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“Tail” of underachievement is tale of poverty

27 April 2008

Media Release:

EMBARGO TO 6pm Monday April 28th

Child Poverty Report – Long “tail” of educational underachievement is
the long tail of poverty

This latest report from the Child Poverty Action Group should be a rallying call for all New Zealanders, including our politicians, to recognise the damage being done to thousands of our children.

Some 19% of children under nineteen live in families dependent on a benefit and hence not eligible for the government’s In Work Tax Credit. The resultant poverty has many repercussions: increased risk of respiratory and other diseases; overcrowded and sub-standard housing, child abuse, family violence, crime and educational underachievement.

A child in poverty is three times more likely to be sick than one from a wealthy household and access to healthcare is limited: costs for a doctor’s visit for children over 6 vary from $10 to $57 and poorer areas have fewer doctors than wealthy areas. In parts of Auckland a person has to work for 32 hours per week just to meet the rent.

Poverty has an enormous effect on educational achievement. The Ministry of Education seems to believe that underachieving students can be saved by changing teachers’ attitudes and introducing personalised learning. But this overlooks the fact that school failure is closely associated with inferior housing, overcrowding, lack of resources, poor health, and, in some cases, sheer hunger. Each of these is the result of poverty. The much lamented “tail” of underachievement is the tail of poverty. It is perverse to suggest that this can be removed by changing teachers’ attitudes and providing different approaches to learning.

Much needs to be done by central government and its ministries: welfare payments must follow need, not dogma; cheaper and adequate housing must be made available; early childhood providers such as Kohanga Reo and Playcentres must be fully funded along with teacher led early childhood education; the Ministry must be more involved in drawing up zones which, scandalously, some schools use to exclude the poor.

The future of our society is at stake, for “damage done in childhood cannot be undone in adulthood.”

Ivan Snook
Deputy National Chairperson QPEC
Emeritus Professor of Education (Massey University)


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