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UNICEF serves up early Christmas turkey

21 November 2002

UNICEF serves up early Christmas turkey

UNICEF, well known for selling Christmas greeting cards, has this year served up an early Christmas turkey by publishing a low quality working paper on social and economics trends affecting New Zealand children, according to Education Forum policy adviser Norman LaRocque.

The education section of the report repeats many of the myths about New Zealand’s education reforms, is based on second-rate research and is largely wrong, Mr LaRocque said.

In particular, it argues that the New Zealand education reforms of the 1990s have exacerbated inequalities and disadvantaged groups such as Maori and Pacific peoples. It makes a great story, but the facts speak differently.

For example:

* Maori and Pacific families made the greatest use of choice to escape failing schools, and income polarisation decreased, when zoning was removed in the early 1990s;
* tertiary enrolments among Maori increased by 46% between 1994 and 2000 – higher than the rates for the population as a whole;
* the private tertiary sector, which prospered during the 1990s, plays an important role in upskilling students from disadvantaged backgrounds – according to one study, 45% of first-year PTE students in July 2000 had previously been on welfare; and
* the proportion of students from low-decile schools going on to tertiary education increased between 1997 and 2000.

“The reality is that New Zealanders, and particularly New Zealanders from disadvantaged backgrounds, have largely benefited from the market-based education reforms of the 1990s,” Mr LaRocque said.

“Forward-looking and innovative reforms, such as the removal of school zoning, the introduction of bulk-funding, the growth of the private tertiary education sector and the tertiary reforms more generally, have increased choice and opportunity for all New Zealand families – and particularly for those from disadvantaged backgrounds.

“The report is right about at least one thing – lots of work remains to be done. The educational underperformance of students from disadvantaged families remains a major concern.

“However, a return to a centralised education system, where disadvantaged families are locked into failing schools and denied choice and opportunity at all levels of education, is hardly the path to better educational outcomes.”

The keys to improving educational outcomes at the school level are more likely to involve greater use of market-based policies, including independent appraisal of student performance, school autonomy and competition among schools, Mr LaRocque said.

* The paper was written by Alison J. Blaiklock and colleagues from the School of Social and Cultural Studies, Massey University.


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