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Real Issues

Maxim Institute - real issues

No. 161, 16 JUNE 2005

• Parental authority at stake

• Teachers need recognition

• The heart of debt relief

• Registered to vote?

• Levin Change Agent workshop next week

Parental authority at stake

Politicians loathe conscience votes close to an election. Perhaps that is why both Labour and National are taking party positions on Green MP Sue Bradford's private members bill. Her bill, which was pulled from the ballot last week, seeks to repeal section 59 of the Crimes Act.

The debate around section 59 has been deeply confused - but it should not be. Child abuse is unacceptably high in New Zealand and must be addressed. The legal recognition of parents' authority over their children is an important part of tackling the problem. There is no clear correlation between countries with low rates of child maltreatment and those that have banned all physical discipline.

Despite frequent debate about the merits or dangers of smacking as a form of discipline, section 59 actually says nothing about striking a child. It provides a legal defence for parents who discipline their children using "reasonable force". It respects the rights of parents to impose (force) their will on their child. Every form of discipline does this. Even placing a child in 'time out' requires the use of "reasonable force". The defence exists for parents to allow them to act in the best interests of their child, even against the child's own wishes. This is because the parent-child relationship is unique.

Certainly child abuse is always wrong - but it is already illegal. Several recent cases involving the use of section 59 have raised questions about the ability of juries to determine what constitutes "reasonable force". If this is indeed the case, then we should consider amending section 59 to make it more explicit; but repealing it altogether would be one more step towards treating children as mini-adults who are completely independent from their parents and subject only to the state. Strengthening the natural family unit is central to improving children's wellbeing, and this is where the focus should be.

The Crimes (Abolition of Force as a Justification for Child Discipline) Amendment Bill is due to be debated for the first time in July. To read it, click here:
http://www.greens.org.nz/campaigns/social/Section59repeal.pdf
(To view .pdf's, download and install Adobe Reader: http://www.adobe.com/products/acrobat/readstep2.html)

Teachers need recognition

The stress of a teacher's job affects the manageability of their workload, more than the actual work hours, according to the results of a study into the workload of secondary school teachers commissioned by the Ministry of Education and released this week. The survey's findings include:

• Teachers work an average of 47 hours a week; middle managers work 52 hours; and Assistant Principals and Heads of Faculty work 59 hours.
• Teachers have a high degree of personal commitment to their job and are strongly motivated to help students.
• Principals want greater trust from the education authorities in the area of performance review.
• Whilst the average number of hours worked is similar to that of comparable professions and overseas, teachers worry about whether they can do a 'good job' in the time.
• "the NCEA curriculum and assessment procedures will entail a permanent increase in teacher workload over the previous procedures."

The survey shows the extent of teachers' frustration with the NCEA framework, which adds weight to the recommendations of Maxim's latest report, Freedom for schools. The report based on research conducted in 2004, found that 31 percent of parents, had confidence in the value of the NCEA and only 27 percent thought that it provided a clear measure of a pupil's abilities.

The workload survey also suggests, "It is likely that workload of teachers and middle managers in secondary schools will only be improved when education policies and practices reflect the relevant authorities' preparedness to understand, support, recognise and value the efforts of good practitioners." Ultimately, several of the concerns raised by teachers in the survey come back to how we recognise teachers, which is a key element in establishing professional cultures in schools.

Maxim Institute will soon be releasing the second report in The Parent Factor series which looks at the issue of valuing teachers. To receive a copy of the report when it is released, email parentfactor@maxim.org.nz.

To read Freedom for schools, visit:
http://www.maxim.org.nz/parentfactor/
To read the Secondary Teacher Workload Study Report, visit:
http://www.minedu.govt.nz/web/downloadable/dl10487_v1/sectchrworkloadstudy.pdf

The heart of debt relief

Reaction has been mixed to the Group of Eight (G8) finance ministers' announcement that they are committed to writing off USD 40 billion (NZD 56.8 billion) of debt owed by 18 of Africa and Latin America's most heavily indebted countries. The package promises to save these countries USD 1.5 billion (NZD 2.13 billion) per year in repayments, and another nine states are expected to qualify for similar relief within 18 months.

The package comes as these countries reach the "completion point" of the Heavily Indebted Poor Countries Initiative (HIPC). Overall, the move has been commended by many leaders and aid organisations as a positive one, but criticisms abound as to whether debt forgiveness in isolation, will actually help developing countries in the long-run.

HIPC was the first attempt by creditors to deal with the debts of the poorest countries in a comprehensive way, by reviewing as a whole the foreign debt owed to first world nations, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank. Qualifying countries must implement previously agreed political and economic reforms for good governance and macroeconomic stability (structural adjustment), in a satisfactory way, as laid down by the IMF and the World Bank.

Furthermore, the African countries that are involved in this round of debt relief may be subject to a process of voluntary peer review through the adoption of the New Partnership for Africa's Development (NEPAD) by members of the African Union, to ensure governance and financial management in each country is transparent.

Although HIPC might be criticised as imposing structural adjustment on developing countries, the initiative is one of the ways that fledgling democracies may establish the environment for a strong civil society, as it will in time wipe away much of the debt that cripples development. A strong economy is a basis for a stable democracy, particularly in states which have suffered under despotic regimes. Governments of debtor nations must continue to be held accountable to the international commitments they have made. Initiatives such as NEPAD's peer review process must be encouraged to preserve liberty and ensure that the money received by developing countries is not misappropriated.

Registered to vote?

The Electoral Commission estimates that only 91 percent of eligible voters are currently enrolled to vote. Any New Zealand citizen or resident aged over 18 can enrol to vote. Although it is possible to register up to one month before the election, to be included on the preliminary electoral rolls you must register by Friday 17th June. To register to vote, visit: http://www.elections.org.nz or call 0800 367 656.

Levin Change Agent workshop next week

If you want to be informed about current issues and challenged to think more deeply about 'hate speech', education and the 2005 election, come to the Levin Change Agent workshop on 25 June. Understand the legislative process and be equipped with practical tools to engage in public policy and debate.

For details of this and other coming events visit:
http://www.maxim.org.nz/events/

THOUGHT FOR THE WEEK - Alexander Woollcott

I'm tired of hearing it said that democracy doesn't work. Of course it doesn't work. We are supposed to work it.

ENDS

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