4.  New Zealand today — Aotearoa i tenei rā

The information for this section comes from the Action Plan consultation and from comments on the Commission's Right to Education , He Tapapa Matauranga discussion document (2003a). It is organised according to Katarina Toma s evski 's four broad standards and the Right to Education Framework He Tapapa Matauranga (see p.2).

Availability

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Availability of educational opportunities

No child is denied primary or secondary schooling in New Zealand because of insufficient places or not enough trained and qualified teachers.

Consultation participants commented positively about certain Government funding policies, particularly the Ministry of Education 's (MoE) work on Maori issues and on the provision of and support for a variety of educational opportunities. Examples given included co-educational or single-sex schools, kura kaupapa Maori, correspondence school, distance learning and home schooling.

The establishment of a number of schools for young parents was also seen as a positive development. [8] The demand for these schools was reported as exceeding their availability.[9]

There was criticism that current funding policies limit the degree of choice. While the Private Schools Conditional Integration Act 1975 provides for choice within the state system, there is debate about the extent of the State's role in support for choice outside of that context, and about the balance between wider choice and guaranteeing access to a neighbourhood school through zoning.

Availability of skilled and qualified educators

Consultation participants described teaching and teacher training as generally of a high standard in New Zealand schools. Teachers, they reported, have good communication skills, and use effective teaching methods that are able to cater for different learning styles. Contributing to the standard of teaching in New Zealand is the teacher registration system introduced in 1990 and made compulsory in 1996. This system aims to ensure a minimum standard for all teachers entering the general education system at early childhood, primary and secondary levels. The New Zealand Teachers Council was created under the Education Standards Act 2001, and carries out the provisions of the Education Act 1989 relating to registration.

However, participants also reported a shortage of teachers trained in special education, Maori and Pacific languages and cultures, and expressed concern that there is insufficient workforce planning for the staffing of kohanga reo and kura kaupapa. [10] Concern was also expressed about the lack of male teachers (particularly at primary level) and about the number of overseas teachers who were perceived to be unfamiliar with the curriculum.

The Ministry of Education's Monitoring Teacher Supply survey (2004a) reported that 39 percent of secondary schools had vacancies at the beginning of the school year (a decrease on the previous year), while vacancies in primary schools were at 11 percent. As in previous surveys, vacancies and re-advertised vacancies were greatest in schools that had the largest concentrations of Maori students, those in lower socio-economic areas (d eciles 1-3) and those in rural areas.

Ministry initiatives aimed at increasing teacher supply include the offering of Maori, Pacific and rural scholarships. One of the aims of Nga Huarahi Arataki: Pathways to the Future [11] is to increase the number of qualified early childhood educators, particularly Maori and Pacific peoples.

Reasons for teacher shortages vary. The MoE suggests that the increase in teacher vacancies is consistent with roll growth due to a population bulge. Other commentators suggest that pay structure for teachers, pay disputes, an ageing workforce and problems with new qualifications contribute to current teacher shortages.

Accessibility

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There is no mechanism to monitor the number of young people from five to 14 years of age who are not engaged in education. Informal estimates indicate that this number could be between 2,000 and 4,000. In an address to the 2004 Youth Justice Conference, Judge Andrew Beecroft highlighted a number of issues relating to access and participation. These issues included the lack of a national database to establish the extent of non-enrolments; the number of suspensions and exclusions; and the incidence of transience and truancy. He found that 80 percent of offenders appearing in the Youth Court did not attend school.

Within the 15- to 19-year age range, student retention rates at July 2003 showed 82.9 percent of 16-year-olds, 58 percent of 17-year-olds and 13 percent of 18-year-olds (MoE, 2004b).

Cost of education

The compulsory sector

The Education Act 1989 stipulates that every person who is not a foreign student or attending a private or integrated school is entitled to free enrolment and free education at any state school from the ages of five to 19. That is, state schools may not charge fees. Payments or school donations requested by state primary, intermediate and high schools are by law a voluntary donation to provide services beyond those paid for by government funding. A survey of Auckland schools at the beginning of 2004 showed that the amount suggested to families for an annual donation ranges from $40 to $300 per student, with the most common figure being around $150.

Participants and those who made submissions to the Right to Education He Tapapa Matauranga discussion document were concerned that, although primary and secondary education is free, parents are required to pay too much to give their children full access. In addition to school donations, families are expected to pay for uniforms, stationery, course-related materials, school camps and adequate equipment and clothing to take on camp. Poorer children were identified as particularly disadvantaged in that they are deprived of school trips and activities. In an attempt to address this issue, Work and Income provides a Special Needs Grant that offers one-off recoverable financial assistance for s chool exam fees, school stationery and school uniforms.

A further and increasing cost facing families and schools is related to participation in digital technology, a problem that is exacerbated for low-income households. The MoE's strategy Digital Horizons , introduced in June 2002, aims to fully integrate information and communications technology (ICT) into the curriculum. This strategy envisions that 'all learners will use ICT confidently and creatively to help develop the skills and knowledge they need to achieve personal goals and to be full participants in the global community' (MoE, 2003b; 2003c). Disturbingly, however, Statistics New Zealand data (2004) show that some households are less likely to be connected to the Internet than others. At the time of the 2001 census, 63 percent of New Zealand households and 50 percent of household with two or more children under 15 did not have access to the Internet. Projects such as Recycled computers - Learning Power (CAN Trust) and Computers in Homes (2020 Communications Trust) in partnership with the MoE aim to bridge the access gap for students, families and communities of low-decile schools. It remains to be seen whether projects such as these are sufficient to diminish the 'digital divide'.

The tertiary sector

There is provision for income-tested student allowances and for subsidies on tuition fees.

A Tertiary Student Loan Scheme was established in 1992. The scheme enables those eligible to apply for a loan from the Government to pay for tertiary tuition and related costs. The scheme has provoked considerable public debate, especially over the inequities inherent in repayment, the negative social impacts of student debt, and the loss of students to higher-paying positions overseas.

Although consultation participants thought that the Student Loan Scheme enabled greater access to tertiary education, they were also concerned about the increasing national level of student debt. [12] They considered that reduced ability to repay the loan by women, disabled people, or others who go on to low-paying jobs meant that the scheme was inequitable.

The New Zealand University Students' Association (NZUSA) has lodged a complaint with the Human Rights Commission claiming that, because women take nearly twice as long as men on average to repay their loans, earn less than men, and take time out of the workforce to have and care for children, they pay more for qualifications through increased interest payments. NZUSA estimates that the average woman pays nearly 20 percent more for a bachelor's degree than the average man (2003). The Ministry's initial response to this complaint is that the current student loan scheme does not discriminate against women. Data collected for the Student Loan Scheme Annual Report (MoE, 2003d) reveals that male and 'New Zealand European' borrowers have shorter repayment times due to higher income projections.

In recognition of the concern surrounding the Student Loans Scheme, the Government initiated a select committee inquiry in 2000. The select committee concluded that 'a significant, extensive and high-quality research programme into tertiary education resourcing was to be conducted as a matter of priority by all relevant government agencies' ( Select Committee Inquiry into Student Loans , NZ Government, 2001).

Participants were generally positive about special measures (such as scholarships and quota systems) that aim to assist under-represented groups to access specific education areas.

Inequitable access and participation

Participants noted that access to education varied across differing sectors.

They noted that children and adults in rural areas and those with disabilities and learning difficulties had difficulty accessing educational opportunities. [13] Several commented that rural schools were under-resourced and were concerned about Government moves to close some rural schools. [14]

Zoning, and the restrictions that some schools place on access, were of concern to some. The government-funded school bus service was seen as an important means of physical access to school, but it was also criticised for not transporting children to schools of choice.

New Zealand has a general reservation to the UNCROC that reserves the right to distinguish between persons according to the nature of their status in New Zealand. Pacific educators at the 2003 Pacific Educators Conference highlighted their concern about children whose parents have overstayed their entry visa and who may not be receiving early childhood, primary or secondary education. [15] The Government is currently assessing the feasibility of removing this reservation.

Concern about the welfare of international students in schools, tertiary institutions and in the community, with particular regard to accommodation, has resulted in the development of an International Students Code of Practice (ISCoP).[16] The Code also establishes the International Education Appeal Authority and a Review Panel to receive and adjudicate student complaints.

Despite the increase in enrolments of Maori, Pacific peoples and disabled people in the non-compulsory sectors over the past decade, participation data continue to reveal that under-representation of these groups persists. Those who are geographically isolated and those from low socio-economic backgrounds also figure in low participation rates. In response, the Government has introduced initiatives such as t he New Zealand Disability Strategy , the Code of Practice for New Zealand Tertiary Institutions and Nga Huarahi Arataki: Pathways to the Future (for the early childhood sector).

Transition

Participants thought that better transition was needed between primary, intermediate and secondary schools. They also commented about the lack of service integration between school and tertiary institutions. Participants wanted tertiary institutions to provide better access to vocational training for school leavers and to cater more for 'non-academics'. A number considered that education at school needed to be better oriented towards employment and the expectations of the labour market.

It was noted that the Ministry of Education (MoE) has initiated a study to examine how students cope during and after transition between Year 8 and Year 9.

Stand-downs, suspensions, exclusions and expulsions[17]

Article 28 of UNCROC requires States to take measures to encourage regular attendance at schools and the reduction of drop-out rates (Article 1(e)). However, removing a student from school by stand-down, suspension, exclusion or expulsion is one way that schools manage student behaviour. Several groups expressed their concern that through the suspension, exclusion and expulsion process students were losing their right to education (ACYA, QPEC, Wellington Community Law Centre).

The Ministry of Education has introduced intervention and monitoring programmes to reduce suspensions and stand-downs in secondary schools, such as the Suspension Reduction Initiative (SRI) in 2001, which was established to address the high proportion of Māori suspensions in secondary schools. The SRI involves 86 schools that have a history of high suspensions of Māori students. The Stand-downs, Suspensions, Exclusions and Expulsions Report (MoE, 2003e) shows that, while stand-down cases increased by 1,946 between 2002 and 2003, suspensions dropped by 50 for the same period of the SRI (MoE, 2004b).

Both the Office of the Children's Commissioner and the Human Rights Commission receive complaints from children or their parents and caregivers relating to the right to education. In both cases, these fall into two main categories - removal of students from schools and problems faced by disabled children.

While the most recent reports show that overall percentages of students being stood down and suspended are leveling off, boys and Maori students continue to be over-represented. The predominant group of students being stood down and suspended were 14-year-old Maori males. The schools with the highest stand-down and suspension rates were rated decile 1 to decile 5 (MoE, 2003e; 2004c).