Quarter of NZ students quit early

BY JOHN HARTEVELT
Last updated 05:00 10/09/2009

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More than a quarter of Kiwi teenagers quit school early, new figures show.

New Zealand has the second-worst drop-out rate in the developed world.

However, a visiting American expert says a mentoring scheme could improve those figures.

The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) yesterday released its annual Education at a Glance report.

It shows 26.9 per cent of New Zealanders aged 15 to 19 are not in education. The OECD average is 15.7 per cent, and only Turkey (55.4 per cent) is higher.

In New Zealand, 17.6 per cent of 15 to 19-years-olds are in employment more than double the 8.6 per cent OECD average.

The New Zealand Council for Educational Research yesterday hosted a conference in Wellington to discuss ways of engaging young people in learning.

Professor Sandra Christenson, of the University of Minnesota, said pupils needed to be shown the relevance of school.

"Students have to be able to say, `I can do that work, I want to do the work, I value the school work, and gee, I belong here'," Christenson said. "When that happens, students want to come to school."

An American scheme, Check & Connect, allocated a mentor to those pupils losing interest at school.

One mentor checked on about 20 pupils, across three or four schools.

They checked on a pupil's attendance, academic performance and behaviour, and then worked to help the pupil.

The scheme was not focused on truancy, but on a range of indicators.

"Not all students are disengaged from school for the same reason," Christenson said.

Higher-risk behaviour with more absences and falling academic performance and more disruptive behaviour sparked more intensive intervention.

"The mentor builds relationships with a student understands the student's perspective, meets the family and understands family circumstances," Christenson said.

"They can see them in the hallway [at school]. They may stop by at lunch and say, `hey, I heard from your social studies teacher that you did really great on that test yesterday, way to go.' The student gets the idea that somebody is really interested in them and cares about them."

Last month, Education Minister Anne Tolley said the Ministry of Education was evaluating the District Truancy Services.

A spokesman for Tolley said the ministry had yet to provide the evaluation data.

Legislation introduced late last year increased truancy fines from $150 to $300 for the first offence and from $400 to $3000 for subsequent offences.

 

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