorest countries where the informal economy is the mass economy anyway.
A literate work force is more productive than a largely illiterate one. This applies even to subsistence farmers who sell excess production in the most backward agrarian societies. In the more developed industrialised economies, workers who are more informed about, and receptive to, technological change are more productive.
Schools cost money and society has a right to expect to expects dividends arising from its investment in them.