Make addressing violent crime a priority


So, another dairy has been robbed. An occurrence happening all too frequently the length and breadth of New Zealand with the perpetrators getting away just as frequently.

But the worst part of this horror show is the courts. Soft as butter judges playing namby pamby games with peoples lives and livelihoods. The conservative parts of society might call for a return to the gravel pits for such offenders, but this fails to address the core societal issues that are leading to these horrendous crimes in the first place. By this I am talking about the lack of role models in their lives and the presence of drugs; their failure in the school system and a lack of a job.

But at the same time the courts have a job to do and they are failing at it in an abject way. It is almost like in some cases the judges do not care any more. I find it hard to believe that human rights laws for children have advanced to the degree that some say they have and that as a result the judges somehow have their hands tied.

I wonder if part of the justice process, a judge has ever asked an offender what their ambitions in life are. I am certainly not suggesting showing sympathy, but almost none of these offenders have probably thought about where they want to go in life. Maybe – I could be totally wrong, but just assume for a moment I am not – they simply need someone in a position of authority to show them right from wrong. If they don’t care, then that is a different story.

So, what are some of the steps that need to be taken? Several steps:

  • For starters I think Civics/Legal Studies needs to be compulsory in Year 12. Students need to know how the law works because at some point they are going to have to deal with it, so they better learn.
  • A youth policing section needs to be established so that young people learn to work with the police and see that they will only be in their lives if they commit crime or are the victims of crime
  • Synthetic cannabis needs to be banned immediately and all shops given one weeks grace to hand over their stock – all in possession of it should be given an equally short grace period to hand over their private stock
  • Small amounts of cannabis should be decriminalized – police are wasting their time and resources dealing with anything under say 5 grams
  • Importers/dealers and manufacturers of illegal substances should have a 10 year starting jail sentence plus anything purchased using the profits of their criminal activity should be seized and sold – money raised goes to funding drug treatment; non New Zealanders should be deported and permanently barred from reentering

But none of this will work if there is not a co-ordinated approach involving the co-operation of the Ministry of Justice, the Ministry of Social Welfare and the Ministry of Education.

If a rise in tax is necessary to fund this, do it. Done properly, it will pay for itself in time.

Guns in schools in the gun


Recently there was an uproar after the Army visited a primary school with semi automatic weapons. They were there to show the children how to use the guns safely. Minister of Education Nikki Kaye was horrified, as were parents and politicians alike. But in the midst of the uproar, during which it was suggested that schools might not be permitted to have guns, we seem to have been overtaken by a bout of knee jerk reactionism.

I support high schools having rifle clubs. I was in the Burnside High School Rifle Club in 1998 and 1999. I thoroughly enjoyed the opportunities for competitive shooting and in my second year in the club I was one of the better male shooters with an aggregate (the sum of your three best scores)of 275.9. The purpose of the club, whilst encouraging competitive shooting was also to provide a safe environment in which students could safely learn how to handle small arms – .22 calibre rifles in this case. Each student had to take home a permission request to let them participate and return it with the signature of a parent or caregiver on it. They also had to provide $1 at the start of each session to cover the cost of ammunition.

The Burnside High School rifle range was built under one of the two gymnasiums under the school ground. It was a standard length range and had resting pads for four people at a time. Behind each target was a drop zone for the expended rounds to land in. The two teachers running the club were licensed firearm holders and showed us their licenses on day one. The same first day was a demonstration day where the teachers would show us how to set up the range, go over procedures for firing. The procedure:

  1. Upon setting the range and issuing the shooters with their ammunition the supervising teacher would instruct them to lay their guns down with the breaches open
  2. Once satisfied, he would tell them to get into position, put on ear muffs
  3. They would be told to wait until he gave the order “Load Gun”
  4. Take aim at their centre target
  5. Fire
  6. The teacher would sight the individual centre targets and tell them where in relation to the centre of the target they were
  7. Upon that, they shooters could commence shooting the remaining ten targets on the sheet
  8. Upon finish, the shooter will call out “FINISHED” and lay their gun down with the breach visibly open
  9. When all have called FINISHED the teacher will say GUNS DOWN, CEASE FIRE
  10. Shooters collect targets for checking

There was a competition that high school rifle clubs participated in, called the Winchester Postal Shoot. The best marks from each high school (where students scored 90.0 or more in a shooting session)would be sent away and collated. The Rifle Club also had an award handed out in the Burnside High School sports awards each year for the male and female shooters with the highest aggregate (often in the high 280-290 range out of a possible 300.30).

I can understand the concern about guns being shown to children in primary school. The intentions of the Army were good – there is no doubt about that, but the target audience was very poorly chosen. It is a different story with high schools though. Given that this was highly successful and enabled students to learn how to something that otherwise they might not have had the chance, I am totally against guns being taken out of high schools.

 

Another Government payroll bungle


So, another Government Ministry is having trouble with the human resource computer systems being used to pay their staff. In reflecting on this I seem to recall a certain Mr Steven Joyce being wheeled in by a panicky Ministry of Education not so many years ago to fix problems with an errant system called Novapay.

Novapay was a system designed by Talent2 which was rolled out to high school and primary schools as a new software system for paying teachers. It was a disaster. It took two years for the mistakes to be fixed, and only were in the 2014 election year, when the Government announced it would take over running Novapay under a Government entity. That was nearly 20 months ago.

Granted 2016 is still a year away from election year 2017, a Government that has a flag fiasco, growing unrest over the Trans Pacific Partnership Agreement, a sick dairy industry and – most troubling – Opposition parties finally starting to show some life does not need a new problem with payroll technology. And so, it is surprising on one hand for a Government that seems to be like a duck with water running off its back, that the Ministry of Business Innovation and Employment is keeping quiet on who supplied the payroll system.

I always have a stock idea that I like to roll out in situations like this: if the Ministry in charge will not be honest about who supplied them the system, either come clean or have your most senior staff subject to it, including the Minister in charge. In the interim, perhaps it might not be such a bad idea to do an Official Information Act request on the issue. The Minister has 20 working days from receipt of the request to respond and must do so unless such grounds as trade secrets or commercial confidentiality are likely to be breached.

Novapay caused significant and quite drawn out consequences for individual teachers whose pay was affected. Some could not pay their bills on time, or had trouble putting food on the table and had to ask for assistance from the bank. Some could not fund important items for their children. Many suffered significant stress and although it has not been widely mentioned, at least a few would have had short term health problems related to the stress. All because an inept system took nearly two years to be fixed by the Government.

I wonder how long the Ministry of Business Innovation and Employment will play Mum on this?

 

Does the education curriculum need an overhaul?


There are days when I wonder how the New Zealand education curriculum got to its current state. In an age of computers and digital communications, how are we delivering basic curriculum content to our students and are the delivery methods appropriate?

When I was taught English at school, there were parts of the syllabus that were frankly mystifying. As someone who was then planning to make a career in volcanology, how was Shakespeare going to help me? I think report writing would have been more useful. As such a broad subject (film, literature, structural English). Although I did definitely learn a lot, I wonder how many people today would know what an acronym, a synonym or things like proverbs, and adverbs are. Credit to them, but sadly for New Zealanders and our education I know people from European countries where English is not their native language and yet they speak and write it better than many New Zealanders.

I mentioned the problems afflicting science yesterday, but it is worth pointing out that perhaps in addition to chemistry, biology and physics teachers having a few in earth sciences might not go astray either. Generally the curriculum of science – if the bulk of it is still structured around these three core subject areas – is fine, but the delivery in terms of assessment, along with the “War on Science” is crippling it as a teaching discipline. I don’t expect that anyone will have been able to mix Rubidium or Caesium with water, but this area more than any other needs decent practical assessments.

I think though that everyone should do Legal Studies, or some other law-based subject matter introducing them to how the legal system works, the components of it such as the Courts, the Police, Corrections and so forth. It should include a segment on how Parliament works, ones human and civil rights as well as their responsibilities before the law. People might argue that it is inappropriate to introduce students to politics. I would counter argue that it is even more inappropriate for them to not know how the legal system, its components and functions work and their rights and responsibilities before it.

For me Social Studies was probably my favourite compulsory course. I did okay in most of the others, but looking at geography, society and what was happening around the world at the time I found fascinating. Whether it was looking at how indigenous peoples live or following politics in New Zealand I was for the most part hooked. In saying that I believe by the time everyone finishes Year 10, they should be able to name all of New Zealand’s major mountains, at least some of the major rivers and lakes, all the major towns and cities and show where they are on a map – the number of people who cannot is shocking.

And then there is Maths. A subject I was excelling at at Primary School until I had a catastrophic Maths teacher in 1988 who completely – and possibly permanently – inverted my whole understanding of it. After that it was without doubt my least favourite subject, and one that I have not achieved School Certificate/Year 11 for. Perhaps that makes me not qualified to comment, but I would like to say that I noted in 1988 that we would be given a pile of little plastic pieces – a mix of sticks and little cubes. One cube equalled 1. A stick equalled 10. We were supposed to show a number using them. So, 18 would be one stick and eight cubes. How maths gets taught now I do not know, but I hope that the working still has to be shown on paper before it can be done on computers.

If you, the reader knows anyone in the teaching profession, ask them to have a look at this and find out what they think.

National’s education policy II: The Rest of New Zealand


Whilst there has been a lot of attention focussed on Christchurch and its struggles in a post-earthquake environment to find normality in an educational sense, it is worthwhile exploring how other schools around New Zealand have coped since National came to office in 2008.

When National took office, there were mixed feelings about what would happen. I personally was ambivalent, having seen some good stuff happen under the Labour Government of Helen Clark, but also some very disappointing policy changes. Though the rise of their support party A.C.T. and its desire to see charter schools similar to those in the U.S. be developed acted as a sort of distant red flag, I wonder now if it was a cunning foil to the fact that a novice Member of Parliament Anne Tolley had been handed a ministerial portfolio that is one of the most sought after that a Government could offer: Education.

In hindsight it should have been a red warning light flashing. Ms Tolley was quick to stamp her mark in a way that exuded negativity. Within weeks, she was talking about removing funding from night school classes, saying that they were just hobby classes, and ignoring the fact that many of them taught valuable skills such as accounting, website design, and home economics.

As a novice Minister she made an easy target for the Opposition who quickly managed to score some hits. It was perhaps because of this, she was moved onto other policy areas after one year, and Hekia Parata made Minister of Education. Ms Parata quickly pressed ahead with plans for the first charter schools, and introduction of National Standards. Brushing off controversy about comments over large classroom rolls, she also managed to survive the fallout from trying to close a Nelson school for disabled/special needs girls who were deemed unable to cope in mainstream classroom environments.

One issue where Ms Parata is suffering on performance is the Charter Schools where the first closures as a result of foreseen incompetence by school management have started to surface. These are schools where funding for public schools is being diverted to a school often with no set curriculum and whose teachers may not have been vetted.

The ongoing saga of the Christchurch schools post quake is discussed in the previous post, but it would be worthwhile pointing out that Ms Parata has relented as a result of several challenges to allowing schools threatened with closure to stay open. Not all have been successful and her decision on Redcliffs Primary School is the cause of an appeal.

As easy as it is to blame the current Government for everything, the problems in the New Zealand education system were around before John Key was elected Prime Minister. I have major problems that started to form under Labour Government of Ms Clark, but which have since escalated, with the direction of New Zealand education. I never supported the National Certificate for Educational Achievement. Although I think ideally it should be replaced outright, I accept that it would cause widespread disruption in the education system, and thus believe an acceptable alternative would be to refocus it on trade courses and leave traditional subjects to a graded regime.

One can therefore conclude that although these problems might have started with Labour, said party has been out of office for 7 years now, and it is time for National to accept that it has done little better.