Simon Collins

Simon Collins is the Herald’s social issues reporter.

Poverty a giant hurdle to learning

Damp homes and hunger our biggest test at school, say decile 1 pupils.

Glen Innes primary school pupils have a clear idea about how poverty affects their health, their ability to learn and their future. Photo / Natalie Slade
Glen Innes primary school pupils have a clear idea about how poverty affects their health, their ability to learn and their future. Photo / Natalie Slade

Poverty, to children in Glen Innes, means hunger, no proper shoes - and deafness associated with growing up in damp and overcrowded houses.

Three out of six 11-year-olds at Glen Innes School who agreed to talk about child poverty have needed hearing aids or grommets and believe this is because of the houses they live in.

"If your house is damp and draughty you could get sick and you could have problems due to deafness and miss out at school and get lower grades," said Auariki Vaine, who is due to get grommets next year.

Year 7 classmate Britney Williamson, who has hearing aids, said hearing loss caused by dampness made it "really hard to listen to the teacher and actually learn".

The Glen Innes children spoke to the Herald as Children's Commissioner Dr Russell Wills prepares to release the final report of his expert group on solutions to child poverty next Tuesday. A separate report issued today on the views of 278 children in low-decile schools also found children concerned about cold and damp houses, inadequate food, lack of money for sport and other activities, and being mocked and bullied for being poor.

The report backs up proposals in the expert group's interim report in August for a "warrant of fitness" for all rental houses, a food programme in low-decile schools and higher family tax credits for young children.

At Glen Innes School, a "decile 1" school meaning its families are among the poorest tenth in the country, principal Jonathan Hendricks said about 15 of the school's 174 pupils came to school without lunch and had to ask teachers or office staff for sandwiches.

"The local Pak'nSave donates the bread daily, we provide the spreads," he said.

"We don't have a formal breakfast programme but we have at least three families that the teachers keep tabs on and they come and get Rice Bubbles or whatever to start them off each day."

The school is part of the Government's Fruit in Schools scheme and has been in the queue for more than three years to get food from the KidsCan charity. Recent public appeals by TV3's Campbell Live and More FM, plus other fundraising, mean KidsCan will start supplying Glen Innes and 70 other schools on its waiting list next year.

The children support a food programme. "If they don't have breakfast, then in class they won't learn properly and be confused and frustrated," said Longa Hukui.

They see fundraising as the answer.

A study which has followed 1400 Pacific children born at Middlemore Hospital in 2000 found that 25 per cent of them had glue ear causing hearing problems at age 2. The national rate is 5.6 per cent at age 3.

A study author, Manukau ear, nose and throat surgeon Dr Zahoor Ahmad, said the high Pacific rate probably reflected both genetic factors and environmental issues such as overcrowding, smoking and poorly ventilated houses.


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