23 April 2012
Back from China with a revived belief that the truth is usually in the middle when it comes to issues both within those that are educational and those that are not.
So it was pleasing to see that Catherine Issac who is leading the development of the “charter schools” is taking a moderate stance on some of the issues. She senses that the name “charter school” is not quite resonating in New Zealand. She’s not right nor do some of the elements implied by it. She wonders whether the development should proceed only in low decile communities as they would then be in a “goldfish bowl”. They are already for a variety of reasons and it would be simply intolerable, unjustifiable and without honour to introduce charter schools into New Zealand for any reason other than addressing educational achievement.
This development is going nowhere it simply sets out to provide an alternative style of school for students who might already achieve. We need people prepared to do the hard yards in lifting educational achievement, to help in communities where the task is the most arduous. The government should ensure that this development is precisely targeted at this.
As for the suggestion that the development should be in the hands of “not-for-profit” entities is well and good but the reasons are less so. “Schools cannot be run like a business” she is reported as saying. In many ways they already are. And the suggestion that these schools will be licensed to charge fees (euphemistically called “donations”) beg the question of whether they are to be state or independent entities.
Finally, the bottom line of the business of schooling is one which is based on sound business results (not-for-profit does not equate with “for loss”) and sound educational results – these should be the drivers of any charter school style development.
Two other issues are from the perspective gained in the east requiring of a little “truth in the middle” treatment.
There were questions raised by various people I met in China in general discussions (and I believe also in some of the formal discussions) about the ambivalent attitude towards international investment in New Zealand seemingly signalled by the general response to the purchase of the Crafer Farms by business interests in China.
I simply want to say that China is a country that understands international investment both out of the country and into it. Many of the Economic Zones of Development I have visited over the past few years in China are based on overseas investment. But, it is almost without exception achieved through joint ventures. A company from the US wishes to enter China through such a zone. They are welcomed and immediately a joint venture is established.
In New Zealand we have a business interest from China wishing to enter dairy farming in a significant way being opposed by a New Zealand syndicate that wants to do likewise. How refreshing it would be to see both working together. The competitive way is a return to the 1980s which is of course where so many New Zealand business people cut their teeth.
And the response generally of the community to international investment from China is simply seen as at best unfriendly and at worst as hostile. There can only be one loser in this. These issues can be solved only by seeking the truth in the middle.
Finally, I return to a country well-exercised by the issue of problem gambling. It cannot be the issue of problem gambling pure and simple that is causing this although like problem-smoking and problem-drinking and problem-drug-taking it is a huge and destructive issue. New Zealand has big issues with these big addictions.
The issue seems to be the connection of problem-gambling with a casino. But I see in the coverage of the issue, no attempt to quantify the contribution of a casino to this and certainly no commentary on the contribution to problem-gambling of the majority of gambling machines which are not in a casino but liberally dotted through community drinking houses, sports clubs, bars and so on.
All these machines seek their justification in their return to the community through for one set the contributions to worthy charities and through another by the provision of a major conference facility of undoubted benefit.
Like the proliferation of booze outlets, the proliferation of gambling outlets must play a role in helping unfortunates first develop the addiction and then sustain it at much price and pain to those around them. But how much closer do these current discussions take us to addressing the real issue.
Not everyone becomes a rabid gambler through playing a machine, nor an out-of-control drinker though an occasional drink, nor addicted to smoking through an odd cigarette (although that one does seem to be the most gripping addiction). The truth is in the middle.
New Zealand was once considered to be a country of moderation – moderation in all things was something of a motto. We seem no longer to find that attractive in our gambling, our smoking and our drinking and in our consideration of such issues.
Now if we were addicted to educational success I would be thrilled – there should be no moderation in this.