The looming teacher mega strike

So, it is finally here. On Wednesday teachers and principals across the primary and secondary education sectors will come together for a mega strike. This will be a strike on a size not seen before in New Zealand and which points to grave issues across the broader pre-tertiary education system.

I will not comment on the reasons for the strike as I have addressed these in prior articles, and I have little more to add. What I will say however is that it might be fortuitous for the Government that both the primary and the secondary education sectors are striking simultaneously. It could be seen through opportunistic eyes as an opportunity to talk about the expectations that the two sectors have of each other when dealing with Year 8 students that are about to make the transition from intermediate to high school. Is this even something that they discuss?

It is about time though that the community gets real as to what we realistically expect of teachers, and what teachers can realistically expect of students and their parents. At times I wonder whether some sort of contract between the parents of the student and the school about common expectations other than having a willingness to learn and behave properly. Except it really should not have to be coming to this.

In low socio-economic areas, I can understand that parents/caregivers might struggle to provide things such as breakfast to ensure the child starts that school day on a full stomach. I can understand it if sometimes stationery or uniforms are hard to afford – when I was at school it was pens, pencils, exercise books, rulers and rubbers, and most other stuff was extra. Now it is electronic devices. Across the course of the school year we had to pay up for the annual class camp, and a couple of school trips such as to see a production of The Nutcracker (which I did in Primary School), or go to Science Alive (an interactive place where children and adults could learn about science), the Antarctic Centre or Orana Park Wildlife Refuge.

Given the relative lack of change in incomes in the last two decades it makes me wonder how much a parent on a 1995 income could afford now in terms of kitting out their son/daughter for school – a time when a pie and Coke from the tuck shop cost not more than $3.50. It also makes me wonder how much of what we require for our children’s education is really necessary, whether there is not some better way of teaching with less material.

But how much can the school realistically provide? How much SHOULD the school realistically provide? There comes a point where the school knows its budget simply will not stretch any further and that if it does somehow manage to find a few more dollars, they will be in high demand for other uses.

The looming mega strike will be largely about pay and conditions, but I am sure that on Wednesday when the strike happens we will see that the teachers have other issues in tow as well.



Cannabis reform coming – But is it enough?

Reform of the laws around the use of cannabis is coming to New Zealand. Minister of Justice Andrew Little has announced there will be a referendum in which people will be asked a simple yes/no question about the legalization of cannabis in New Zealand.

I support reform for a range of reasons. New Zealand society sees and deals with the effects of cannabinoids every day. New Zealand Police see and deal with the aftermath of cannabinoid related emergencies each day as do the emergency departments at our hospitals. An unknown number of families are despairing as they watch loved ones become consumed by the effects of synthetic cannabis, which is many times more powerful than ordinary cannabis.

I wonder what the socio-economic cost would be if someone tried to add up the money spent on rehabilitation, Police and hospital time and resources, the cost to individual families and finally to the public at large – in a twelve month period in Auckland alone St. John Ambulance was averaging 20 synthetic cannabis related call outs a day.

At one end of the spectrum, I hope to see cannabinoids:

  • Legalized for medicinal purposes
  • Of the synthetic ban them completely
  • Restricted to age 21
  • Subject to strict controls on nationwide cultivation of it

However cannabis is only part of the problem. Much worse drugs are making their way into the market both in New Zealand and abroad. In the United States, fentanyl is currently the drug causing alarm bells to go off, as part of an opioid epidemic. As I see it unless we address these other drugs as part of a comprehensive plan involving both the authorities  and communities, there will not be a meaningful gain in terms of reduction of harm.

At the other end of the spectrum, there needs to be a quite different response:

  • Dealers, importers and cooks of methamphetamines, cocaine, heroin and so forth should have all assets and money illegally made from the business confiscated and the proceeds put forward for rehabilitating addicts
  • Aforementioned dealers, importers and cooks be given 20 year starting sentences
  • A nation wide drug education programme that everyone must go through at high school
  • Have fentanyl classified as a licenced GP administered drug only to reduce availability and prevent abuse of it

In terms of communities, people in New Zealand need to step up with perhaps a confidential line that people can call if they have concerns about someone’s drug use. It would be monitored by the Police and give people a way of ensuring no harm is done whilst at the same time making sure they are not harmed themselves. Community leaders need to work with the Police and start having regular meetings, work out a strategy and integrate it with other local communities.

Because the results of failing to do so can be in clips on Youtube and having viewed a couple, I can say right now they are NOT General Audience viewing.


Teacher’s mega strike about more than money

It seems inevitable. A massive – this one possibly one of the largest in N.Z. history – teachers/principals strike is now nearly certain. With the territory comes the accusations that teachers are simply being greedy and wanting all the money they can get. What many people seem to forget is that the strikes have not been entirely about getting a bigger wages, or more money. Often the strikes are about things such as:

  • working conditions
  • how streamlined the bureaucracy is
  • special needs students
  • managing troublesome or otherwise problematic students

The first problem is the environment in which our teachers work. Working conditions are often the biggest gripe after pay. Not being a teacher, but knowing several in the profession I am guessing that on top of the teaching day there is 2-3 hours preparatory time of teaching material, paper work and marking assessments. My guess is that whilst a school teacher might have a teaching day from 0830 to 1500 hours, the above mean that they are not really finished for the day until 1800 hours at night where upon they have time for dinner, maybe 2 hours relaxation before it is time to clean up and go to bed.

The second issue is bureaucracy. It is a word we hear all the time. It is the state officialdom that takes the every day operating decisions out of the hands of elected officials and put them in the hands of regular civilians. In the New Zealand education system it is agencies such as the New Zealand Qualifications Authority, the Ministry of Education and so forth who are responsible for administering the education through the Tomorrow’s Schools framework, the assessment regimes, making sure New Zealand is compliant with its international obligations, among other things.

New Zealand teachers have a huge workload. I described an average day very briefly above, but what I did not mention was the challenges that bureaucracy pose. Getting to know each student, their characteristics, learning interests and any special needs are just part of it. Obtaining approval for activities, special needs support staff, resourcing among other things are just a small range. I am talking about all levels of bureaucracy right down from the Ministry to internal administrative needs at each school.

The third issue is special needs students who, through no fault of their own, pose particular challenges. Integrating one into a class room setting sometimes works well, but other times can be a complete disaster. How a student with particular conditions such as autism are mentally wired can be quite contrary to how they would be expected to function. Would they and their classmates be safe? How would they react in an emergency? What help would they need and who could supply it? These and a huge range of other questions all come up.

When I was a student I had speech impairment and hearing loss. I had hand to eye co-ordination issues. The speech impairment is pretty well gone, and the hand to eye co-ordination is pretty good, but I am still hearing impaired. I still come across as different, even though I hold down a full time job, have a social life, participate in human rights activism and can travel on my own overseas. So, how a developmentally impaired student worse than myself will cope in a system that is very different from the one that assisted me will be interesting to see.

The fourth and final issue I see is how to manage disruptive students. Some of the answers are glaringly obvious and are just waiting for the right trigger to become something that can be implemented. Many children for example come to school on an empty stomach, not having had breakfast. Right before the school day even starts, there is a certainty of some disruption – the causes of the lack of breakfast could be many:

  • No money for breakfast
  • Dysfunctional family where properly feeding the children is not a priority
  • A time poor house where parents both work long hours

It could simply be that the child has learning or behavioural issues that are fuelled by a toxic family environment – violence, excessive drinking, anti social or otherwise inappropriate behaviour. These two causes and others can lead to any range of problems – fights, wilful damage of property, assault, bullying and so on. And a failure to arrest the problem in its early stages will teach the child that this is okay conduct. The teacher has limited options for dealing with it. And they run the risk of being groped, spat on, assaulted as well, which only serves to worsen the situation.

So, whilst sad I am that it is has come to this, the demands we place on a teacher these days are massive. They are often made to be a whole range of things that they are simply not trained to deal with. When will we step up and accept that teachers are overworked and sometimes work in a horrible environment?

Ministry of Education, Schools missing point of climate strike

On Friday 15 March 2019, in a westward rippling wave across the world, students will strike for the climate. In action possibly inspired by a Swedish schoolgirl, Greta Thunberg going to Davos to lecture political leaders about the effects of climate change on her generation, possibly hundreds of thousands of students around the world are going to strike. Their target: the politicians who hold the power and the means to address climate change.

It is important to understand before I delve into the depth of this article that I am not necessarily condoning the strike action itself. I am acknowledging the fact that one cannot really expect students to just shut, roll over and pretend there is not a problem, when it is their generation that will have to deal with the consequences in whatever form they come.

Of course there will be a few students who, not being socially minded, will think that it is an opportunity for a day off. That is not the case.

Schools, expected to be the most in tune with the sentiments of their students, are surprisingly out of touch as to the larger objective that the students are trying to achieve here. Far from expecting to have an impact on the actual carbon footprint, which schools seem to think is their aim, the idea is to make politicians stop and think about why they have elected to mass boycott classes.

One grave mistake we make with students is that they are do not understand these problems, or that they should leave “adult issues” to adults to sort out. But when the adults are visibly fiddling around the edges whilst more and more evidence of a major environmental emergency emerge at an alarming frequency, it is folly to expect students and young people not to notice. It is almost as if we think their eyes, their ears and their brains operate on a different wave length. In that context I like to think of it as a radio in the pre-digital days where one had to turn the dial ever so slightly to make sure that the needle picked up the channel, and that the students dial is set to a point on the edge of the channel – with a lot of static around it.

So, when I think about it like that, I am only all the more surprised then that these same schools are not rushing to to look at ways that they can try to reach some sort of accommodation with the students. It is obvious that this is a well advanced plan and that come Friday some sort of disruption is going to take place irrespective of how many schools are on board, on the fence, or threatening to dish out disciplinary action.

I am surprised that there does not appear to have been some sort of communication between school boards, the Ministry of Education and activist groups assisting the students with their big protest.

As for the political parties, National and A.C.T., aside from not seriously being concerned about climate change, would much rather this happened on a strike day so that it can be drowned out by the sound of striking teachers and forgotten about. New Zealand First probably wants them to stay in school, though I think it can see why they are getting uppity about it. Any support will come from Labour and the Greens, with reservations – despite agreeing that climate change will be the problem of the protesting students, they will not want to be seen encouraging mass bunking of classes.

But something is going to happen on Friday, schools or no schools; political parties or no political parties. They better start talking because I have a feeling it is too late to stop; probably too late to isolate to just a few schools and possibly too late to even slow the momentum down. Such is the level of concern. Such is Strike for Climate, Friday 15 March 2019.

Strike 4 Climate student protest not a joke

When Swedish school girl activist Greta Thunberg faced down politicians of all stripes at Davos, Switzerland at their annual economic forum, many politicians thought she was just a lone student gone rogue. They thought that high school students were disinterested in the world around them, disinterested in politics. A lesson is coming for them.

Now we are seeing the birth pangs of the next generation of activists. And what birth pangs they are. On 15 March 2019, a world first will happen. School students all around the world will go on strike by refusing to attend school, arguing what the point is when catastrophic climate change threatens to leave them without a future in which they could use their education. Two decades ago organizing a world wide student protest would have been impossible and principals would have shut it down before any cohesion could be gained. A decade ago when the Fifth Labour Government was in office and teachers went on strike, the strikes lasted long enough that students were able to co-ordinate a limited counter strike to protest the continuing disruption to their education.

But this is quite different, and an order of magnitude more impressive, as well as concerning – and encouraging. In terms of being different, this about students lives after they leave high schools and the future of the planet we all live on. This is a global emergency they claim and politicians are not doing enough to respond.

And there is a ground swell of support across the education sector, ranging from researchers, to teachers, principals, lecturers and more who have all signed a petition to Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern.

Not all are in support of this action. National and A.C.T. Members of Parliament think they should wait until the teachers strike on 03 April – which I think is their way of wanting the coverage likely to be generated to be buried by a bigger news item. Many of the same Members of Parliament claim it is a serious issue, yet none have offered alternative ideas about how to deal with this and it kind of puts a question mark on their sense of urgency.

Labour and Green Party Members of Parliament like the idea behind the protest, but are reluctant to be seen endorsing massive student strike action that involves disruption to learning. But as youth are beginning to realise that it is this Government or the next which must try to make serious policy in roads into tackling climate change, it is important to note that they cannot afford to be seen as too distant either.

I am not sure where New Zealand First sit on this. It is an issue that the party did not seem to know which direction it wanted to go in, whilst I was a member. Many members are from rural backgrounds or are socially conservative and would frown upon this action. However in order to maintain a connection that it has been trying to build up for years with youth, I cannot imagine it condemning it in the way National and A.C.T. are.

And how many schools will participate? Some schools might be quite happy in controlled circumstances to permit a strike to go ahead and use it as an educational opportunity. There will be some schools that are there in spirit, but which insist on students attending classes in return for assisting with actions on school grounds such as letter writing, or petitions or perhaps showing The Day After Tomorrow. And then there will be a few schools that do not want a bar of it, and will make their students have a normal Friday of classes.