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real issues: this week: No. Sixty-Four

Maxim Institute real issues: this week: No. Sixty-Four

Contents: * Treaty engineering - the government wants to educate us about principles that no-one can agree on. * Central control - will more government control improve the quality of education? * Reviving apprenticeships - despite more money, kids are less equipped to take them up.

Treaty engineering

One of the great discoveries of Civil Society is that every citizen is equal before the law. The battle to get us there was not easy and in practice it is difficult to sustain in New Zealand. An excessive belief in the power of human rights and group identification with those rights is attacking this principle of equality before the law. This leads to the granting of special rights to anyone who can be identified as a member of an approved and disadvantaged group.

A number of issues arise in relation to the interpretation of the Treaty of Waitangi from this perspective. For example, the Waitangi Tribunal has created controversy this week backing a claim for rights to Crown oil and gas royalties in Taranaki. The Treaty is being used to justify an exercise in social engineering rather than an instrument likely to give justice to Maori and sustain a nation of one people. The $6.5 million announced in the Budget for Treaty education is clearly part of the exercise.

Past attempts by the courts, Waitangi Tribunal, government bureaucrats and others to define the "principles" of the treaty have brought us no closer to consensus. So far at least 13 agencies or individuals - including the Justice Department, Law Commission and Court of Appeal - have "discovered" anything from two to 13 principles. Not one list is identified as the true or correct list, and no list is defined in or by legislation. All of the principles claimed are general statements of intent which have existed in civilised society for a very long time. They are not unique to the Treaty of Waitangi. What is needed is not education, but honest scholarship and a determination to ensure equality before the law for everyone.

Central control won't improve education

Yesterday, the Secondary School Principals Association warned that inadequate funding will increase class sizes next year and reduce the quality of education for students. Already many schools in New Zealand are forced to earn income from foreign students to make ends meet and the Government rakes off GST and a levy (at least $2150 from a student fee of $10,000). This year income from foreign students is likely to be $2 billion, making it New Zealand's fourth largest industry. While the education system is failing to a significant degree - one third of students leave school without any qualifications - and having to rely on alternative funding, the state is increasing its control.

The Ministry of Education publication Statement of Intent (2003-2008), published last week, is very clear: "No longer are we a hands off Ministry that followed Tomorrow's Schools. We are working to become more skilled about how, when and where to intervene."

Schools may have learnt through necessity to be entrepreneurial and earn money from foreign students, but that, and everything else, must now be controlled by a centralised state education system. Integrated schools (which save the taxpayer money) have had their rolls capped, they must rigorously teach the state curriculum, and they can grow only with state permission.

Will more control improve the quality of education? No. Many schools feel strait-jacketed by the strict guidelines surrounding the way their money can be spent. Many principals believe inadequate funding would become less of a problem if they had more freedom to use the funds as they see fit. Class size and staff numbers could be balanced against each other in a more fluid manner. Parents have almost no control over their children's education as a result of zoning and the national curriculum. To improve education parents, principals and teachers need more freedom and responsibility to make the best choices. Those closest to children's education must be trusted with more authority and control, not the state.

Reviving apprenticeships

The 2003 Budget contains funding for a major package of initiatives to ensure that by 2007 all young people under 20 years of age are involved in education, training, work or other options. The $56.6 million package includes funding 2,500 additional Modern Apprenticeships annually and introducing specialist programmes to help young people make the transition from school to training or work.

Bruce Howat, of Apprentice Training New Zealand (which manages apprenticeships in the engineering industry), has observed that many young people are ill-equipped to start apprenticeships. He suspects this is because the amount of practical woodwork and metalwork in the new school technology curriculum has been reduced. And at home, opportunities to work with tools have been reduced because housing space does not allow for workshops and many children are in one-parent homes.

The Government estimates that about 45,000 young people between 15-19 are not in education or training. This raises an important issue: what is it that really gets youth working productively in the workforce?

Maxim suggests that the heart of the problem, and the solution, will not be found in Budget-financed initiatives. Government initiatives should be aimed at strengthening the family rather than spending money after the fact. The transition from training to work requires a combination of attitude and skills, a combination best learned in the family.

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