Climate change lessons not for New Zealand students

A friend came to visit a few years ago and we went for a drive to the Waimakariri River, which was running high after heavy rain a few days earlier. When we got to the river, I thought we would go for a nature walk through a reserve on the banks of the river. I started talking to him about my interest in the river and the natural processes in it. My mate looked at me completely blank, and I asked him why. He had never done geography and by his own admission was completely ignorant of the river as a natural system.

Tonight, reading The Press whilst eating dinner, I was reminded about that conversation when I read about a climate change teaching resource for students. And I wondered how many actually understand physical geography, or have even heard of it. I then thought a bit more about the issue and came to the conclusion, that rather than teaching students about climate change, they should first know a bit about geography.

Geography is much more than just maps, which has come as a surprise to several of my non-geography minded mates. Maps are just the favoured way of displaying data temporally and spatially. It is spread across a broad range of sub topics – physical geography, human geography, political geography, to name just a few. In the case of physical geography, it can then be further divided into hydrology, climatology and geomorphology to look at physical processes affecting our water, climate and land. You can see in the Venn diagram below the interactions of processes in geography.

Source: Kansas State University

Once a student has done a bit of geography and gotten to know a bit about the planet they live on, about the human, natural, social and economic interactions that go on, they can tackle climate change. Certainly it is a subject that should not be ignored. But I am honestly not convinced that at high school level, that this should be taught. And certainly not with the doomsday tint that the subject seems to have taken on. Climate change might be one of the more potent ways in which a planet under huge and unsustainable stress from human resource consumption is showing that pain, but it is not the only symptom and nor should we treat it like that. Resource consumption in general has pushed the world into the Anthropocene, the geologic epoch whose record will show the full extent of the ecological assault taking place.

I expect that this will get some push back, particularly from students who might think people like me are part of the problem. So be it. To deal with this, one must view it as a whole, which students are not being currently encouraged to do. And which, over the course of 8 separate sessions, in class cannot be done sufficiently in depth.

Teachers strike as much about conditions as pay

As New Zealand braces for another wave of teacher strikes, we are getting mixed messages about what is driving the strikes. Some are saying it is wages. Others are saying it is working conditions. The Ministers of Education and Children are saying they have done their best.

Teachers have to be a range of things that they were never trained to do and should not be attempting to do. Among these roles are being de facto parents, part time social workers, and nurses. In other words being made to do – by circumstance – things that they simply should not.

So, I find it a bit disingenuous that the Minister of Education Chris Hipkins and the Minister for Children Tracey Martin can somehow believe that the teachers are simply striking to get as much money as they can.

A teacher, whilst reasonably expected to discipline children when they are naughty or refuse to follow instructions, should not expect to have to put up with the range of behaviours that they are being subject to. These include physical assault, things being thrown at them, inappropriate behaviour such as groping. All of this is not only totally improper has anyone considered the disruption and upset that it must cause students to be witness to this?

When I was at intermediate in 1993 we had a relief teacher one time. She was covering for two days and on the first day, a student was being particularly disruptive. His desk had already been separated and pushed up against a wall by the regular teacher because of his behaviour. On this particular day he was not having a bar of the relief teacher. At some point he had been asked to get on with his work and stubbornly refused. When the teacher came around to tell him off, he leaped out of his chair and pushed her up against the wall. The class captain ran next door to get a teacher to assist. It took about three staff to restrain him and the class had to be sent outside whilst he was calmed down. Then after a meeting with the Principal which saw him suspended on the spot he came back in grabbed his books, dumped them on the floor and slammed the desk lid so hard it broke its hinge.

Things have moved on since 1993. But I think the ability of teachers to sort out unruly students has not improved. There will always be a disruptive core of students in any school who might come from homes where there is no parental guidance. None of the teachers I had reacted excessively to the behaviour of the students in their classes.

But more recently they have also had to be parents of sorts. Some have said that they have children in their classes still wetting themselves; children who have not learnt basic table manners. Some have had to go so far as to take children into their own homes, which creates ethical issues about the limitations of a teachers responsibility and where the State, parents or other body must take charge.

Teachers are also concerned about the lack of help they are getting on children with special needs. Whilst assistance has been provided, concerns linger over the quality of the training, how many hours the teacher aides will be able to do. Special needs students range greatly in terms of needs and dependency. Some are quite high functioning whilst others will have behavioural and language impairments and some will be non verbal.

When one considers these issues individually and collectively, should we really be surprise that teachers are going on strike. The expectations on them have become unrealistic and the resourcing has not kept up. Now we are paying the price.

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?