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Pathways-ED: The greatest little country in the world



Well the storm over whether New Zealand had a “world class education system or not” got eclipsed by the real thing in the US as the week went on. The NZ Herald waded in this morning and told “education commentators” what amounted to grow up and get over it.  I was a little saddened about their taking to all education commentators because I have diligently pointed out over many years that our enthusiasm for what we are doing in education needed to be tempered a little by the reality of achievement, especially when diced along certain lines.

Of course we do good work, that has never been the issue but to want to hide behind the world class claim is more than a little immature.

But chatting with a group yesterday we concluded that New Zealand rather liked to be able to make claims which engender enthusiasm for our view of ourselves but which become a little ragged when scrutinsed. The following were mentioned.

We have the best race relations in the world!

Certainly we work at them a little more than others and usually much more constructively. But to want to make the claim that we have the best race relations in the world is to enter a very dark place. What does it mean? What are the measures? Equity of educational outcomes? Demographic profiles of our corretional institutions and the clients of our justice system? Perhaps it can be measured in health, employment and housing statistics?

If it simply means that we do not often stand in the streets hurling abuse at each other then …. What about the incidents in the Jewish cemetry in Auckland recently?

Clean Green New Zealand / 100% Pure!

There are increasing calls for us to challenge this. Surveys show that our rivers are pretty dodgy, so are some of our swimming beaches. There is constant worry about mining, deep sea drilling, fracking and other such activity which suggests that for a variety of reasons there may be imperatives that are stronger than any commitment to Clean Green NZ or to 100% Pure.

This is a pity because primary schools often do good work in the areas of environment responsibility.

New Zealand is  great place to bring up children!

Well it ought to be, there is so much going for it. There is nowhere far from the sea, the grass grows green, the cities have open spaces, we commit to universal access to education and work hard to achieve universal equity in outcomes (but see above) and so on. But when I look back to when I was a child (cue in the violins and the soft focus cameras – black and white please) I note that we had a more comprehensive system for looking after babies – ante-natal and post-birth, that schools provided health checks and the free milk symbolised the commitment to feeding our young ones. Health camps were there for those who might benefit from a break from circumstances that were perhaps not helping and they varied widely – people bought postage stamps to help pay for them.

Family life was stronger as parents were free generally from work at weekends and could spend time with young ones.

And….. while there probably was hidden abuse of children, the scale seems to have gone well past the level that open-reporting could have produced. We never heard of youth suicide as a phenomenon, alcohol abuse by young teens. And there was no such thing as boy racers – it is hard to loose traction on a Raleigh bike!

So it is worth asking – is New Zealand still a great place to bring up children?

We are a great sporting nation!

I think we do possibly “punch above our weight” whatever that means. And recently the All Blacks were challenging for a record number of test wins, a record held by that famous rugby nation, Lithuania. But what if we measured our greatness as a sporting nation by sheer participation – how do we stack up then. Well, probably still pretty well. What if we measured it by the physical health of the nation? What if we measured it in terms of the big sports in world terms – football, basketball, golf and tennis? Still quite a good effort here. Olympic Games – OK?

We all need our cuddly blankets and New Zealand needs more than most perhaps given its isolation and its still difficult new orientation to Asia and the Pacific rather than the Old Country and Europe.

But as a friend of mine in London says – “You should be OK in New Zealand. After all, if you have an issue you can all get together at the weekend and sort it out!” That might turn out to be our real strength when we reach the point of recognising it. So I propose a new generalisation.

Small is beautiful!

Is that a trick or a treat?



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