Let's address this education funding mistake

SARAH FOY
Last updated 08:42 01/06/2012
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When it comes to class size, do we really want to go back to the future? Bigger is not necessarily better.

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OPINION: Dear Mr John Key, Ms Hekia Parata and Mr Jonathan Young.

I think you are all parents, so you will be aware of some fundamentals.

Kids are full on, regardless of their background, social standing, academic abilities, personalities or any other factors.

I have three of my own and I coach 11 girls for a netball team.

My netballers fizz with enthusiasm, but they also talk - often several of them at once - ask questions, don't listen, fidget and fuss.

I only deal with 11 once a week. I can't imagine how much more demanding a class of 25 to 30 would be, six hours a day, five days a week.

Even if I buzzed with whizzy ideas, I might want to throttle a few. I know that because my own kids test my patience. In public they're model offspring. At home they bicker, argue, demand, sulk and exhaust.

It's funny, though, but when there's only one in the house or even just two, the dynamics change and they're easier to deal with.

They get much more time.

You reckon, however, that putting more of them in a class won't affect teacher quality. It's an odd proposition. You say there's evidence to back up the assertion, but I'm cynical.

Even with the "best" teacher in the world, it's inconceivable that more kids, more noise, more demands, won't affect the quality of their tuition.

Then there's the associated bombshell - a change in staff ratios that will force intermediate schools to cut cooking, ICT, workshop technology and arts teachers.

Maybe, it won't be so dramatic. Now there's Governmental talk of schools losing a maximum of two teachers. Still, I'm baffled by the numbers and not the least bit reassured, because that's just an interim measure. In three years the full cuts will take effect.

I have an 11-year-old at intermediate. He hasn't done the cooking classes, but I'm waiting for the spark to be kindled, because he's a little hopeless in the kitchen. So far he's had a whirl at visual art and is now on to ICT.

Intermediate schools vow they will retain specialist technology teaching, although to do that, class sizes will swell.

It wouldn't be overstating it to say I have grave fears for my two children yet to arrive at intermediate school: the nine-year- old who adores cooking and the five-year-old, a ferocious drawer. They'll arrive when classes are bulging.

Sure, we could cook at home and we could draw, but we're only one family.

What about the parents and caregivers loaded with financial worry, work stress, family issues and housing difficulties?

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It's hard to clear head space for light-hearted kids' time when you're plagued by problems.

So an immeasurable number of kids could miss out - either because their class is bursting or there are few specialist tech classes to break up the grind of core subjects.

The other oddity in this educational calamity is National Standards.

They were introduced, you said, to sweep up our purported tail of underachievement. There had to be a way of measuring standards and pinpointing problems.

Why cut the hands-on subjects that might rouse those same underachievers?

When you're a parent, it's good to admit your mistakes. We grown-ups get it wrong. Saying sorry can garner the kids' respect.

Mr Key, Mr Young and Ms Parata, you could do that. Say something like: "We were desperately trying to save money, so we got our officials to dream up something. Unfortunately, those officials last entered classrooms when inkwells sat on desks. Their ideas are stupid. We should not have listened. We're going to stick with an educational model that has worked for decades and save money instead by cutting ministerial perks.

"Sorry for our botch-up and lack of honesty."

And while you are at it, praise rather than punish teachers. When I want my kids to really do something I ooze positivity.

The results are astounding.

Try it.

* Sarah Foy is a mother of three, with one child attending Highlands Intermediate School. Her husband is a secondary school teacher.

- Taranaki Daily News

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