Covid-19 was never going to be kind to the country’s education sector, especially when our school children were already sliding down the OECD rankings for literacy, maths and science and there was a lack of equity in terms of at-home and online learning.
But it’s hard to look at the sector and not conclude there has been a colossal failure.
* School attendance rates for term 1 fell below 50%.
* The polytechnic mega merger is said to be unravelling at pace.
* The leaders of 10 regional principals’ associations say schools are at or near breaking point because of the stress of staff and student absences. They have implored the government to reveal as soon as possible how it would help teens pass NCEA this year.
According to RNZ, it has obtained a letter in which the principals say disruption to learning during this calendar school year is at levels they have never experienced before.
“Although affecting all students, these disruptions have disproportionately impacted our most vulnerable learners.
“Kura are increasingly unable to deliver teaching and learning programmes or engage in agreed change processes in the face of unprecedented staff and student absences, recruitment and retention issues and surging costs [relief in particular].”
One of the signatories, Counties Manukau Secondary Principals’ Association chairperson Karen Brinsden from Botany Downs Secondary College, said some teens were giving up hope.
“There are a large number of students across the region that are disengaged, students that are feeling that they are too far behind to catch up or even get on top of their studies,” she said.
“Well-being of students is a great concern. There’s a high number of students being supported by counsellors for anxiety, depression, and of course with very limited resources that schools have.”
Record-low levels of school attendance hit Maori and Pasifika hardest, with fewer than a third of those populations at school more than 90% of the time. The latest Ministry of Education data showed overall 46.1% of all students were attending school regularly.
Teachers have been hit hard, too, with a third of staff having caught the virus by mid-June.
Covid’s impact on education is not confined to NZ. The Economist has noted that at first, when it was not known whether children were vulnerable to Covid-19 or were likely to spread the virus to older people, school closures were a prudent precaution.
But in many places they continued long after it became clear that the risks of re-opening classrooms were relatively small.
The Economist reckons governments are ignoring the pandemic’s disastrous effect on education. No more children should stumble through their school days without learning to read or add up.
In NZ, however, it may not just be the primary education sector that is falling apart.
Critics are attacking the government over the mega-merger of polytechs.
Education Minister Chris Hipkins justified the reform of the polytech sector by saying it is losing $50m a year. But, as former National cabinet minister Steven Joyce, pointed out in the NZ Herald,
”… it takes quite a talent to spend $200m more and double the deficit you were seeking to eliminate”.
Point of Order thinks, come election time, the current government— and its education ministers in particular — could be given a “fail” mark over their performance in this critical sector.
Point of Order is a blog focused on politics and the economy run by veteran newspaper reporters Bob Edlin and Ian Templeton