Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Educating National

We all have differing views about the role that Government is meant to play in society. My personal opinion is that at the bare minimum it is there to make sure that education and health services are provided as a public good - you can't, after all, have a thriving country if its population isn't educated and healthy.

However, National apparently doesn't share that view. In its one and a bit terms in parliament it has limited places within tertiary education (and not only that, did so during a recession when the number of jobs available decreased), has ended universal student membership thereby putting student services in danger, and has linked a percentage of funding to course completion rates (on institutions now, and potentially on the teachers themselves in future), which potentially puts pressure on institutions to dumb down courses or to pass individuals that may not be deserving.

Then there's charter schools. Research indicates they can sometimes work well with the proviso that they are set up in affluent areas. Where are we going to be placing them? In low-socio economic areas, the government casting off the children of the poor and letting private interests shape their educations and their futures. History repeats, we've done this already back in our dark dim past where church groups formed schools that were little more than thinly veiled places for training servants. Maybe we're resurrecting this after the success of Downton Abbey?

The latest insult to injury is of course student allowances and loans. The well off do not have access to allowances (unless they have a good accountant on hand) and do not have need of loans. Loans are instead there to enable the children of middle and working class families the opportunity to attend further education on a buy now, pay later basis. Many of these students are going to graduate into entry level jobs in a workforce where jobs are no longer plentiful and where our minimum wage is pitiful. They're going to also enter a housing market where house prices and rents are crippling high - some of the highest in the world in relation to income. Now that National is going to be raising the repayment threshold on loans, essentially bolstering revenue lost when they gave tax cuts to the rich, there is going to be even less money to not only for them to survive on, but also to spend within the local economy. Plus even with interest on loans it may be more economical to find work overseas so we can wave goodbye to three plus years of investment. Everyone potentially loses.

The rhetoric from National is telling. Education has become strictly about the money. Key talks about changes to education as about getting better value for taxpayers. We do get value, by dint of the fact that we get educated people out of it. It's about investing in our fellow citizens for the betterment of all, but with such a narrow focus on neo-liberal ideas of the individual in fashion I suppose that would almost sound like communism these days.

John Key got where he is today in part because a society invested in his family by providing state housing, a benefit, and a free education, no loans attached. I have nothing but contempt for politicians that wish to dismantle the very institutions that allowed them to succeed. It's nothing more than shameful.

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