The New Zealand Institute is “a privately funded think-tank” which attracted a fair bit of attention recently with its report “A goal is not a strategy”. It has just released another report which is also likely to be controversial. The Herald reports:
Disadvantaged NZ youth bottom of OECD league
A leading think tank has slammed New Zealand’s education system for producing disadvantaged youth who are worse off than in any other developed country.
A shocking indictment of our schools? That certainly seems to be the framing:
The business-backed New Zealand Institute, which has focused until now on economic policy, says the education system has lost sight of the need to keep young people engaged in school and transition successfully into work.
It recommends radical reforms including widespread use of computer-based e-learning, putting students on to pathways to work from the first year of intermediate school (Year 7), giving employers more input into what schools teach and giving all students career advice through school years and support after leaving school. …
A business-backed think tank arguing for businesses to have “more input” into schools – fancy that. But we already know that our schools do a great job on international measures of learning outcomes. So what’s really going on here?
The NZ Institute report finds that “disadvantaged youth in New Zealand are more disadvantaged than youth in other OECD countries, that poor youth outcomes are concentrated in Maori and Pacific groups, and that the situation is not improving”.
However, New Zealand is fourth-best in the 30-nation OECD group for reading, numeracy and scientific reasoning of 15-year-olds. But we are the worst in the OECD for the number of young people who drop out of school early and become unemployed. By age 16, 36 per cent of students say they are usually or always bored with school, and a quarter have either left school or want to leave as soon as possible.
What this tells us is that the underlying problem is not in the schools, it is in our society. The visible problems are worst where the poverty is worst, in our Maori and Pacific Island populations. The desire of so many to leave school is not (for the most part) a reflection on schools themselves, it is a reflection on a society which offers (for so many) no compelling reason to attend. The summary at the end of the article makes all this abundantly clear:
HOW WE FARE WITH OTHER NATIONS
4th BEST in OECD, reading and maths scores
7th WORST Teen birth rate
4th WORST Death rate aged 15-24
WORST Youth share of unemployment
WORST Cannabis use
WORST Youth suicide
Schools are doing well on their core business of education. The other (negative) indicators are all symptoms of much broader failures. Consequently the report’s proposed solutions are narrow and misdirected:
* E-learning to engage bored students.
* Pathways to work starting in Year 7.
* Match education to economy’s needs.
* Connect schools with employers.
* Career guidance and transition support for all students.
Some good ideas in that list, and some actively harmful ones. But, as above, these “solutions” miss the point. The real problems are poverty, the obvious lack of viable jobs and futures for the young, the consequent break down of family and social support structures, and the loss of hope. Our current rates of teen cannabis use, suicide rates, and pregnancy rates and so on are all children born of two parents: (1) the neoliberal economic revolution of the 90’s, and (2) our persistent failure to address the social and economic disadvantages of the “underclass” (notably in Maori and PI communities). We won’t solve these problems until we stop blaming the schools, and take a long hard look at ourselves.