Archive for May 2021

Earning your Crust

New Zealand has been slow to consider in any serious way the issue of school lunches and meals. We have been slow to recognise the opportunities that school lunches must compensate for health and nutrition issues for those who for one reason or another would benefit from a good feed at least once a day. And lunch is when, supposedly, all young people are at school and when the provision of a hot meal, of nutritional value and served in warm pleasant facilities would be of value.

The United States recognises children from families as being “eligible for a school lunch/meal”. In fact, eligibility for a school meal is a key measure, and they know with some precision who those students are. Household incomes below 130% of the poverty level make the cut! Families eligible for SNAP or TANF (both cash assistance schemes) are eligible for free or reduced-price meals. I have been in US schools and seen this in operation – it works well and makes a difference. And the meals are served in fit for purpose facilities.

In England and Scotland, all infant state school pupils (those in Reception and in Years 1 and 2) can get free school meals during term time – it is available but not compulsory. If a child qualifies for school meals, they remain are eligible until they go right through their primary and/or secondary – an extension being brought in next year.

Australian kids are much like Kiwi kids and they either bring their lunches from home, or they get food from a canteen or tuck shop. In Australia parents ordering can do the ordering for their kids or give them money to buy sandwiches or snacks. In both countries the provision of lunches in low-income schools has been slow to make an appearance. But it is now happening.

In New Zealand and in Australia there is another category of student, those who go without, those who experience hunger, or who rely on food choices that do not provide the nutritional boost that a better food choice would.

While the descriptions of the burgeoning and relatively new provision of meals in NZ school are heartening when the result is a healthy and nutritional contribution, they also can sometimes disappoint when the enthusiasm to deliver seems to have out stripped the resources available. There are also questions to be asked about the quality – surely the reported lunches consisting of two pretzels and a muffin are not true! And the stories of cold meals served up late are a worry.

The responsibility for the quality of meals in schools should be spelt out clearly and be subject to a set of clear nutritional values approved by either or both Ministries of Education and Health. There should be professional supervisors who oversee the preparation and delivery of the meals. There would be people in the community who would welcome employment in such a role. I recall the great work done by the Dinner Ladies in the school my sone attended in a village in Essex, UK years ago. The provision of food for school students is the responsibility of the government rather rely exclusively on volunteers.

School meals are too important to be a project for students – let’s mobilise the communities to contribute this critical area.

Let’s be honest! The School Bus is pointed in the wrong direction!

There has been much eloquence as a succession of school leaders sought to explain the grotesque level of absenteeism in the schooling sector. But it is hard to explain the inexplicable to parents and taxpayers and those who employ young people.

It beggars belief that these levels of wilful disobedience and disregard for the law have grown to such proportions. I can only conclude that the answer lies in what happens at school.

If students found school to be engaging, if they engaged with the programmes rather than disengaging, if they saw pathways opening up to future careers, if they could respect their parents…. And so on….. but there is a crying need for things to be different.

Over the past 50 or so years, some bad decisions have been made. In the 1990s there was a high escalation in the numbers of students staying in the secondary school. From having about 12.5% of the cohort staying in secondary school for 5 years, the number in a decade exploded to 65.0%. But the development of appropriate programmes lagged. Staying longer in school did not promote better results! More is more, not better.

From about the same time, secondary schools progressively turned their backs on Vocational and Technical subjects to concentrate on the academic pathway which was good for some and disastrous for many. Consider the success of trades academies where secondary students step outside the school to engage in vocational and technical education. The programmes speak for themselves – when the hands are brought into use the brain engages to great effect. But it goes deeper than this. 

Research tells a rather sad story. Now, in my view, the students who are finding success in the trade’s academies are probably a little over-enthusiastic about that experience in the tertiary environment and a little understated in their reflections when comparing their school experience. Students tell me that in the trades academy they always know why they are learning that skill or grappling with this piece of knowledge. By contrast and for many, schooling is one for no obvious reason. 

Students want to have reassurance about the pathways that they are encountering – they know that the line of sight to a career and a job matters. But the Vocational Pathways tool which promised much seems to have been somewhat side-lined.

New Zealand was slow to engage with the issues of NEETs – those in the 15-24 years old who are not in education, employment or training crept up and were well and truly established before the phenomenon demanded a response (which came in 2007). They have proved to be remarkably resistant to a lasting solution.

And this is largely the same reason that truancy initiatives have largely failed, why disengagement still haunts the statistics of student outcomes, and why 13 years of schooling seems to be insufficient for too many.

Granted that change in schools is damnably difficult. Given that Charles Payne was right to conclude that when it comes to education it is a sad and sorry picture of “So much reform: So little change.”

Must making a difference be beyond us? 

Graduating to a best laid plan!

One of the difficult impositions that Covid-19 foisted on Tertiary institutions was the extent to which the Government quite properly restricted the size of gatherings and this impinged on the graduation ceremonies that are traditionally held around May each year.

IT was entirely reasonable for students to be aggrieved and to feel that they were being deprived of the recognition that comes with walking across the stage and for that magic moment, being the centre of attention for family and friends and those who had taught them.

I could understand the strength of feeling that went with this. While technically the successful completion of the programme and the confirmation of this on academic records, the real deal of walking across the stage, the actual “capping” and the applause are not easily forgotten. The delayed ceremonies when they are held are very special and in no way diminished – the special efforts of all concerned are sincerely meant.

My renown expertise from a technical point of view is well known, after all who else has spent an hour, in the early days of the lock-down last year, grappling with the ZOOM platform and becoming increasing challenged and frustrated but to no effect! Later I spoke to a colleague who had been at the meeting that I was so frustrated and by not being able to get into ZOOM for the meeting. He quietly smiled and said “No wonder, we were all on TEAMS!”

Well, another technical frustration occurred last week with a phone that simply gave up the ghost. The help of the Technical Lead at the retail store quickly had things under way so that the data could be transferred to a new phone. Alas, the old phone by now was exhausted and close to death. A trip across town sorted that out and the Technical Lead guy then could successfully complete the job!

While this was happening, I chatted to the Technical Lead and asked the question of him. I am always seeking to find out where they had been trained. It turned out that he had trained at Manukau Institute of Technology. I told him that I had just retired from MIT and the very next week those who missed their graduation because of Covid were having their graduation. A big smile preceded his saying “I shall be there, I am graduating at that ceremony.” Hands were shaken, great pleasure was expressed. Congratulations Paramvir Singh, Graduate from the School of Digital Technology at MIT. Capped this week – finally capped.