OPINION: The debate over national standards will continue for the foreseeable future. It has become a litmus test of political loyalties. National and ACT favour testing literacy and numeracy to measure pupil progress; Labour and the teacher unions oppose the collection of data that will enable parents to compare school and teacher performance.
But there is one thing on which all parties are in agreement. ''Education,'' in the words of children's charity KidsCan, ''equals opportunity''. Equipped with a good education, young Kiwis have the power, literally and metaphorically, to move mountains.
Without it their prospects are diminished. Because of that, the Government should not dismiss proposals to offer meals to all pupils at poorer schools or to extend the Reading Recovery programme to every school in the country, simply because the ideas have come from Labour leader David Shearer.
Labour's proposal to put free food in all decile one to three schools that want and need it has caused disquiet.
It is yet another example of the state picking up duties that should be the responsibility of families. Surely the top priority of all parents should be ensuring that their children arrive at school warm, dry and well-fed so they can take advantage of opportunities parents in some other parts of the world make enormous sacrifices to provide for their offspring?
However, the bottom line, as Mr Shearer has pointed out, is that debate about the rights and wrongs of the initiative won't change the reality. That reality is that every day children turn up to school hungry. And a hungry child is often not only a distracted child, but a disruptive child. Feeding hungry pupils not only benefits the pupils themselves, but also their classmates.
The argument for putting more resources into ensuring every child acquires basic literacy and numeracy skills is even more clear cut.
A child who cannot read cannot learn, and a child who cannot perform simple mathematical calculations is embarking on life with a significant handicap.
Labour has costed its food in schools initiative, to be carried out in partnership with voluntary organisations such as KidsCan and communities, at between $3 million and $19m.
Expanding the Reading Recovery programme would cost a further $20m.
Neither is a sum to be sneezed at, but when compared to the ways Labour ministers devised to squander public money when last in office, they warrant serious consideration.
There is no better investment in the future than education. The proviso is that the investment must be of a high quality.
Before dismissing Mr Shearer's ideas out of hand, Prime Minister John Key and Education Minister Hekia Parata should consult with school principals, boards and education experts.
If feeding hungry children and investing more in remedial reading will reduce the numbers leaving school without meaningful qualifications, then it will be money well spent.
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