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Real Issues No. 279 - Exams, Youth Crime, Holyoake

Real Issues No. 279 - Exams, Youth Crime, Kiwi Keith

Maxim Institute - real issues - No. 279 15 November 2007 www.maxim.org.nz

Exams and why we need them Tackling youth crime Kiwi Keith. A biography of Keith Holyoake

IN THE NEWS Poverty trap targets the most vulnerable The great spending debate

Exams And Why We Need Them

Exam season is upon secondary students, and NZQA deputy chief executive Bali Haque took the opportunity to ask students not to use text language when writing in exams. Telling the New Zealand Herald that 'good, solid traditional English' is expected, Mr Haque also reaffirmed NZQA's existing policy that text abbreviations may be accepted in certain contexts, if they demonstrate understanding of the idea being examined: 'The litmus test will be ... have they understood the concept of the idea? ... that's what it has always been and that's what it will, no doubt always continue to be.'

Mr Haque's recognition and restatement of the importance of 'good, solid traditional English' is reassuring and helpful. The last thing anyone wants is to trip over sentences in exam scripts like 'Shkspre is 1dRful.' But, of course, education in general, and examinations in particular, are about more than just demonstrating understanding of 'the concept.' Exams test the student's ability to communicate that concept, and communicate it in harmony with the accepted and formal conventions of the world he or she aspires to join. Fluidising those conventions is a recipe for confusion and misunderstanding.

Further, the very idea of 'the examination' stands as witness to something very important: that there is knowledge to examine. There are some things that educated and literate people ought to know. The foundations of our education system are driven deep through 19th century Britain to medieval cathedral grammar schools, and even back to classical Greece.

One of the ideals of that grounded education is the formation of young minds, introducing them to the things we know as a community, the things we have discovered together. Schooling is an introduction to a community of knowledge: photosynthesis and Shakespeare, the Treaty of Waitangi and Magna Carta, general relativity and the laws of motion, in fact an induction to our culture, our community and our civilisation. One of the things literate people ought to know is how to communicate cogently and coherently, even under pressure, and in a formal context. This means that communicating the 'gist' simply isn't enough.

Exams are noble tests, not only of ability, but also of hard work and perseverance. They show respect for knowledge, because when we undertake them we come into the presence and the communion of learning and aspire to belong to it. That is something much bigger than an individual.

While quality of expression is marked in existing exams, and Mr Haque's restatement is helpful, NZQA's continuing acceptance of text language sits oddly with the ideal it ought to be committed to: the 'good, solid and traditional' education system our parents expect, our employers prize and the future of our country demands.

TACKLING YOUTH CRIME

The Conservative-affiliated British think tank, the Centre for Social Justice, has launched a 'comprehensive and radical inquiry' into youth gang crime. The launch highlights the continuing problems of social disconnection, family breakdown and crime that are perplexing not just Britain but the entire Western world, including New Zealand.

The inquiry comes from a growing concern about trends in youth gang crime, and the lack of direction on what to do about it. Alarming statistics include that the 'most likely person to be equipped with a knife is a boy aged 14-19 years old,' that '1504 of the young people held in custody are 16 years old or younger,' and that 'three-quarters of male offenders aged between 18 and 21 re-offend within two years.' The Centre suggests that these statistics stem from 'high levels of family breakdown, school failure in the inner cities and teenage drug and alcohol abuse.'

The inquiry seeks to develop long-term solutions, combining both 'carrots as well as sticks.' It seeks not just to punish, but to prevent; encouraging young people to become connected members of their community, and eliminating the need to find acceptance and family within the gang culture. The suggestion is that while enforcement strategies such as the 'zero tolerance' approach in New York may go some way to controlling crime, this should be balanced with developing and encouraging clubs, facilities and events for youths to be involved in, which will help in 'giving young people a genuine stake in society.'

This is a community problem that requires a community response. These are issues that need to be tackled head-on, and the Centre for Social Justice deserves credit for refusing to dodge them. While the detailed policy is some way off, they show us a genuine way forward, one which draws on a long and honourable tradition of social reform and community co-operation to produce practical solutions. Real change is desperately needed; not just to punish crime, but to rebuild connection with families and communities, giving young people hope and pride, and a stake in their society's future.

Read Action on Teenage Gang Crime http://www.centreforsocialjustice.org.uk/default.asp?pageRef=37

KIWI KEITH. A BIOGRAPHY OF KEITH HOLYOAKE By Barry Gustafson (NZ: Auckland University Press, 2007)

Barry Gustafson, a seasoned New Zealand political scientist, has written a new biography of 'Kiwi' Keith Holyoake, one of New Zealand's longest serving Prime Ministers. Holyoake led New Zealand throughout the 1960s, arguably a period of great political and social change for the country. Gustafson-no stranger to mining archives-has furnished this work with an impressive amount of primary sources, including many anecdotes from Holyoake's contemporaries, to paint a picture of a man who was concerned with building consensus. He wanted to see a New Zealand with its own identity, independent of Britain, and one in which every New Zealander had the opportunity to prosper.

Holyoake's leadership style was focused on seeing his vision through by bringing people alongside him. Sir Brian Talboys, a senior member of Holyoake's cabinet in the 1960s, described Holyoake as the kind of man who 'talked about loyalty, but the important thing was he inspired it. He was a leader. He didn't want to be alone. He wanted to carry the team with him. And in fact he did .... Keith was, in my view, head and shoulders above everyone else.' Gustafson relates numerous tales about Holyoake's exploits, where he would take the time to talk, listen and help people. He also mentored young MPs. Holyoake, while criticised by some later in his career for being pompous, was more often than not a down to earth man, who identified most with rural New Zealand. One of his lasting achievements was to help put New Zealand's agricultural industry on a strong footing.

A well-researched piece of work, Gustafson's biography of Holyoake is a timely reminder of leadership that can make a difference in people's lives. Holyoake's signature catchphrase, 'Tell the people, trust the people,' harks back to a time when MPs were compelled to be responsible to their constituents, and to work for their interests. As Prime Minister, Holyoake also helped shape New Zealand's identity as a nation in its own right. He was in every way 'Kiwi' Keith.

Read the full book review of Kiwi Keith on Maxim Institute's website http://www.maxim.org.nz/index.cfm/policy___research/article?id=1302

IN THE NEWS

POVERTY TRAP TARGETS THE MOST VULNERABLE

The viciousness of the poverty trap has been further documented by the International Food Policy Research Institute with their report, The World's Most Deprived: Characteristics and Causes of Extreme Poverty and Hunger. Overall, the number of people below the poverty line has been reduced from over 1.2 billion in 1990 to fewer than 1 billion in 2004-a testimony to the extraordinary efforts made to address the issue. However, the results of the study have shown the least improvement for those with the greatest need-the 'ultra poor' living on less than $0.50 a day. These people have limited access to the facilities identified by the report that will help them climb out of the poverty trap such as 'roads, markets, education, and health services.' They are also likely to be from 'socially excluded groups.' While 'the world has achieved considerable progress,' there is still a great deal to do especially for Sub-Saharan Africa where the need is greatest.

Read The World's Most Deprived: Characteristics and Causes of Extreme Poverty and Hunger http://www.ifpri.org/2020/dp/vp43.asp

THE GREAT SPENDING DEBATE

The election spending debate has heated up this week, with the New Zealand Herald launching an extensive and informative campaign on the issue, including an unusual front page editorial stating that 'democracy' was 'under attack.'

While the Electoral Finance Bill-still in the hands of the Justice and Electoral Committee-would restrict spending limits and the free speech of interested parties outside of Parliament, the Appropriation (Continuation of Interim Meaning of Funding for Parliamentary Purposes) Bill would allow political parties to use public money to advertise, so long as they do not explicitly seek votes, money or membership. In the midst of this media attention, the Appropriations Bill passed its second reading by 68 votes to 53, and has headed into the Committee stages.

Read the Appropriation (Continuation of Interim Meaning of Funding for Parliamentary Purposes) Bill http://www.parliament.nz/NR/rdonlyres/2DC1B339-8C91-43F2-9BA6-FB9AE4AC92BF /69096/DBHOH_BILL_8335_5537.pdf

Read the Electoral Finance Bill http://www.parliament.nz/NR/rdonlyres/CAAFE6BD-AFAF-4D8A-8EB5-05573289B12C /66682/DBHOH_BILL_8029_52893.pdf

Read the Herald editorial http://www.nzherald.co.nz/section/story.cfm?c_id=500838&objectid=10475416

TALKING POINT

'The only real happiness is that gained through love for and in the service of your fellow men. Men of today or the future generations.'

Sir Keith Jacka Holyoake, KG KCMG (1904-1983) quoted in Kiwi Keith.

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Maxim Institute's regular email publication, Real Issues, provides thought-provoking analysis of developments in policy and culture in New Zealand and around the world. You can express you views on any of the articles featured in Real Issues by writing a letter to the editor. A selection of the best letters will be posted each week on Maxim Institute's website .

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