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F Is For Fail: Grading The Ministry Of Education’s Flood Response

By Tim Wilson, Executive Director, Maxim Institute*

School, finally, is back this week in the nation’s largest city to howls of relief from many parents and (one hopes) some students also. Yet the resumption of normal service shouldn’t obscure a curious inconsistency. The past few weeks have shown wildly divergent responses to authority. Let me explain.

Exhibit A: Mayor Wayne Brown. Much agitation, column and social media space has been exercised by the mayor’s leadership/communications skills (or lack thereof) during the recent floods in Tamaki Makaurau. His grudging apology sauntered into the public square far too late to palliate any of that, and calls for his head have continued.

Community advocate Dave Letele said the mayor was ‘out of his depth’ and should go; ditto TodayFM host Tova O’Brien et al. A petition to this effect amassed more than 25,000 signatures in a week.

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Fair enough. Brown admitted he was slow to respond, and his fights with the media quickly became a side-show for the saturated city’s travails.

How odd then that there’s been no corresponding witch hunt through the halls of Exhibit B: The Ministry of Education. That organisation’s post-flood miscommunicated edict that schools, tertiary institutes, and early childhood centres throughout Auckland should remain closed caught almost everyone off-guard. It came the day before students were due to return from the Christmas holidays.

Here’s a quote from one principal to students and parents: “We are incredulous that this information is in complete contrast to the information provided to Auckland principals earlier this morning, and the closure instruction has not been sent directly to us at school… We only learned about the order at 3.30pm today via the media.”

There are 556 schools in the Auckland region. Keep in mind that the number affected by flooding was twenty.

More than 270,000 secondary and primary students were kept home. How many parents had to change plans? What was the cost to them, to the businesses they work at or run? Given the revelation that a horrifying 100,000+ Kiwi kids are skipping classes each day, what message does this send to children (and parents) about the importance of attending school?

Now the Ministry may say that it was merely doing the bidding of the National Emergency Management Agency. But no matter who came up with the idea, the underlying assumption is that parents, schools, and communities cannot make decisions on their own. Two days later, the edict was reversed. Most schools stuck with the new return date. Given the confusion, why wouldn’t they?

So to the hardest word in the English language for some to utter: Sorry. Wayne Brown said it in a dilatory manner and was duly castigated. The Ministry apologised to principals, blaming IT for “slow communication.” But no apology was reported to parents or students. There has been some criticism of the Ministry’s behaviour but no corresponding deluge of calls for those responsible to be made accountable.

The silence is deafening. Why do we expect so little from our bureaucrats?

*Maxim Institute is an independent think tank working to promote the dignity of every person in New Zealand by standing for freedom, justice, compassion, and hope.

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