Business columnist, with a political twist, for NZ Herald

Dita De Boni: Tolley's anti-teacher volley

Minister of Education Anne Tolley. Photo / Rotorua Daily Post
Minister of Education Anne Tolley. Photo / Rotorua Daily Post

It's a strange quirk of human nature that we often seem to be drawn to things that get us hot under the collar - things that we know we will disagree with every time, but read anyhow to exercise our sense of moral outrage.

This is why Garth George and Tapu Misa are perennially popular columnists in the Herald, for example - one is loathed by liberals, the other, by conservatives. Both generate lots of indignant letter writing - all the better for keeping the Letters page full each day.

I can't say I find everything the blogger Cactus Kate writes to be dangerous to my blood pressure, but it can be hard to stomach, even though I find myself reading it most days.

Cactus, otherwise known as Cathy Odgers, is an ex-pat New Zealander working in Hong Kong as a corporate lawyer and making, by her own admission, truckloads of cash.

She is the woman who appeared to be considering a stand in the ranks of the Brash-led Act Party at one point.

So, fairly 'right wing' as a rule.

But there was plenty for most to agree with, I reckon, this week, when Cactus took aim at the insufferably provocative minister of education Anne Tolley, in a blog with the charming title Tolley Spits on Teachers.

In it, Cactus mentions a press release the minister has issued this week talking about how the quest to fill the teacher shortage is now over, so the country can stop recruiting any old person into teaching and focus on "quality".

Well, thank goodness for that then. Tolley also mentions she'd like more men, Maori and Pacific Islanders to join the teaching profession.

Quite rightly, Cactus wonders if it isn't all a bit inflammatory to her current crop of teachers, many of whom she is offside with anyhow with the whole National Standards debacle.

The prickly blogger says we shouldn't even be trying to get the 'best' students into teaching - they haven't got the teaching DNA, being too busy in their typical Type A personality way in banks and law firms to bother with all that - but that in any case New Zealand has a pretty decent education system as it is, despite constant claims from some quarters to the contrary.

I would add that despite the often stated desire to have more Maori, Pacific Islanders and men in teaching - and successive governments have tried enticing those groups into the profession for around 20 years - something is clearly not right about the way we're going about it, if that is an aim we're determined to pursue.

Her larger point is this: that the main problem with the New Zealand education system is that there is a big group of parents who are a complete pain the backside to teachers, constantly wanting the teachers to do all the heavy lifting for kids they themselves don't - or can't - motivate.

Then there's another group of parents - those who don't care at all.

In other words, it's the home environment that needs to improve before our kids' educational standards improve - not the schools and teachers.

And teacher quality is important, but perhaps not as important as the quality of parenting.

The Asian example continues to loom large - parents who practically learn the school curriculum alongside their kids so as to keep pace with the learning and keep the pressure applied.

I'm not a parent that doesn't care, but as someone who has just sent her oldest off to primary school, I can now see how easy it is to abrogate responsibility for learning to the school and use the home as a "chill out" zone.

With our hectic pace of life and lack of downtime, there is a real temptation to simply let kids zone out in front of the TV or computer when they finish their school days.

It's sometimes a fight to get a five-year-old to read the 10-age primer Father Bear Goes Fishing after dinner, let alone the bigger and more complex things kids are asked to do as they get older. And yet, it's the key to success at school for most kids.

While households need to better prioritise education, so do our politicians. It will be interesting to see if any of the parties mention education as more than a footnote in the lead up to the election in this year of asset sales, environmental disasters and sporting triumphs.

Sadly, if past form is anything to go by, they probably won't.

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Business columnist, with a political twist, for NZ Herald

Dita De Boni is a columnist, commentator and TV producer/journalist. She first wrote columns for the NZ Herald in 1995, moving to daily business news in 1999 for four years, and then to TVNZ in Business, News and Current Affairs. After tiring of the parenting/blogging beat for the Herald Online she moved back to her first love, business (with a politics chaser), writing a column for Friday Business since 2012.

Read more by Dita De Boni

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