Skip to content

Tag: youth

To be young is heaven

Don’t you get sick of the focus on the All Blacks as New Zealand’s seemingly only group of blokes who fly the New Zealand flag overseas? It defies the facts to think that they claim the headlines of the world outside of some of the remnants of the British Empire and even there they come somewhat down the list.

Australia lauds Rugby League, Australian Rules, Cricket and Tennis ahead of Rugby. Canada is crazy about Baseball, Ice Hockey and Basketball with Rugby somewhere behind. Britain is warmer about Rugby but only a country mile behind football while South Africa…… yes, well South Africa. They love Rugby and are pretty good at it!

This week we will be obsessed about the All Blacks playing the United States in Chicago. The field will be sold out no doubt due to the sponsorship of AIG who coincidentally are sponsors of the All Blacks. Conveniently forgotten will be the fact that the US is the only country to have won a gold medal at the Olympics for Rugby!

Meanwhile, who is really bringing the name and flag of New Zealand to the world stage? Not the All Blacks but a remarkable bunch of young New Zealanders who are succeeding in a range of sports that are genuinely world sports.

Lydia Ko amazes the golfing crowds at an unbelievably young age and seems unable to be shaken out of the No. 3 spot in the world of women’s golf. This is am amazing feat in a sport that is global and greatly loved by amateurs of all abilities. Not only that, she does all this with a modesty and charm that could serve as a model for many others among our sports communities.

Motor racing fans have followed the high-speed fortunes of Scott Dixon, the lad from South Auckland, who win races in the fanatical and frantic world of American motor sport. Again this young man whose ability to be articulate is matched by modesty. He continues the stream of young world motor racing champions including Chris Amon and the great Bruce McClaren.

Next we have the Adams family – Val Adams and younger brother Steven – who both throw things, Val the Shotput and Steven the Basketball. Val Adams (another South Auckland sporting champ!) has maintained her spot at the top of the world over many years and does so without the drama of injuries and what-not. In fact her recent surgery was simply fitted in to the end-of-season gap without a fuss. Meanwhile we have daily press coverage of a certain No. 10’s medical aches, pains and breakages.

Younger brother Steve Adams has literally burst onto the world of US basketball and after a year playing at the college level has seemingly become a frontline player in the NBA. Yet when he comes back to NZ he seems to be still connected to the local roots from which he started.

Of course sport is not all that we are good at. Think of music and the many young opera singers who are claiming successes in competitions. Some are going further, the three young Samoan lads from South who combine both formal study as opera singers with a lighter touch as the popular SOL3 MIO. And there are others young singers breaking onto the world’s opera stages – Marlena Ott Devoe, Elisha Hulton and Isabella Moore are just three Samoan singers to emerge.

And then there is Lorde – the phenomenon from the North Shore who in some ways defies the understanding of some age groups but who grips the tastes of so many young and seemingly all age groups in what is called “the industry”. She is truly taking New Zealand to the world.

Of course there is the issue that Australia will claim all of these as their own and if they can’t get away with it will try the description “Australasian” – it’s just too cute for words!

No doubt about it – we are being proudly taken to the world by young people, all stars in their own right and who collectively are arguably among the most widely known New Zealanders on the face of the planet!

I bet teachers had a hand in influencing all of them!


Leave a Comment

Talk-ED: Getting the balance right

Stuart Middleton
25 June 2012


It’s a disconcerting thing, reading the newspapers these days. Often during the week it is a quick scan of the morning paper, a quick go at the crossword and then off to work. The morning paper is given its serious attention in the evening.

At the weekend I look for instantaneous relaxation a more leisurely stroll though the papers.

Well, on Saturday I open the paper to be confronted by a large advertisement from the Auckland Primary Principals Association advising the public at large and readers in particular that they were against league tables in education! Some reasons were given and readers were exhorted to email the Prime Minister, the Minister of Education and their local MP all of whom would obviously be astounded by this spontaneous outburst of opinion from the community.

Most people in the community simply add this to the list that they have of the things that teachers and Principals do not believe in: national standards, performance pay, league tables and this is just the recent list. Oh yes, the teaching profession makes it very clear to the community of what it is they do not believe in.

But I wonder if members of the wider community have any idea of what educators in this country actually do believe in? And do they understand the arguments behind those things.

All they have to go on are the results that stare them in the face and they don’t need the media to tell them about these in specifically schooling terms, they know that as a result of the failure of education to win the hearts and minds of young people, they see unprecedented juvenile crime, they see escalating youth suicide rates, they see escalating issues of mental health among younger and younger people.

They know with some precision how well we are doing in education and while half of the community celebrates success, the other half despairs at what seems to be gloomy futures for their young ones.

I was put off my stride to relaxation when I came across an article that cast doubt (perhaps even aspersions) on the B4 Schooling screening test in the Sunday paper.

The Ministry of Health describes the B4 School Check as a valuable check on development and the picture of the child’s development is gained through some simple health checks and a conversation between the health professional, the ECE teacher and the parents/caregivers. All this sounds all very well, sensible and useful. But the article goes much further and gets into the speculation that the check was more sinister in its potential to get into areas of mental health and start diagnosing mental health issues in the young. This is much more problematic than simply identifying issues of hearing and sight, and nutrition and general physical development as the old Plunket checks once tried to do.

More interesting was the introduction of what seem to me to be unexceptional child behaviours as symptoms of mental health issues – shyness, sleeping with the light on, clinging on to parents’ legs, being nervous in new situations. If these are symptoms then we have all been in that space!

And this raises the issue of over-diagnosis. There is a view that this is happening. It was staggering to be told in the article that “Pharmac figures show a 140% increase in anti-depressant prescriptions for 0 – 4 year olds” within the space of one year and an increase in “mood-stabilising drug prescriptions for children aged five and over”. Can this be true? And if it is, is it the 4 year olds who need examining or should the older generations be taking a good long look at themselves.

To some extent there is as much danger in glamorising or normalising issues such as depression as there is in ignoring it. But the free and easy manner with which we see diagnoses of serious issues such as dyslexia, autism, ADHD and so on bandied about helps no-one. Young people grow up in many different ways and the strength they have to develop into “normal” youth is one of the miracles of life.

And it might be a good thing if young people grew up a little more along the lines that we grew up. We did not expect to be happy all the time and were loved when we were not. We had no idea whether or not we were normal or not and perhaps at my age still do not know!

I grew up being afraid of violence and fighting to the extent that I would hide behind the seats in the movie theatre while the cowboys were fighting (to be hauled up when it stopped by my brother who knew no such fear). I was nervous about being left alone. No-one offered me a pill! Is it normal to get tense in an airport? Or to worry about an unfamiliar sound outside at night? I do, but no-one thinks I need a pill?

Major issues such as youth suicide reflect the serious decline in the security of youth, their exposure to drugs and alcohol, the instability of so many homes (often no fault of the parents), the pressures placed on young people to compete and now things like cyber-bullying

These are real issues. It would be a good thing if people knew what teachers do believe in and had faith that this would make the world a better place, especially for their young ones.


1 Comment

Pathways-ED: Youth and work, youth in work

Stuart Middleton
31 May 2012


I got my first job when I was about eight years old when my brother and I, during the school holidays, worked for our Uncle in his grocery shop. We got ten shillings a week, had our own aprons and generally did useful things such as sweep the floor, make up bags of flour, help get the orders together and subsequently take turns in going with Uncle Les in his quaint little van to do the deliveries.

I am pretty sure that this, being a family arrangement, did not involve the IRD.

But such an opportunity was important because later, aged about 12 or 13 years I continued with an after-school job – i.e. each day from about 3.30pm to 5.00pm and during the school holidays, I had a similar set of responsibilities working for Mr Frame in his hardware store.

None of this was remarkable in those days. Young people delivered the newspapers, worked in shops, mowed lawns and so on. I thought that somehow this had all gone by the wayside as adults, seeking work, had replaced young ones doing such activities.

My daily newspaper is delivered by an adult couple driving a car – she doing the driving and he putting the papers into the letter boxes. Franchises galore have captured the lawn market and you never see young people appearing in shops to do the after-school shift.

But apparently it is not quite so. The discussion of one of the tax changes in the recent budget, brought to light the fact that 68,000 “children” were working in paid employment. A recent report shows considerable employment among secondary school age people with some working considerable hours. I recall that the recent discussion of the “truancy” statistics for NZ schools mentioned that part-time employment was a factor.

It therefore continues to puzzle me that the default position for so many young people is to head towards degree study and a place in occupational classes that are seen to be prestigious often in defiances of the evidence of progress being made as a student. One might have thought that all this “employment experience” might have encouraged more to head towards the skill areas in which there are continuing shortages.

Yesterday’s Dominion Post newspaper reported a survey that showed that nearly half of Kiwi employers are struggling to find staff with the right skills. Apparently the global average for this is 34% and for the the Asia-Pacific region, 45%. So we are a bit on the high side.

The skill areas that were listed in the top 10 for NZ were: engineers, sales reps, trades-people, IT staff, technicians, accounting, management, food and beverage, marketing / PR / comms and drivers. Some of these categories require degrees but not exclusively. The IPENZ President, Graham Darlow, is quoted as saying that “the biggest shortage is in technicians and not professional engineers.”

Time and time again the message is the same – New Zealand needs young people coming into the workforce with middle level skills in areas such as those listed above but also with the skills of employment.

Central to this is the accruing of experience in real employment on the way through – informal experience as a young person, more formal as the point of full-time employment approaches. Getting ready to work is a gradual process that requires growth – qualified on Friday and into the workforce on Monday with no previous experience is not palatable to many employers.

I am told time and time again by employers that they respect the qualifications young people have but, and it usually runs along these lines – “they aren’t ready to work”.

I reflect on my own experience as a worker – a little grocer’s lad, a hardware store assistant, a drain-layer, an assistant sexton in a cemetery and a musician – all woven around the journey towards a qualification and a subsequent job which in my case would be to teach. I am sure that the wages I got as a little worker were not an excessive drain on the businesses I worked for. I also guess that later when in university my holidays spent as a drain-layer were more productive.

But I do know that I learnt a lot from those experiences which these days would be called the skills of employment – working hard, following instructions, being able to work in a self-directed manner, getting there every day on time regardless of weather, saving money and learning to mix with a very wide range of people.

Looking back the experiences were invaluable. Perhaps the time is right for a national campaign to offer young people such informal and formal opportunities in the interests of getting the nation cracking – getting people into work that is there by having young people growing up with an expectation that working is what you do. But it is going to take an effort from everyone.



1 Comment

Pathways-ED: Why is “jobs” a dirty word?

Stuart Middleton
4 April 2012


I cannot understand why there seems to be reluctance and even resistance to the idea that a critical outcome of education is to get a job. Note that I have said “a critical outcome” and made no claim that it is the only outcome. But I must say that without the capability of getting a job after 10, 12, and 13 perhaps even 20 years of formal education all other outcomes are made to look rather meaningless and trite.

When I went to school, (yes, this usually breaks out a chorus of simulated violin playing, shouts of “he’ll tell us about walking to school barefoot in the snow into the teeth of a raging gale next” and many other kinds of loving derision) we knew why – it was to get a job. Indeed at the age of 12, I was enrolled in a technical secondary school to become a carpenter. The course of my life was fixed on that job or so I thought.

It is a whole other story, intervention by well-meaning educators who classed me as “academic” and despatched me into 10 years of academic learning, the most perplexing years of my life when I most flirted with failure. The removal of the goal of a clear job for a future shaped rather amorphously which only later crystallised into teaching as a job, certainly made  my pathway rockier than it needed to be.

Take the espoused goal of creating a lifelong learner. I’ll show you a lifelong learner when a person has demonstrated that they are – it is not a soft prediction that one makes. Many seemingly self-educated people are not lifelong learners. To say “I am a lifelong learner” can only be the conclusion drawn after looking back on at least a chunk of a life and being able to document clearly the evidence.

You see, what we need from educational experiences is the capability to do whatever is asked of us next. That is why I am frustrated by the unwillingness of education systems to accept that the key purpose of each stage of formal education is to prepare students for the next stage of their lives – education, eventually being a responsible adult, and, yes, finally getting a job.

Then there is the nonsense that we are in the business of preparing people to have “at least seven careers” as I read somewhere last week. This is baloney. Rare people have two careers perhaps but most, if they have a career at all, have one. “Career” is a qualitative judgment about a continuous quality of achievement in an area of employment. It might mean that a person has different jobs; indeed it is probably essential that they do, but they are changes and growth within a field not a succession of wild swings between “careers”.

Education would do well to set as a key goal, the aim of getting each and every student into a job.

Yes there are issues of unemployment but remember that the creation of unemployment is the outcome of a deliberate ideological stance about how economies best run. We could have full employment if we so wished and were prepared to pay for it and perhaps the western world will return to that one day. Who knows?. Or could we return?

Alongside the issue of youth unemployment we have another mammoth in the house, the unemployable youth. The skills of employment are not hard to define and one list is about as good as another.

Reliability, punctuality, pride in work, ability to work unsupervised, knowing what productivity means, ability to learn, enthusiasm all occur to me. A better, much more worthy, can be seen at . These should be a given if an education system is half good. But too often students have simply not acquired them. This is not simply the fault of the system or those who teach but we should ask questions about why this simple catalogue of dispositions and skills evades so many learners.

And the answer is clearly, because they cannot see a connection between what they are doing and the life of working in a job or jobs. Unemployment is a scourge of that we can be certain. The wonderful and gruesome and dispiriting TV series, Boys from the Blackstuff, a British television drama series from the early 1980s sticks in the mind for its main character  Yosser Hughes who was somewhat demented by not having a job and the devastation that brought into his life. He had a couple of catchphrases, “Gizza’ job!” and “I can do that!” which summed up the continual torture of unemployment.

Of course the 1980s a time of serious unemployment among adults who lost their jobs. Now the issues seems increasingly to be among the young who have never had jobs.

Can education hold its head up high and say that we are doing our best? Or even that we are addressing the issue?



Talk-ED: Who needs to grow up?

Stuart Middleton
3 October 2011

It seems a slight reach and is perhaps a bit removed from the actual study, but I was amused and surprised at a piece in The Australian[1] last week that claimed that the increased interest in proceeding to postsecondary education and training was prolonging the transition into adulthood. It seems that those who interpret the report believe that getting into the labour market is the marker of adulthood. This equation of lengthening pathways from school into the workforce with reaching adulthood seems to me to be quaint, misguided and in defiance of the evidence.

It is quaint because there has never been an association between work and adulthood although adulthood is generally more characterised by work rather than being at school. But if we are to say that the full flowering of adulthood requires a spot in the labour force we run a danger of disregarding the large proportions of young people in both Australia and New Zealand who never complete their secondary schooling let alone get into the business of postsecondary education and training nor ever get into the workforce.

To all the pressures that are placed on this group we now seemingly are going to add prolonged-childhood. Well, it is a pretty bizarre view of the actualities of the lives led by these disengagers – it is not one of blissful innocence spent in some enchanted garden. Rather it is too often a harsh and brutal existence fought out in the toughest and most unforgiving adult environments – tough living conditions, crime, drugs, abuse and so on. It is also a bizarre view of many postsecondary students!

It is misguided because it fails to recognise the wasted potential of both groups, the disengaged and the engaged. If young people are to be sent into some zone of immaturity and therefore not seen for the potential contribution they could make, we simply add to the social and economic problems that already cluster around them.

It defies the evidence – the actual lives of young people of many kinds live (see above), the responsibilities they have (many disengagers are young parents with responsibilities that are greatly in advance of those who are allegedly prolonging their childhood at university) and these disengaged students are almost certainly required to show personal skills of self-sufficiency, toughness and resilience that might well eclipse the skills-sets required to remain in education and training. Furthermore, the evidence suggests that young people are maturing more quickly and are continuing the secular trend that has characterised the development of young people for several centuries.

What this report of the report is saying is that we see prolonging education and training as prolonging the childhood / adolescent status of young people and this is possibly important to how we develop justifications of the ways in which we treat young adults in educational settings. As a secondary school principal once upon a time, it was a case of trying to identify increased ways in which the adulthood of the student can be nourished and respected and reflected in what we did.

Perhaps there is even a need for us to see young people as non-adults in order to justify our treating them as non-adults. The attempt to put young adults of 18 and 19 years of age into a uniform is paralleled only in the armed services of most countries. The lack of freedoms to be at school when they need to be there and to make good use of their time when they are not lags well beyond that realities of young peoples’ maturity.

There was recently a suggestion by one commentator in the USA that there was emerging a fifth stage in young peoples’ lives – infanthood, childhood and adolescence was then followed by a clear post-adolescence that was a precursor to adulthood. Well, this tells us more about the adults and the commentators than it tells us about the young people.

Adolescence is in some respects is a middle class indulgence invented in the USA in the post-Second World War era. Now those adolescents are parents and in the USA there is the emergence of the hover-parent, the parent who just can’t let go. When I spent some time at UC Berkeley is was obvious that even though the students had left home to go to college the home was dead intent on following them.

This then might be behind the reading of the Longitudinal Survey of Australian Youth briefing paper that The Australian made of it.

It just doesn’t make sense. Who needs to grow up?

[1] The Australian, Friday, 30 September 2011

Leave a Comment

Talk-ED: It all seems to work!

Stuart Middleton
5 September 2011

An interesting report[1] recently released by NCVER in Australia paints a picture for us of impact of work on school and postsecondary outcomes. This is timely with the general concern that so many students and especially those from lower socio-economic stressed areas, have to work to keep themselves and their families moving forward or perhaps even just standing still.

It is popularly thought that it has a negative effect on their educational progress.

This is a new worry really because in a previous generation after-school work was common and a welcome source of that little bit extra. But those jobs have increasingly been taken over by adults who cobble together a living through a collection of casual work.

What did the researchers find out?

That typically, students work 11-12 hours each week and females work a little more than males. The impact of this becomes slightly negative when the hours worked become greater but females manage the balance better than males. The most positive impact is that work while at school will lead to a better outcome in terms of finding fulltime employment after schooling has been completed.

This is in some ways not surprising but it does raise the question of what school systems do to assist with the sound management of a balance between work and schooling. School timetables can be relentless in their requirements and do not seem to be flexible in so many ways. Ought it to be possible for students to be able to undertake some work in a coherent manner without added pressure either to be at school so much and perhaps even being given credit for the work that they are doing?

This is simply “work experience” I hear some say. Well yes it is and there is a consistent drive on currently to see that increased work experience, becomes part of the senior school years. So perhaps the addition to work experience within a programme of work experience that students have the initiative to get outside of the programme could be given as much credit.

The skills of employment are learned by practising them in real settings with real employers and real customers – they do not lend themselves so well to classrooms although some of them can be simulated and certainly others can be practised – punctuality for instance.

I admire greatly the commitment in the USA to service education in education institutions. The way in which where possible students are employed creates a feeling of acknowledgement of the interface between education and employment that the faculty have successfully negotiated but which still faces the students. When I was a secondary Principal the school employed a number of students and I regretted that they did not receive formal credit for it but they were early days of qualifications frameworks and suchlike.

School to work is yet another transition that is hard and occurs too often at a point in time. The US makes very effective use of internships (often unpaid) and cadetships to provide work across transition points in education. Industry projects characterise some courses and of course the earn / learn options are becoming increasingly common. But they are generally a feature of postsecondary education and training. What about secondary education?

All the evidence increasingly points to the importance of work and career orientation for young people during their secondary schooling. Perhaps we should be negotiating agreements with local employees for work opportunities like we used to have – the after school job, the weekend job, the casual job.

Rather than get all tied up about youth rates and suchlike, let’s place value on the experience that it brings to young people, not to mention the positive impact on outcomes when it is balanced and in proportion.

Alison Anlezelark and Patrick Lim (2011) Does combining school and work affect school and post school outcomes?,  Adelaide, National centre for Vocational Education Research.

Leave a Comment

Talk-ED: The Great Big Smouldering Issue!

Stuart Middleton
22  August 2012

It’s funny how you can be busily engaged in something at home and yet you can smell the pot starting to burn on the stove. You only hope that it is not too late and that neither the veges or the pot are beyond retrieval.

I instinctively feel that I can smell an educational pot starting to burn – the issue of youth unemployment, youth disengagement from school and teenage parents.

Increasingly you read reports and studies that have titles such as The Silent Epidemic and The Forgotten Half. Such titles capture pretty well the nature of this building crisis. It is reaching proportions where half of youth between 15 and 24 years are caught up in youth unemployment and/ or disengagement and it has crept up on us. This is at least worrying and at worst disastrous.

In twenty or so years time this considerable part of a generation will be aged between 35 and 44 years old, be parents, and be a critical segment of a New Zealand economy. Can we maintain our standard of living if this group has little potential to create wealth? Can we expect their children to succeed where they have failed? Can we expect this large group not to be a charge against the state?

I have written plenty about disengagement and policies such as the current Youth Guarantee set of initiatives that will help. But more fundamental changes are required in our schools. Multiple pathways through which young people have a range of options that lead them through to university and polytechnics, through to real qualifications that will ease their entry into the workforce, bring incomes (both to them through wages and to us through the tax they pay) and provide them with the wherewithal to support their families well through education.

So we need to keep on working on those areas but with greater urgency, wider reach and more marked impact.

I read in the newspapers that the Irish are to supply some of the labour required for the reconstruction of Christchurch. I can accept that we could be short on middle level experience – just as a basketball coach cannot teach height, an education provider cannot teach experience. But when it comes to raw grunt that is qualified to entry level, those jobs should go to New Zealanders and young New Zealanders at that.

This might require the Government to create jobs. But we are dealing with crisis here, both in post-quake Christchurch and in the slowly awakening education community. It would be my guess that we could easily train 5,000 young people to enter the workforce in Christchurch to work under supervision within 6 months and to maintain a supply after that. We did it after World War II, why not again now? Polytechnics could be challenged to meet these deadlines and to put into place an ongoing training capability in Christchurch. What about reinventing the “night school”? Drawing a workforce for Christchurch from across the youth of New Zealand has the advantage of returning qualified and experienced workers to many parts of New Zealand when the task is done.

What a golden opportunity we could make out of the unfortunate events. Construction, infrastructure, plumbing, painting, concrete workers, structural engineers and many more – we are here presented with real work to put alongside real training and real qualifications.

I can imagine that all this would not be greeted with joy by those managing the construction contracts but surely some additional support could be given to them to get this major training endeavour under way.

It is said that the needs of Christchurch in terms of rebuilding will take 10 or more years to complete so the timeframes here could change a whole generation and be the step change required if we are to return to an education system that will set most young people off on the pathways to prosperity. An approach like this could take the shape of a NZ Trades Corp.

Teen parents also require a special effort. There are it seems 28,000 young parents who were they not young parents, would be included in the statistics for NEETS (those not in employment, education or training). It seems crazy to simply accept that this group should be inactive (granted there is the not underestimated activity of parenthood) and special programs could easily be put into place for them surely. The great success over many years of units for teen mums would encourage us to set our sights high for the larger group.

There is an urgency about our seeking responses to the unsustainable size of the half of our young people who are dropping out of education and training and possibly out of sight. Bill Gates used to say that we should do something about all this because it is hurting them. He now says we should do something because it is hurting us!

Do I smell a pot burning or is it Rome?

1 Comment

Pathway-ED: NEETs or Not NEETs?

Stuart Middleton
19 August 2011


Sometimes the media is capable of inventing differences in opinion and arguments where none exist. Such was the case when yesterday a television journalist, pursuing a story about unemployed youth, interviewed the Prime Minister and was given a figure of 16,000 and from the Minister of Social Development a figure of 58,000.

Shock horror! Who is telling porkies? Government in disarray? All the usual beat up as the journalist sought to show that the Government was confused beyond comprehension.

In fact it was the journalist who was confused and had little comprehension of what she was being told.

 The Prime Minister was speaking about Unemployed Youth and gave a figure of 16,000 while the Minister was talking about NEET Youth (those Not in Employment, Education or Training) and gave a figure of 58,000. There is a difference between the two groups. In addition, the Prime Minister was speaking about 15 – 19 year olds while the Minister was using the convention used in labour market descriptions of defining “youth” as 15 – 24 year olds.

Unemployed youth are exactly what it suggests – those youth who have been in the labour force but who are now out of work. Up to June this year the youth unemployment rate was 17.3% which was almost three times that of the general unemployment rate. The recession impacts on this area.

But the group which should concern educators is the NEET group – those not in employment, education or training. These are the disengaged, the ones who are simply doing nothing – it does not include those engaged in activity that could potentially benefit them such as travel, are between short periods of employment, taking a break from study etc. More recently it has not included those “engaged” in care-giving.

What do we know about this NEET group?

  •  Most are there because they have disengaged from education and have no useful qualifications.
  • There are more males than females in the group with the male group increasing and the female numbers falling – school attainment patterns are the thought to be the cause of this pattern and of course young mothers at home are now excluded from these calculations.
  • There are more Maori NEETs than any other group – 17% of Maori aged 15-24 are NEETS compared to 14% of Pasifika youths and 8% of European youths.
  •  The proportion of NEETS peaks at 11% around the age of 18 and 19 years quite dramatically as a result of those who fail to make the transition from school to work or postsecondary education or training. It then remains constant at around 8% until age 24 years, the upper limit for this group. Presumably NEETs then graduate into the general unemployment, benefit dependent statistics.
  • The rate of those joining the group of NEETs is constant and in some areas (male, Maori, Pasifika) is increasing subsequently frustrating any progress in reducing the overall group. The only reduction achieved has been through removing caregivers from the calculation.

This is not a pretty picture given the demographic profiles of the different groups, the relatively greater proportion of young people are Maori and Pasifika,  and the increasing numbers of males are becoming NEETs.

It is also a cause for concern that youth caregivers have now been excluded from these calculations since it is also known that youth parents (especially teen mums and dads) tend to have lower levels of educational achievement if they have any. They have low levels of visibility as a group. The prognosis for their futures when they are free of the duties of care is not good. Excluding this group from NEET calculations has reduced the total NEETs figures – is there a message here of the educational preparedness of young people for parenthood in this?  There are nearly 28,000 young people in this category!

Again this NEET phenomenon is one we share with other English-speaking countries. We might despair of the size and seeming intractability of the issue in New Zealand but we still have scale on our side compared to those other countries.  How long will we be able to say this.

Tinkering around with the pocket money of a small group within this larger issue won’t have any impact beyond a possible populist appeal to those who believe that NEETs and other like them should be “dealt with”.  A more rational approach would demand a plan to tackle the issue of NEETs and to get the pipeline working on qualifications and educational success at school. While that work is going on others need to be developing a labour market more benign to youth employment and that includes the creation of many more jobs.

So who was right, the Prime Minister or the Minister of Social Development? Both were. They were talking about different groups. It doesn’t help when journalists add to the confusion.

Leave a Comment

Talk-ED: Nec Tamen Comsumebatur – Rooting out the Causes of Failure

Stuart Middleton
15 August 2011

Years ago I bought some land that had a lot of gorse on it. Some of it was huge with trunks 5”-6” in diameter. I sprayed it and burned it and it came back. I slashed it and burned it and it came back. In the end I realised that if I didn’t get the roots I was doomed to an inevitable defeat at the hand of this prickly nuisance.

Cutting off the growth above the ground and pouring a little creosote on the exposed stump did the trick. The next year I was able to walk around and pull by hand the stumps out of the ground. It never came back.

I think that this is a parable that governments might wish to heed when addressing the issues of youth benefit dependency. The announcement that youths on benefits are to have their control of money withdrawn could be a good thing and it could be a bad thing.

If it is simply slash and cut and burn it is doomed to fail. If it is the start of a careful system of tracking and monitoring and intervention such as those in Scandanavia then it could be a good thing.

Think Lisbeth Salander in Stieg Larsson’s The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. Of course Nils Bjurman was a bad bastard in every way, but the Scandinavians have careful tracking and monitoring and supervision systems and placing someone under complete supervision with control over their money is the most severe intervention. But that level of intervention doesn’t sit there on its own. All Scandinavian young people are tracked and supervised in an attempt to ensure positive outcomes and there is a series of graduated interventions before the complete “ward of state” response.

A recent report from Sweden details the concern because truancy rates in some areas are approaching 2% – we dream of reducing ours to that! Young people have options in education and training. Someone is responsible for educational failure, someone has the job of tracking students to minimise failure and negative outcomes.

It should also be pointed out that to promote an intervention with only this group ignores that there is in operation a pipeline that effectively delivers many more failing young people to that NEETS group. Even if the announced intervention works very well, it will not make a difference as many more youths take their place – without a balanced set of interventions I see a bureaucratic backlog growing at great expense.

What is needed is a complete package and the government has made a good start with this. The Youth Guarantee package is starting to show signs of being a comprehensive set of interventions and new ways of working. It will lead to multiple pathways for young people that will lead them to increased success in education and training, will lead them to qualifications and finally lead them to employment. Trades academies, service academies, fees free places in tertiary, vocational pathways, tracking and monitoring students and effective careers advice and guidance – this is where resources should be directed.

Dealing with the very group that has been targeted in this announcement requires attention to the three dots – access to early childhood education, successfully attaining NCEA Level 2 (and that is the biggest challenge in all this and requires a huge rethink on the part of primary and secondary schools) and the successful attaining of a postsecondary qualification.

The youths on benefits have been created by the failure to address these three issues and by our watching increased levels of behaviour develop that lead to unprecedented levels of dropping out of a positive future. When statistics that point to a creeping upwards of various participation figures are trotted out, they simply fail to acknowledge that we are seeing the development of unprecedented failure among young people.

The recent New Zealand Institute report, Fewer Snakes, More Ladders, is clear – “there are no signs of trends for improvement”.

It is good to see action but tinkering with the major issue of our time will not cut it, just as I did not get a result with the gorse when I tried naively to cut it.

Young people on benefits are a symptom, they are the part of the gorse bush that is above the ground. It is no good dealing to that which is highly visible without also paying attention to that which is hidden but is the root cause.

Leave a Comment

Talk-ED: On the ball, on the ball, on the ball!

Stuart Middleton
20 June 2011
I guess that anyone who has spent a little time as a teacher knows that the inability of students not to concentrate is a problem for them and for us. For some it seems typical and for others intermittent. Thankfully there are some students who seem simply to have a never-challenged capacity to concentrate. What a joy they are!

Just back from the US and I am wondering whether it is not only students that lose their concentration but entire education systems.

The USA has all the education issues of any English speaking country with many scaled up by quite a degree and with huge numbers of students dropping out and so on. What was the big issue facing the system last week? Well, it was whether or not the athletic programmes in colleges would go broke. The athletic programmes include college football (gridiron that is), basketball, baseball, soccer, and so on. Make no mistake about it, these programmes are huge business.

USA Today was able to collect information on 218 colleges and those tertiary institutions spent $US6.2 billion (let me repeat that – $6.2 billion) on their sports programme. And the shock of last week was that some of the budgets just weren’t going to be large enough. Sports budgets have been subsidised to quite an extent and these subsidies have increased by 20% since 2006. This at a time when state budgets are in extreme difficulty and expenditure on education is being cut generally and seriously.

It’s all a bit crazy – mind you this is happening in a sports system that can pay a college basketball coach over $3 million dollars a year and one college’s football team ran up over $13k in parking tickets that were paid for by the college.

The University of Oregon spend about $78 million on its sports. It is big business but what is more important, the business of sports or the business of education? What matters, getting the indicators heading north instead of south or the ball games? When there is great disparity between communities in terms of educational achievement, should college sport be allowed to capture the concerns of the community or is it acting to obscure real issues?

So I get home and discover that ball games are at the top of public discussion, not for the first time but certainly at a level of seriousness that seems to be escalating. Have we only the tragic consequences of excess among a few to concentrate on? When I hear that schools report with pride that at their school ball, sniffer dogs and breathalysers and security guards will all ensure that something can proceed safely – I know that we have taken our eyes off the ball that matters. A detox room at a school ball? Have we at last gone mad! We rail against the picture of schools in the US with security guards and detection devices at the school gate in order to make education safe while we surely are no better!

If this is what it takes, then let’s abandon the balls without hesitation. And if parents want to put on booze-driven events, let them. No-one is coming out of the current parlous state with either credit or peace of mind, what is meant to create pleasure seems simply to be creating pain.

There was a time when once the school ball had purpose. Dancing lessons would precede the event and young people would be treated to an event that was for most, well in advance of that which they could hope to enjoy in the ordinary course of their daily lives. That is no longer true. School balls as an event are now something of an anachronism – adults don’t even go to balls these days. Charity black tie dinners might be the closest thing and they bear only passing resemblance to a ball.

There are a lot of other things that the community should be invited to be worried about in education – it requires no catalogue from me for readers to know this. Instead by our own actions we invite the community at large to be distracted by these awful events.

On the one hand, we are asked to believe that there is tragic pressure on football and baseball in one system in which the disengagement of many and the failure or more should be the top priority. While in another system the tragic consequences of ghastly social behaviour obscures the fact that most students exhibit sound values and behaviour and perform as required to by their schools to such an extent that we can hold our heads high in international company.

In one system, state and federal governments struggle to direct the money to the things that matter in education. In another system, ours, we struggle to keep the focus of the community on things that matter.

In both instances, the ball season encourages us to inflict damage on ourselves.

Leave a Comment