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Pathways-ED: Wagging students reach 29,000

Stuart Middleton
13 April 2012


For some time I have listed the level of truancy in New Zealand schools as being 30,000 students truanting every day. I knew this to be true even though such a revelation would be often greeted with incredulity. But it is official now!

The weekend paper screams its headline “WAGGING SCHOOL THE DAILY DEAL FOR 29,000”.  This is an official 10% of the New Zealand school roll. Or as the paper put it, the equivalent of the population of Blenheim fails to go to school each day!

How did we achieve the fall of 1,000 between the older figure of 30k and the latest result, 29k? Well it appears that $4million dollars was paid out over the past two years to tackle the issue and the figures have dropped by about one thousand, a 3% reduction for $4 million! Or put another way – for $4,000 we can get one truant back to school. So if we put up another $116 million, could we lick the problem of truancy? I think not. 

I wonder if it occurs to anyone that truancy is but a symptom of an education system that is simply not working. To think that the answers lie in the schools is about as silly and thinking that the answer to alcoholism will be found inside a pub.

Schools as they are currently constituted have never catered for a diverse population over a thirteen year time span. The comprehensive nature of the schools as they have developed compounds the issue, keeping students in school long past the point at which they are learning exacerbates it and throwing money and trying to get “truants” back into the school is, without significant changes, simply wasted.

The reasons given by students for being truant as reported make for grim reading. They were “hungover” and “stoned”. School was “boring” “dumb” and they were “bored”. This is so depressing but only slightly less so than the description of this group by a school leader – “Children are staying home to look after siblings or do housework and other activities in the home.”  Baking scones and doing needlework as well perhaps.

Get real!  We have a growing crisis in New Zealand with our young people. We mope around grizzling about youth unemployment when the fact is that we have a bigger problem with unemployable youth. The group that truants is the group that become NEETs, the group that feeds the youth justice system, the group that forever and a day will be a drag on the wealth of the community and the country and its citizens.

I cannot accept the Minister’s seeing the solution as being predominantly in the community. True, the community has to play its part, generally the 90% of students who do not truant reflect that the community is doing just that and I meet parents of some of the other 10% who wish for nothing more than that their sons and daughters would want to go to school.

The truth in these kinds of issues is always in the middle. The Minister notes in her quoted statement that Principals and boards are responsible for offering an “engaging programme.”

It is no good battling truancy, being able to monitor attendance electronically or prosecuting parents unless we address the issue of what constitutes an “engaging programme”. This should not be difficult and here goes:

An engaging programme is one in which:

  •   students are successfully taught the basic skills of literacy, numeracy and digital schools
  •   students are taught the skills of employment, develop social skills, demonstrate work skills and relate easily to others in diverse settings
  •   students have a sense of purpose in their education where they see connection between what they are doing and where they are headed (students who see no purpose see no point in being at school); 
  •    where schools demonstrate an interest in all students and give them a vested interest in engaging with the school programme.

There is too much failure in primary schools and too great a lack of purpose in secondary schools for our education system to be free of truancy. How long will we continue to be spectators of the trends without heeding what they are telling us?


Published inEducation

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