“Children living in poverty in New Zealand are at least six times more likely to struggle with maths than students from wealthy backgrounds, a new report has found. The ranking was one of the worst in the developed world, with only Ireland, Israel and Poland doing worse.” (Kirsty Johnston, The maths of poverty: poor kids struggle, NZ Herald, Feb. 12.)
That’s the take-home message from an OECD report that finds (surprise, surprise) that socio-economic factors are a huge influence on whether kids do well at school.
Anyone in the education field knew this already. This latest OECD report is one in a long line to reach the same conclusion.
“The report said that socio-economic status was ‘probably’ the most important risk factor associated with low academic performance…” For probably read undoubtedly.
Listening to the current government’s rhetoric, you’d never guess it. Poverty is a government issue, reflecting economic policies and direction. Call for a washbasin and towel, we can’t have that!
So the blame must be shoved in another direction. No prizes for guessing where; schools and teachers. We need better quality teachers, so let’s overburden and browbeat them, that’ll do the trick.
I’ve worked at the chalk face from the mid-1970s through until the middle of last year. Rarely if ever have I met a teacher who didn’t give a damn. The simple truth is that teaching, at whatever level, is a demanding, stressful job. A profession that’s increasingly underappreciated as well as underpaid.
The dirty little secret that the politicians won’t tell you is that a modern economy needs a sizable pool of unskilled workers. Compliant unskilled workers. People forced to work for low pay every hour God gives them. Blather about raising standards so all kids succeed goes down well with the electorate, but it’s as realistic as the throwaway line in Garrison Keillor’s Lake Wobegon monologues: “where all the children are above average”.
There’ll always be a bell-shaped curve, grist for advocates of charter schools. The question is, who is consistently in that low performer section, and why. That’s what this study tells us – if it wasn’t already obvious.
Of course, the bell-shaped curve itself can be moved over time. How do you do it?
Eliminate poverty. Provide job security for lower and middle-income families. Reduce the disparity between the haves and have-nots.
Not something any of us expects to hear anytime soon from Hekia Parata.