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Real Issues No. 291 – Diversity, Teachers, Youths

Real Issues No. 291 – Diversity, Teachers, Youths


Maxim Institute - real issues - No. 291 6 March 2008 www.maxim.org.nz

Diversity and representation A mark of assurance Older 'young persons'

IN THE NEWS Buying an election? The increasing weight of student loans

Diversity And Representation

The Human Rights Commission's annual report on race relations was released this week in the build up to Race Relations Day on 21 March. While identifying many improvements in race relations over the past year, the Commission has raised concerns about a 'lack of diversity' in the ethnicity of those serving in local government.

The report cites numbers that show a large majority of those serving on school boards and District Health Boards and in local government are of European descent, and Joris de Bres, Race Relations Commissioner, has said that 'we need to see an increase in Maori, Pacific and other ethnic participation in governance.' He suggests that 'local bodies should encourage a broader range of candidates so that councils have a better chance of representing all people in towns and cities.'

These recommendations are made on a mirror model of representation: the idea that for an elected body to accurately represent the interests of different groups within a community, it must proportionately reflect the composition of society. This assumes that democracy is about disparate identity groups (for example, women or disabled people) competing with each other to promote their own interests. It fails to recognise that, by virtue of our common humanity, our representatives should always consider the effect of their actions on everyone, not just on one person or another. While we also have certain characteristics that we share with others, for example, characteristics of sex or ethnicity, dividing people into these groups overstates our differences and separates us along over-simplistic lines.

Of course it is good to have people from a mixture of backgrounds and experiences elected to positions in our communities, as they can bring different perspectives and insights, but at the end of the day our focus should be on people's motivation, character and abilities, not their skin colour or sex. We should not assume that the interests of one ethnic group are so completely alien to the interests of other groups that anyone outside the group cannot recognise them. In fact, we should not even assume that our interests are so different in the first place. We all have the same interest in effective and timely health care, efficient local government and schools that provide a good education for our children. When voting for representatives -- of whatever skin colour, sex or ethnicity -- communities should be considering who can best look out for their needs and interests as a whole.

Read Tui Tui Tuituia: Race Relations in 2007 http://www.hrc.co.nz/hrc_new/hrc/cms/files/documents/03-Mar-2008_16-59-17_RRD_WEB.pdf

A MARK OF ASSURANCE

There is an emerging consensus that New Zealand needs a set of clear teaching standards to help improve teacher quality. This was a major finding of a report released last week by the Ministry of Education. The report analysed feedback from across the education sector on its discussion document, Becoming a Teacher in the 21st Century. It is very encouraging that the education sector is calling for better teaching standards, because setting standards is a way to ensure better quality teachers enter the classroom. This is vital for rebuilding teaching as a high status profession, and for helping to raise the achievement of every pupil.

The Ministry's proposals have been influenced by concerns from ERO and the New Zealand Teachers Council about the number of ineffective beginner teachers. The proposals concentrate on improving the quality of teachers when they enter the profession so that poor quality teachers do not slip through.

A core element of these proposals is that the profession, teacher training institutes and the teacher unions should work together 'to specify and formally recognise the knowledge, skills and disposition' of good teachers. The specifications of these standards were not defined in the analysis of the feedback. Nevertheless, submitters commented that there was a need for better standards of literacy and subject knowledge among new teachers, which could be improved as part of pre-service training. Another proposal which submitters agreed with was to put in place more rigorous standards for tutor and associate teachers, who are responsible for initial teacher training. Submitters felt that tightening standards should be linked to improving the status of associate teachers, including better pay.

When Cabinet considers the Ministry of Education's recommendations drawn from this review, it should bear in mind that educationalists, principals and teachers themselves are calling for better definition of the standards which make a good teacher. Just as we need clear standards to show the progress our children make at school from year to year, so too we need standards that establish a high level of competency for new teachers and those who are entrusted with training them. Introducing more rigorous teaching standards would help to identify and reward our good teachers. Most importantly, introducing better teaching standards would help to improve the quality of teaching and learning for every pupil, giving all a chance of a better start in the classroom.

Read the Ministry of Education's Analysis of Feedback from Becoming a Teacher in the 21st Century http://www.minedu.govt.nz/index.cfm?layout=document&documentid=11404&data=l

Read the Ministry of Education's original discussion document, Becoming a Teacher in the 21st Century http://www.minedu.govt.nz/web/downloadable/dl11404_v1/ite-review-hr.pdf

OLDER 'YOUNG PERSONS'

A Bill to amend the Children, Young Persons, and Their Families Act passed its first reading in Parliament this week by a narrow majority of 59 votes to 56. The most important change the Bill would make is to raise the age of a 'young person,' and thus increase the Act's coverage, from a maximum age of 16 to 17 years. This change would improve the care and protection that at-risk 17 year olds can receive, and also enhance the ability to rehabilitate young offenders of this age while still providing mechanisms to ensure they are held accountable.

Instead of being sent straight to the District Court, 17 year olds could be dealt with in the Youth Court, as younger 'young persons' currently are. The Youth Court has a greater focus on rehabilitation and prevention of recidivism. The Act does, however, allow the Youth Court to refer a 'young person' to the District Court for sentencing as an adult, providing an important range of sanctions for serious offending by young people.

The Bill would also extend several of the penalties made available for the Youth Court, including the length of time for which a 'supervision with residence order' can be made. It would also make improvements to Family Group Conferences, and provide for greater recognition of the needs of victims throughout this process.

Including 17 year olds in the Youth Court process will give many young offenders the opportunity to check their behaviour and be held accountable, but without being thrown straight into the adult criminal system. Extending the availability of care and protection provisions in the Act may be of particular significance for underage prostitutes working the streets, as 17 year olds in this situation cannot currently be referred to CYFS for care. While striking the right balance in youth justice is never easy, this Bill should improve matters. The Social Services Select Committee will be taking submissions on it until 28 April 2008.

Read the Children, Young Persons, and Their Families Amendment Bill (No 6) 2007 http://www.parliament.nz/NR/rdonlyres/E2C08487-A64F-4EEB-9805-06F0E285BAB3/74186/DBHOH_BILL_8364_56293.pdf

Read about how to make a submission http://www.maxim.org.nz/index.cfm/Take_Action/Communicate_with_your_leaders

IN THE NEWS

BUYING AN ELECTION?

Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd has opened up the conversation around electoral financing during a television interview in Australia. He has mooted changes that include stopping foreign donations, introducing a limit on the amount that can be donated by individuals or companies, and lowering the maximum anonymous donation from $10,000 to $1,000 -- even lower than the previous limit of $1,500. All of these changes respond to a perceived need to prevent 'democracy ... being up for sale' and elections being simply about who can raise the most money. Recent experience in New Zealand suggests that it is important that this issue is thoroughly and carefully debated to ensure that important political freedoms are not marginalised.

Read the transcript from The 7:30 Report http://www.abc.net.au/7.30/content/2007/s2178649.htm

THE INCREASING WEIGHT OF STUDENT LOANS

Statistics New Zealand has recently released the 2006 figures on 'Student Loans and Allowances.' The number of loans per year has continued to grow -- up 'from 154,404 in 2005 to 167,400 in 2006.' At an average yearly borrow of $6,610, the total amount borrowed per year equates to over $1.1 billion. The value of education is high, but should be weighed up against the burden this level of borrowing creates.

Read Student Loans and Allowances: 2006 http://www.stats.govt.nz/NR/rdonlyres/1CEE1B81-92DB-4031-88E0-A4D62659611C/0/studentloansandallowances2006hotp.pdf

TALKING POINT

'Parliament is not a congress of ambassadors from different and hostile interests; which interests each must maintain, as an agent and advocate, against other agents and advocates; but parliament is a deliberative assembly of one nation, with one interest, that of the whole; where, not local purposes, not local prejudices, ought to guide, but the general good, resulting from the general reason of the whole.'

Edmund Burke, Speech to the Electors of Bristol 3 November 1774

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