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Maxim Institute: Children's rights, Education

Real Issues No. 289 – Children's rights, Education, Fathers Maxim Institute - real issues - No. 289 21 February 2008 www.maxim.org.nz

A divisive paradigm Setting the right standard
New research review highlights importance of fathers

IN THE NEWS Events Co-ordinator Position Vacant at Maxim Institute Fidel Castro decides it's time to step down 'Well-notes' hoped to reduce losses due to illness

A DIVISIVE PARADIGM

Visiting children's rights advocates are in New Zealand this week, promoting the integration of children's rights education into the school curriculum. Children are vulnerable and need protection, but teaching them about their value in a rights paradigm only serves to introduce a feeling of entitlement and an environment of critique into families, risking increased conflict.

Katherine Covell and Brian Howe, from the Children's Rights Centre of Canada's Cape Breton University, are in favour of rights based education to be taught in all schools, and have been integral in formulating proposed curriculum to meet this goal. They have been brought here in response to concerns that 'only three 11-12 year olds out of five classrooms in Auckland had heard about children's rights, as had only 15-16 percent of school children surveyed across the country.' The Building Human Rights Communities in Education, a joint initiative in New Zealand between organisations such as the Human Rights Commission and Amnesty International, is also in favour of bringing in such education.

The curriculum designed by Covell and Howe includes various scenarios and sets of questions that are given to children to initiate discussion. One question, targeted at 10-12 year olds, asks them to compare the following three scenarios: a boy suspended from school for sexual harassment after he kisses a girl on the cheek; a two-year old who is spanked by her mother following a tantrum in the supermarket; and a group fined and banned from a beach for leaving behind rubbish. The question states 'these scenarios demonstrate the fact that abuse can take many forms,' and asks the children to rank the examples according to 'the most appropriate outcome.' Another question asks whether children should be removed from their parents if the house is left 'extremely dirty' and they do not give their children 'any rules to live by.'

Some of the topics addressed by the curriculum are important ones and the intention behind it may be to empower children, but the framework in which it is set actually politicises them. Children are young, susceptible members of our society, and should be treated as such; instead the underlying ideologies of this curriculum encourages children to be critical of their parents and introduces uncertainty into their thinking about their family. Such questions go beyond the capability of children and fail to present to them a helpful picture of the nature of relationships. Healthy families and communities are made up of relationships which involve compromise and selflessness; focusing on rights creates absolute expectations, as opposed to needs which encourage us to consider other people. In an individualistic society such as ours, we need less focus on individuals and more on the give and take which makes long-term relationships viable.

Visit the Building Human Rights Communities in Education website http://www.rightsined.org.nz/index.html

Read Covell and Howe's Children's Rights Curriculum Resource http://discovery.cbu.ca/psych/index.php?/children/resources_item/curriculum_materials1/

SETTING THE RIGHT STANDARD

The Education and Science Select Committee has just presented the findings of a major inquiry examining how to raise the achievement of the bottom 20 percent of pupils in the New Zealand school system. Encouragingly, the report focuses on better use of assessment data and developing better teachers, but disappointingly it stops short of recommending that the Government introduce a mandatory national report on the progress pupils make at school each year. It also makes no headway in identifying who makes up the bottom group.

The Select Committee said that while it was 'satisfied that teachers have plenty of suitable assessment tools at their disposal,' it was concerned that 'the schooling system as a whole was not using the huge potential of those tools ... to improve the achievement of students.' Consequently, it recommends more resources for comprehensive professional development that would allow teachers to be trained in how to collect and use assessment data which would give useful information about progress.

However, setting national benchmarks for pupil progress across New Zealand, along with annual assessment against those benchmarks, is also needed to ensure that there is a consistent national report of pupil achievement. This would provide information that is needed to help raise pupil achievement and judge teacher quality. One assessment, the Assessment Tools for Teaching and Learning (asTTle) test, already used by about 80 percent of schools, has the potential to be developed into a national report on pupil progress. Making this assessment mandatory would also address the Select Committee's point that 'there is no agreed definition of the standards of achievement that equate with minimum standards.'

It could also help to address the Select Committee's concern that teachers, especially beginning teachers, should be monitored and assessed rigorously. The Select Committee recommended that provisionally registered teachers should be awarded full registration after two years' employment only if they could demonstrate that they had consistently raised the achievement of their pupils. A way of objectively gauging the quality of a teacher is to look at the difference they make to pupils' learning; and one of the fairest indicators for that is to look at the difference a teacher makes according to results from national reports on pupil progress.

The common thread to raising educational achievement for under-performing children, and improving teacher quality, is to set consistent national benchmarks and to collect achievement data measured against those benchmarks. To accomplish this would require providing more professional development and the establishment of a national report on pupil progress and achievement based on the asTTle test. Taking these actions could bring about significant improvements for the education of those pupils at the 'tail end.'

Read the Report of the Education and Science Select Committee, Inquiry into Making the Schooling System Work for Every Child http://www.parliament.nz/NR/rdonlyres/6BCFBA0F-EF08-43EC-BD52-2B774716E8EF/73434/DBSCH_SCR_3979_58291.pdf

NEW RESEARCH REVIEW HIGHLIGHTS IMPORTANCE OF FATHERS

A research review published this month in the journal Acta Paediatrica shows that fathers' active involvement is associated with positive social, psychological and cognitive outcomes for children.

The authors highlight 24 international studies which collectively include information from 22,300 families. Each of these families indicated how involved the fathers were, or whether the children lived with the father. The majority of the studies reviewed (18 out of 24) reveal that when fathers are actively involved, their children are less likely to exhibit behavioural problems or have psychological problems, from infancy to adulthood. Only two of the studies found no positive effects related to father involvement.

This research is significant as the authors set out to only include studies with strong methodological foundations to access whether direct father involvement really affects children's outcomes. For example, 18 of the 24 studies controlled for socio-economic status and 16 used long-term data. Although the authors are cautious about which behaviours actually led to the positive outcomes observed, it appears that activities such as fathers reading to their children and taking an interest in their education could help their educational achievement. The research also indicated that by maintaining close and supportive relationships through talking to their children about important issues fathers can contribute to their overall well-being.

The studies highlight the relevance of family structure. The authors point out that there are indications that when the father lives with the child's mother, this is associated with fewer behavioural problems than when the child lives apart from their father. Encouraging life-long marriage and relationship commitment, valuing fathers and encouraging them to spend as much time with their children as possible are obvious outworkings of these findings. This study also adds to a growing body of literature that shows fathers have a significant impact on their children's development, including a report released by Maxim Institute last year Going Further with Fathers.

Read Fathers' Involvement and Children's Developmental Outcomes: a systematic review of longitudinal studies http://www.blackwell-synergy.com/action/showPdf?submitPDF=Full+Text+PDF+%28316+KB%29&doi=10.1111%2Fj.1651-2227.2007.00572.x

Read Maxim Institute's Going Further With Fathers: Can fathers contribute uniquely to the lives of their children? http://www.maxim.org.nz/index.cfm/policy___research/article?id=1277

IN THE NEWS

EVENTS CO-ORDINATOR POSITION VACANT AT MAXIM INSTITUTE

Maxim Institute is seeking an Events Co-ordinator to join our busy team and help us deliver a number of high quality events throughout the year. The successful applicant will be energetic, organised, have a strong administrative background and enjoy producing events with flair and professionalism. This is a fixed term position and is available for an immediate start.

If you, or someone you know, would be interested in the Events Co-ordinator role, please email maxim@maxim.org.nz for a job description.

FIDEL CASTRO DECIDES IT'S TIME TO STEP DOWN

Cuban president, Fidel Castro, has chosen to relinquish his position as one of the world's longest standing heads of state. After almost 50 years in power following the Cuban revolution, this could mark a turning point in the nation's history. The most probable successor is thought to be Fidel's brother, Raul, although a younger successor is possible. The choice of successor is likely to have a bearing on Castro's future involvement in the governance of the country, however, as pointed out in his outgoing remarks there are other ways in which to have influence—'This is not my farewell to you. My only wish is to fight as a soldier in the battle of ideas. I shall continue to write ....'

'WELL-NOTES' HOPED TO REDUCE LOSSES DUE TO ILLNESS

In a speech yesterday, Britain's Secretary of Health, Alan Johnson, suggested that a change is on the horizon for sickness benefits in Britain. The proposed change would require doctors to issue patients with a 'well-note' about what type of work they can do while suffering from a disability or sickness instead of a blanket 'sick-note' dismissing them from all work for a set period of time. The move has been made to address the so-called 'sick-note culture.' As of December 2007, there were over 129,000 New Zealanders on either a sickness or invalid's benefit.

Read the National Benefit Factsheets from the New Zealand's Ministry of Social Development http://www.msd.govt.nz/media-information/benefit-factsheets/national-benefit-factsheets.html

TALKING POINT

'For much of Western history, children have been considered in the context of the family which has provided for their support, protection and care. But in the later decades of the twentieth century, children moved from being viewed as innocents in need of protection, to being politicised agents with autonomous rights guaranteed by the state.'

Dr Michael Reid, From Innocents to Agents (2006) Available from http://www.maxim.org.nz

A registered charitable trust, funded by donations, Maxim Institute values your interest and support.

Click here to find out how you can support Maxim Institute

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 .

Maxim Institute. 49 Cape Horn Road, Hillsborough, Auckland, New Zealand.

ENDS

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