Dame Susan Devoy: More talk on class sizes

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As parents, we want our children to be well educated and we take on the responsibility to achieve this goal.

I remember being told when I started my family that the greatest gift you can give a child is knowledge.

So from an early age, like many families, we have read to our children.

In fact, we have enough books to accommodate a library and spent countless hours reading to our four sons, none of whom have demonstrated any interest in literature to date.

The discussion around schooling can be as contentious as discussing politics and religion around the dinner table.

We all have an opinion, and it is apparent good and interested parents take the education of their children seriously.<inline type="recurring-inline" id="1003" align="outside" enforce-sites="no" />

Some of us choose to send our offspring to private or integrated schools. Some travel across town to what they deem is a better school than their local one.

The introduction of zoning has seen families move into more desirable areas - and real estate prices skyrocket in certain places.

We know that in New Zealand there are significant problems with under-achieving students, with 20 per cent falling behind the national expectation.

And we know Maori and Pacific Island children are over-represented in these statistics.

Three out of 10 students leave school without NCEA Level 2, including half of all Maori school leavers.

Therefore it does raise concerns the Government is considering increasing the student-teacher ratios to free up funding to support initiatives that will enhance the quality of teaching.

I would like to believe the quality of the teacher in the classroom is one of the critical factors to student success, but not the only one.

But can we really believe that increasing class sizes will improve the overall quality of teachers?

Or is the Government simply looking for ways to save money?

Whatever the reasoning, you can find reports, reviews and research that support both sides of the argument.

There have been thousands of hours of meetings, a decade of handwringing, a ton of academic research, a plethora of initiatives and too many dollars spent looking at the problem of under achievement with little progress to date.

Ironically we are coming to that time of year when we will have our first parent-teacher interviews.

Snatching a few precious moments with your child's teacher, particularly at secondary school, is akin to speed dating.

A brief conversation - once they have established who your child is - about their progress or lack of it, and then you move on to the next one.

Returning home trying to decipher the outcome is particularly difficult if you have more than one child at the same school.

At the end of the day there are a number of reasons children fail.

They are the ones who need the greatest support and intervention, but it is equally disappointing to see any child not reach their potential. Sadly the blame seems to lie everywhere else apart from the teacher.

Whenever there is an issue I often find it interesting that it is generally only about what the child must do and seldom about the teacher.

National standards have been introduced to improve the performance of students, and in schools those same standards need to be applied in rewarding and retaining excellent teachers.

A teacher who can engage, inspire and encourage children to become life-long learners is worth their weight in gold.

Can they do that in classes of 35 or more?

Possibly, but given the variation in abilities of students and some of the ratbags around today, probably not.

- Bay of Plenty Times

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