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An Expensive Lesson?


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Once upon a time, New Zealand had free education. (Including free university education as well.)

Then, madness set upon us in the 1980s and 1990s.

We welcomed bribes from successive centrist or right wing governments who gave us seven tax cuts from 1986.  As a society, we were warned by the like of Jane Kelsey, Jim Anderton, and many others that this would not end well; that tax cuts demanded corresponding cuts in social services and more and more User Pays.

As Jim Anderton often said at public meetings,

User pays means that if you can’t pay for it, you can’t use it!”

Students and their families  are discovering that truism the hard way.

User pays;

Free medical prescriptions (remember those?) went out the door.

Free University education – now not free. We have a massive mountain of student debt, with 834,000 students having borrowed $13.9 billion since 1992.

In 2005, Otago Polytechnic Student’s Association President, Rachel Dibble said,

This debt will have an outrageous effect on the country. There will be a flow on cost to services supplied by graduates, and drive the cost of living higher. The current brain drain overseas will worsen.

School fees – once voluntary, to pay for “extras”, are now chased up by schools using debt collectors.  No longer used for “extras”  like trips away, they are now a critical part of school operations.  Fees  buy toilet paper and chalk.

A recent media report stated,

Family First NZ says that parents have paid over $1 billion in school donations over the past four years to prop up state school budgets – and low income families in low decile schools are also paying significant amounts.

According to information gained under the Official Information Act, the total amount of school voluntary donations/fees actually paid by families in the last four years has been $234m (2007), $247m (2008), $272m (2009), and $266m (2010) – totaling $1.02b.” – Source

The latest news in our ongoing  saga of education’s self-destruction in this country is that now NZQA is denying thousands of students from being awarded NCEA credits that they have achieved through their studies.

This is not just unfair; it is a lunatic policy enabled by an insular right wing National government that is so far out of touch with mainstream New Zealand, that it was last sighted by the Hubble telescope passing the orbit of Pluto, and heading further out into Deep Space.

But metaphors aside, New Zealanders need to take stock and ask themselves: where the hell are we headed? When further barriers are erected in front of disadvantaged families and their childre; to make it harder to take up opportunities to better themselves – just what the hell are we trying to achieve here?!

Earlier today, before I read the article above, I wrote this piece;  What will be her future? The piece was about three possible futures for a young child.

By no means do I blame schools, Universities, or the NZQA. Even successive governments – to a degree – are only doing what they can get away with,  using tax cuts to  chase after our  votes.

No, the responsibility lies with  voters who have permitted this sad state of affairs to happen and to get progressively worse. Too many people have been seduced by the offerings of politicians without questioning some pretty basic issues;

  • If we accept tax cuts – how will we pay for essential social services? Funding for these services do not materialise out of thin air, at the wave of Harry Potter’s magic wand. These services require cold, hard cash – taxes.
  • Is an ever-increasing User Pays in education helping or hindering? How will the disadvantaged cope? Do we even care?
  • If we don’t care about the disadvantaged in our society – why should they care about society itself? And how does a society survive and prosper if the majority care more about what elected politicians can do for them (eg, tax cuts) – rather than what those same politicians should be doing for the country as a whole?

A wise man  (or, his speech writers) once remarked,

“…ask not what your country can do for you — ask what can you do for your country.”

It seems we have forgotten that very simple philosophy.

This current government is rotten. It has no inkling of how to address the critical social problems plaguing our society. It is more concerned with shuffling ministries; cutting the state sector; sacking workers; cutting taxes (for some); and cutting social services. Expect no sensible solutions from them.

If we look at the political alternatives, it is up to each and every New Zealander to tell the leaders of Labour, Greens, NZ First, and Mana what kind of  society we want. And that we are willing to pay for it.

I may be a left-winger, but even I know a simple truth; there ain’t no such thing as a free lunch. If we want free education and free healthcare, we better be prepared to pay for it. (And that includes those who have escaped taxation because their wealth is not in the form of taxable income.)

The solution is in our own hands.

* * *

“Please Explain” email sent to Education Minister, Hekia Parata,


From:      “Frank Macskasy” <fmacskasy@yahoo.com>
To:            hekia.parata@parliament.govt.nz
Date:        Sunday, 18 March, 2012 11:31 PM
Subject:  NCEA fees demanded from students

Kia ora Ms Parata,

I noted a recent media article which stated that “a $76.70 fee is stopping thousands of students from being awarded NCEA credits they have achieved” and that “all high school pupils who sit NCEA must pay the fee to their school and those who don’t will not have their achievements formally awarded, meaning some students have to re-sit assessments in order to complete NCEA levels. In 2010 more than 3000 students did not have their achievements formally awarded”.

Could you please comment on this issue and explain why, when we supposedly have free education in this country, that NZQA is demanding a fee from students in return for awarding their NCEA  Credits?

Is this National policy and does the government stand by this?

Link: http://www.stuff.co.nz/national/education/6593846/NCEA-fee-shuts-out-hard-up-students

-Frank Macskasy
Frankly Speaking


* * *


Related Blogpost

What will be her future?



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  1. Deborah Kean
    19 March 2012 at 4:15 pm

    Do let us know whether you get a response to your ‘please explain’ letter!

  2. 19 March 2012 at 4:39 pm

    Frank, some schools ban students with unpaid fees from participating in trips, camps, the school ball and other activities. Schools that send their students overseas either for sport, music, social studies (really!) ask parents to pay. Of course poor families can’t pay, so save themselves the humiliation and don’t enrol their kids in those subjects or sports etc.
    The Education Act states categorically that education is free. Yet somehow it is not.

    I note Shearer’s reference to Finland & copy this link from a reply to werewolf’s blog on the leaders’ speeches, thanks Joe Blow.

    Click to access A%20short%20history%20of%20educational%20reform%20in%20Finland%20FINAL.pdf

    Top points:
    1. Finnish education is completely free from pre-school to tertiary – 50% adults partake of ongoing higher education.
    2. Schools are small – some have only 50 students, only 4% have over 500 students
    3. No standardisation.
    4. Teachers are held in high regard and respected as educational professionals who know what they are doing.
    5. All schools have two free meals a day, free counselling, ALL resources supplied. That means no bills for stationery, sports fees, subject fees, trips.

  3. 19 March 2012 at 4:55 pm

    Indeed, Kerry, well put. Bryan Bruce made pretty much the same points in his doco on Child Poverty, last year.

    We have so much to learn from the Scandinavians – and fail to do so. Instead National is pursuing this nonsensical “Charter Schools” folly, from the US. According to an OECD assessment, the US rated far lower than New Zealand (or Finland) for education outcomes. (https://fmacskasy.wordpress.com/2011/12/13/privatisation-of-our-schools/ )

    It’s like someone in the depths of the Beehive deliberately seeks out the very worst policies we can emulate…

    I’ve heard about low-income families avoid humiliation by keeping their children away from school events that require extra payments. The worst thing about this apalling system is that it quickly teaches our children that a class distinction exists in NZ – and it pays to be on the right side of the Class System.

    What on Earth kind of society are we building…?

    (By the way, I’m not sure why your post was queued in moderation. WordPress can be quirky sometimes.)

  4. 19 March 2012 at 10:19 pm

    “It’s like someone in the depths of the Beehive deliberately seeks out the very worst policies we can emulate…”
    Ha! Yes, it’s disturbing how enormous the disconnect is between policy and effect. A complete failure of empathy that is almost pathological.

    Shearer and Finnish education: So which bits of it does he like or does he want the whole system? Seems to me a Finnish system would require a radical rethink and mega-investment, that would be anathema to the LabNat duopoly. it sounds fantastic to me.

  1. 16 January 2013 at 12:11 am

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