Marking the Wellbeing Budget on education

Did the Budget deliver on the crucial pillars for education policy of early childhood, Maori and the supply of teachers? Associate Professor Jenny Ritchie and Dr Andrea Milligan of Victoria University of Wellington and Professor Mere Berryman of Waikato University give their verdicts.

How transformational was the Wellbeing Budget for education, such a vital component for the future wellbeing of both individuals and society?

Here, we provide below three perspectives illuminating important corners of this year’s education budget allocation.

Early childhood care and education

Our youngest and most vulnerable citizens, babies and young children, deserve and benefit from high quality, culturally responsive care and education. Furthermore, research has demonstrated the stimulation and empathy babies and young children receive creates foundational brain architecture that sets them up for successful lives.

On taking the reins in 2008, the National government immediately lowered the requirement for the proportion of degree-level qualified teachers in teacher-led early childhood settings from 80 percent to a minimum of 50 percent and removed funding incentives to support services to reach the 80 percent level, the aim having been 100 percent by 2012. This meant services such as public kindergartens were then penalised financially for adhering to their commitment to staff their centres with fully qualified teachers.

Before the 2017 election, Labour, New Zealand First and the Greens committed to reinstate funding to ensure all early teachers would be qualified. Yet the Wellbeing Budget failed to deliver this. Interestingly, the Treasury’s Living Standards Framework Dashboard website completely ignores the rights and needs of citizens under the age of 15 by declaring that:

'Our people describes the current wellbeing of New Zealanders aged 15 and over across the LSF's current wellbeing domains'.

The early years of life are foundational for wellbeing and the voices of children, even young children, should be considered in government decision-making and policies. - Jenny Ritchie

Restarting Te Kotahitanga

Budget 2018 allocated money to the Ministry of Education to work with a group of 10 mātanga to co-design a blueprint to strengthen equity and lift achievement for Māori students.

The collective experience and evidence about what would work for ākonga Māori ensured this blueprint would build on the lessons learnt from Te Kotahitanga and subsequent programmes, while also considering new system settings. Mātanga expertise spanned the entire education system and included me as Chair.

Although we knew sites of excellence could be found in some English medium schools, we agreed that exemplars in which Māori students were enjoying and achieving educational success as Māori were more likely to be found in kaupapa Māori settings. Here, Māori culture, identity and language were actively prioritised and celebrated within all learning experiences and whānau Māori were more likely to be an active and valued part of their children’s affirmation and learning.

Alternatively, over successive generations, our state education system has socialised a dominant narrative reinforcing privilege based on the English language and colonial values. Subsequently, education has been largely undertaken against a background of misunderstanding, bias and racism, which, with the devaluing and suppression of Māori language and values, has perpetuated ongoing disparities and disadvantage for Māori.

We understood supporting ākonga Māori to experience education success required us first to understand and respond to this historical context and this would require significant action and commitment.

A new name was also needed to reflect the transformative nature required of the work. After lengthy discussions, Kingi Kiriona (Ngāti Ruanui, Ngāti Kahungunu and Ngāti Apa) gifted the name Te Hurihanganui, providing the following explanation:

… it is said that Ranginui (the Sky Father) and Papatūānuku (the Earth Mother) were separated by their son Tāne Mahuta and his brothers. Such was the grief of both parents following the separation, and as an act of aroha, the children elected to turn their mother face down to avoid one parent seeing the sadness and despair of the other. This act became known as ‘Te Hurihanganui’, the great change or turning point, from which mankind evolved into Te Ao Mārama (the World of Light).

We agreed that Te Hurihanganui and this story were symbolic of the action required to achieve transformative education system reform. We recognised that to realise the educational potential of ākonga Māori this new initiative must be revolutionary and act as a turning point for the system. However, in accepting the name Te Hurihanganui, responsibility must also be taken for the courageous change it will require.

Based on evidence and our experiences of what works for Māori in education, the other mātanga and I reported to Kelvin Davis, the associate Education Minister and Māori Crown Relations: Te Arawhiti Minister six design principles we believe are critical for transformative education system reform.

Together, these interdependent principles offer greater potential for developing an equitable and excellent education system where Māori students will come to believe they are valued and belong.

The Ministry used this work to develop a bid that received $42 million over the next three years from the Wellbeing Budget. As the chair of the mātanga group, I believe the blueprint we were tasked with designing is strong and, with resourcing to enable it to happen, it is now ready to take the next steps.

How this work will play out and with whom is yet to be decided. We trust that our blueprint and principles continue to be interpreted from positions of cultural strength and potential. We know our future sits with our children, who deserve better than we received, and that this responsibility will ultimately sit with all of us. - Mere Berryman

Teacher retention and recruitment

As industrial negotiations have continued with primary and secondary teachers, another headache for the Government has been teacher supply. This issue is not new and not a surprise. However, faced with pressing teacher shortages, particularly in the secondary sector, the Wellbeing Budget reads very much as plugging the leaks via whatever means possible.

To be fair, there is much that is welcomed within the $95 million set aside for initial teacher education, including extra places, scholarships and increased funding to providers. An emphasis on improving workforce diversity and addressing specific subject shortages in secondary schools is also good. However, the extent to which the Budget addresses the ongoing issue of teacher supply remains to be seen. Whether or not the investment will work depends on two things: first, whether the additional places can be filled and with the right people; and secondly, the quality and readiness of teachers turned out into classrooms.

There are some notable omissions from the Budget, particularly in relation to early childhood and primary education. Perhaps most crucially, the Budget and a recently released workforce strategy lack a clear vision for initial teacher education. In other words, aside from stemming the tide of supply and attrition, how does the Government imagine the role of teacher education in enhancing the quality and status of the profession?

In this regard, the rhetoric of the Budget makes for interesting reading. While there is a clear commitment to ‘growing our own’ domestic teacher base, the Budget couches this very much as a new model that needs time to ‘bed in’. This is an odd statement, given New Zealand has had a longstanding commitment to educating our own teachers.

So the question is: what is new for initial teacher education? A first notable aspect of the Budget is the further commitment to recruiting overseas teachers. This short-term response to the current teacher shortage is problematic given the need for sensitivity to our particular Te Tiriti o Waitangi obligations, the unattractive workload and low pay.

A second notable aspect of the Budget is the endorsement of employment-based programmes that enable students to be paid to work within schools as they learn. On the surface, this move makes sense, because taking time out from work to gain a teaching qualification can be prohibitive and limits the diversity of our workforce. Digging a little deeper, though, employment-based programmes are something of an unknown quantity in New Zealand and we lack a strong evidence base about their effectiveness.

We do know pre-service teachers need access to high quality programmes and mentorship, in ways that enable them to make strong connections between theory and practice. Given we have existing high quality programmes that achieve these aims, one has to question why the Government has elected to divert more than $16 million into an employment-based model when that funding could support prospective teachers to take up placements in tried and tested programmes.

The issue comes back to plugging the leaks. The Government has endorsed this employment-based model because it quickly ‘solves’ a supply problem, rather than taking a longer-term view about the relationship between quality of initial teacher education and enhancing the status of the profession, thus contributing to individual and society wellbeing.  - Andrea Milligan

Associate Professor Jenny Ritchie is in the School of Education at Victoria University of Wellington;  Dr Andrea Milligan is Associate Dean (Teacher Education) in the School of Education at Victoria University of Wellington; Professor Mere Berryman (Ngāi Tūhoe, Ngāti Awa, Ngāti Whare) is Director of Poutama Pounamu at the University of Waikato.

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