The necessity of teachers

“Hey Teacher! Leave them kid’s alone” – “Another Brick in the Wall Pt 2”, Pink Floyd

All of us remember a bit about our teachers. It might have been a moment when one got punished for not/doing something; for something funny they did in class. Some of us would have been inspired by our teachers and some of us may have been totally revolted by them. Some of us could not wait to get out of the school system as soon as they were legally able to, whilst others went into tertiary education. But for better or for worse we all agree that in some shape or form they helped to make us who we are today.

For five year old me, getting the trust and confidence of my teachers was essential. I had severe speech impediment, poor hand eye co-ordination. With very few friends I had trouble fitting in, especially since my early interests were already starting to devolve significantly from the perceived interests of boys my age. Partially because of this, but also because of a good upbringing, I was frequently looked upon as model for student behaviour. And for the most part my teachers from Years 1-13 were very good. With the exception of a very bad maths teacher in 1988 who completely inverted my understanding of mathematics, and an art teacher in 1994 who refused to believe the medical note excusing me for a medical appointment all were quite keen on helping.

Teachers are much more than teachers. They are eyes and ears watching and listening for signs of developmental issues in children. I had several. It was pointed out to my parents that I had trouble printing and putting basic sentences together and getting me to pronounce words properly. When myself and another student needed occupational therapy to help develop our motor skills, the primary school we were attending sent a teacher to a couple of our sessions to see if they could learn anything that might enable them to spot development issues with other students. The same school organized a teacher aid to help me with my reading and writing.

With this in mind, the recent announcement by the Government of online learning smacks of two things:

  1. An abject contempt for teaching as a profession and the teachers who make the profession what it is
  2. A callous disregard for the future well being of New Zealanders

My primary concerns are that children will no longer learn how to write with pen/cil on paper, show the working for mathemical equations on paper and that forms of consent such as signatures will become electronic. Showing children how to draw charts, maps, diagrams on paper might seem antiquated but it has a basic and quite fundamental purpose as children at an early age cannot be expected to be just shown the letters of the alphabet and memorize them.

Another concern is that a proud and integral piece of New Zealand’s education system is under existential attack here. Online learning in other countries, such as the United States has failed miserably. The basics still need to be taught. Learning environments where student and teacher work together still need to exist and so do the teachers that are employed in them.


Looking back at the Olympics

Rather than writing a bitchy gloomy political post today I thought I would do a run down on the Olympic moments that mattered to me the most.

For the last 16 days, despite the controversies swirling around Rio de Janeiro, we have seen some fantastic sporting achievements. Whether it was Michael Phelps getting that  huge medal haul in the pool or the amazing Usain Bolt and his athletic brilliance, Fiji getting its first ever Olympic medal and managing to make it a gold or watching our own Olympians it is has been an absolute pleasure on the eyes and ears.  Mongolian Coach ProtestFiji Gold MedalThere were the funny and bizarre moments like the Mongolian wrestler who started celebrating early, and in doing so backed away from his opponent. Somehow through the language barrier or interpretation of the rules, the message to the wrestler did not get through and he ended up losing. What happened next was even more bizarre: his coach, absolutely furious with the officials stripped down to his jockeys and shoes in front of millions of viewers. There were moments where the Olympic spirit came to the fore, and no more so than when New Zealander Nikki Hamblin and American Abbey D’Agostino collided in the womens 5,000 metre heat that they were competing in. It could have been ugly, but instead they helped each other to their feet and kept on going, drawing the respect of officials, competitors, the media and viewers alike.

But it was another New Zealander at the end of the day who got my attention the most. It wasn’t because she won gold, or broke a world record. Eliza Mcartney is in the photo essay because have I seen such humility, grace and joy rolled into a medallist like it was McCartney after she won the bronze medal in the womens pole vault.

RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL - AUGUST 19: Eliza Mccartney of New Zealand celebrates winning bronze in the Women's Pole Vault Final on Day 14 of the Rio 2016 Olympic Games at the Olympic Stadium on August 19, 2016 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. (Photo by Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images)

Nkki and Abbey

Michael Phelps of the U.S. poses with his gold medal after winning the men's 4x100m medley relay final during the London 2012 Olympic Games at the Aquatics Centre August 4, 2012. REUTERS/Jorge Silva/File photo

Dairy intensification and fresh water quality

In 2014 for a Masters-level course at Massey University, I wrote an assignment examining dairy intensification with relation to water quality issues. The report is based on dairying in the Canterbury region using the Natural Resources Regional Plan (current at the time of the report; since superceded by the Land and Water Regional Plan). Below is an excerpt of the report, where several indicators pertaining to fresh water quality, were identified (based on N.R.R.P. Table WQL 5):

  1. Ecological Health – Ecological health measures a water way health based on the impacts of human activities and natural changes to its system (Glennie J., pers comm.). It uses such indicators as the Quantitative Macroinvertebrate Community Index (Q.M.C.I.), which scales the sensitivity of taxa to pollutants.
  2. Nutrient Indicators – Macrophytes and periphyton are key microbiological organisms which form mats of weed in rivers and can impede water flow, changing the characteristics of the aquatic life, the water way as a fishery and its aesthetic values. These require high nutrient input, which is readily available on dairy farms through cattle faeces and urine being discharged into unprotected water ways, but also from fertilizer application on land (Environment Canterbury, 2011, pp 32-34).
  3. Siltation – Siltation is a major problem in spring fed water ways, which are numerous in Canterbury. Their margins get degraded by uncontrolled cattle herds, trampling the banks, which are normally soft sediment, easily broken up by hooves and dissolved in flowing water (Environment Canterbury, 2011 pp 32-34).
  4. Micrbiological organisms – These are faecal organisms from dairy animals, that have found their way into water ways (Glennie J., pers comm.). Concentrations of these organisms affect the quality of water involuntarily ingested during recreation, and also the health of livestock that may come in contact with the water.
  5. Toxic algal growth – This particularly relates to cyanobacteria, which has been linked to dog deaths. This is most prevalent during summer when temperatures are warmer and natural flows are lower, allowing sunlight to warm the water and encourage algal growth (Environment Canterbury, 2011, pp 32-34). The growth can be exacerbated by water having phosphate and nitrogen as these are necessary for photosynthesis
  6. Fisheries – Fishing is a popular recreational past time in Canterbury where numerous fresh fishing opportunities afford themselves (Environment Canterbury, 2011, pp 32-34). Fisheries can suffer from degraded water ways if the insect life that they feed on, is depleted. If siltation is occurring it can damage spawning beds and make difficult for future generations of fish

It is only a matter of time when dairy intensification begins in places such as the Heretaunga Plains of the Hawkes Bay or the Canterbury Plains before the quality of the drinking water starts to be affected. The nutrients being washed off farms and into waterways filters into the gravels. Recharge zones such as those around west of Christchurch are particularly prone due to the high intensity of dairy herds. Last year 14 separate incidents in which the aforementioned microbiological organisms got into Christchurch drinking water were idenitified. The acceptable limit of such organisms per unit of drinking water is zero (0).


Counting the cost of the Rio Olympics

As I type this, the thousands of athletes who have lit up the world of sport over the last two weeks will be enjoying the end of the Closing Ceremony of Rio de Janeiro 2016 and the subsequent athletes mix and mingle. For some it will be the end of their careers. For others it will be “see you in four years” before which they will have a break and then start their training programmes anew. For a few in disgrace, their reputations shot it will be a time to keep a low profile.

There is no doubt that Rio has been the subject of huge controversy. From the level of crime in the host city and Brazil’s crisis of governance, to unfinished venues and polluted waterways there has been no shortage of problems attached to Rio 2016. And as the athletes begin to depart for their homelands or on to the next competition on their schedule readying the venues for the second part of the four yearly sporting spectacle is a top priority. With the Paralympics just a couple of weeks away and the associated influx of athletes with quite different logistical needs to begin in about a week, Brazil has some very immediate and potentially quite fundamental challenges to address to ensure these athletes as much get their day in the sun.

One of these challenges is simply being able to afford the Paralympics. Corruption and bad financial planning have already cost Brazil significantly at these games. An estimate that only 12% of the available tickets had been sold should be a warning sign of the problems ahead. Just as was the case with the Olympics, guaranteeing the safety of thousands of athletes, their support crews, the tens of thousands of spectators who will converge once more on the games will test Brazil’s organizational and logistical capacities.

When all is said and done and the Paralympics end in a month’s time, Brazil will have some very hard questions to ask of itself, such as where will it find the money to pay all the bills? Could it host such an event again soon? How to deal with the corruption that so nearly crashed the Games.

So too will the International Olympic Committee in trying to justify the enormously expensive and logistically nightmarish exercise that hosting an Olympics has become. Few countries can afford to host the Games, and even fewer have multiple cities capable of hosting such a huge logistical exercise that often runs a loss. And sadly for these Olympics, geopolitics reared its ugly head as it has done in the past – although New Zealand certainly was not the cause of the animosity betwween the U.S. and China/Russia in the Rio Olympics, 40 years ago African anger at New Zealand hosting white-only rugby teams led to a mass boycott by African nations at the 1976 Olympics and nearly got New Zealand thrown out of the Moscow Olympics four years later (before the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan led to a Western boycott).

Will the Olympic Committee be able to clean up its doping programme or will there be more sad cases such as that at Rio where nearly the entire Russian athletics team stayed home because of an I.O.C. ban? Thus far, there appear to have been few cases of doping at Rio. However the decision to ban the Russian athletes and not the entire Russian contingent has caused significant debate, amid allegations of a state sponsored doping programme. Numerous sports suffered from  the absence of Russian athletes, but would it have been fair to have suspected and known drugs cheats there? Of course not.

Perhaps at the end of the day it could be safely said that Brazil’s financial and legal wizards have their own Olympic Games coming up soon, and that these games will have a bigger impact on Brazil than Rio 2016. But one hopes it will be remembered for the competitors and not the politics.

Making life affordable for New Zealanders

As concerns about living standards and New Zealand’s performance in particular measures of socio-economic wellbeing grow, one of the major focuses has been on the affordability of living in New Zealand.

The “Living Wage” is described as a wage on which people should be able to afford the basic necessities of life, and participate in society with dignity. The Living Wage Movment believe that the Living Wage should be introduced immediately. Only a few businesses in New Zealand have done this, but those that have, have reported significant productivity gains, far less antagonistic behaviour among staff and much better compliance with instructions. Those business in industries with a strong customer focus indicate that customers are reporting the staff at stores they shop in to be much more friendly, happier and efficient as a result of them introducing the Living Wage.

I like the idea on the whole, but I think the targets set are unrealistic. More realistic than a rise to N.Z$19.80/hr would be a minimum wage rise to $17/hr, with a review later to see how businesses cope with the increased salary. For supermarket check out staff, many of whom are on the minimum wage, for example, this would be a total of nearly $3,400 more per annum after tax.

I favour changes to how we use G.S.T. At the moment, New Zealand has a G.S.T. of 15% across the board. When the fifth Labour Government took office in 1999 it was increased to 12.5%, and increased further to the current 15% when the current Government took office in 2008. Since then the G.S.T. paid has been the subject of much debate New Zealand First for example in 2014 had a policy of taking G.S.T. off food, at an estimated cost of N.Z.$3 billion. My own preference is to remove it from fruit and vegetables, thereby encouraging a healthier lifestyle.

A third measure I support is aimed at making rental accommodation affordable. This is to prevent people who are not permanent residents or citizens from owning property in New Zealand. Much of the heat in the property market is caused by speculation and the purchase of properties by non-New Zealanders who are seeking to put some of their finances into an asset offshore in case the market in their country of origin runs into trouble. It should not be for example that a teacher in Auckland is forced to move somewhere else because she/he cannot afford the rent.

These measures I believe will help to make New Zealand a more affordable place for New Zealanders. A nation only functions properly when its citizens can afford to live there with dignity and contribute positively to its society because of it.


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