Reversing the message that school attendance is not important

School attendance

We’re doing a lot of talking right now regarding education.

But we are forgetting something that goes beyond talking and demands action – the rangatahi at the heart of our education system.

Our young people have, for the last few years, experienced the unprecedented nature of a pandemic – lockdowns with education being dished out to varying standards via Zoom and Teams.

As adults, we need to acknowledge that we’re failing the next generation.

We need to act and reverse the message that being at school just isn’t important.

We know there is a strong correlation between attendance and achievement.

We are now in our fourth year of accepting and sending regular messages that days spent at school are not important. A habit that started with Covid, continuing today as the new norm.

Auckland schools once again started the school year with a “please close for a week notice” from the Wellington-based head office.

When it rains, we see schools rapidly put on alert to shut schools and send students home.

And now they’re faced with more disruption from strike action and work-to-rule restrictions, as teachers demonstrate frustration with their ministry.

This industrial action, compounded with schools not having the resources to operate sees whole year groups rostered home, and curriculum-based activities and events cancelled.

No wonder rangatahi are not turning up.

No-one is turning up for them.

But more importantly, what are we doing to future-proof education, our workforce, and the productivity base of Aotearoa?

For most of this century, the literacy and numeracy achievement of our young people has been declining.

We continue to have an appalling truancy problem, despite headlines suggesting otherwise.

There has been a lot of commentary around NCEA level of literacy and numeracy among our young people.

NCEA literacy and numeracy test results in a 2021 pilot highlighted a troubling disparity between decile one schools and higher-decile schools in New Zealand.

Decile-one schools had pass rates of just 2% in writing 1 and 30% in numeracy, while higher-decile schools achieved much higher pass rates.

In reading the difference between decile 1 and 10 was 24% to 85%, and in numeracy 10% compared to 78%.

Recent data from the PIRLS study on reading assessments revealed we had dropped from 13th in 2001 to 27th in 2021. Shouldn’t we be leading the way not falling backwards?

This is a damning insight into our success to end poverty for generations of today’s children.

Education inequalities are embedded in our system.

The root causes have been manifesting for some time: social inequity, poverty, resources, wealth, and power.

We must ensure equal access to quality education for all students regardless of their socio-economic background. Education can lift people out of poverty, but based on all the indicators, things don’t look great for New Zealand’s future. Continue reading

  • John O’Connell is chief executive of Life Education Trust.
Additional reading

News category: Analysis and Comment.

Tags: , , , ,