Patrice Dougan is the Herald's education reporter.

Parents Report Card: Fears over the rising cost of education

Parents are worried they do not have enough money for their child's education. Photo / 123rf
Parents are worried they do not have enough money for their child's education. Photo / 123rf

Increasing numbers of parents are worried they do not have enough money for their child's education.

The fears were revealed in a survey of parents by Australian Scholarships Group (ASG), which also highlighted concerns about children not being able to cope with stress and negative situations, and concerns over screen time.

The Parents Report Card 2016 - the second such report by the group - questioned 850 parents across New Zealand about their views of their child's education.

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It revealed increasing numbers are worried about the cost of their child's education, including:

• 85 per cent wish they had more money to spend on their child's education.
• 26 per cent of parents feel they must work two jobs (per household) to ensure a successful education for their child.
• 56 per cent admit they cannot afford after-school tuition if needed.

The figures are up from last year, when 83 per cent of parents said they would like more money for their child's education, and 20 per cent said at least one parent worked two jobs to support their children's learning.

The 2016 report revealed parents had concerns about a lack of resources at their child's school, and believed there was a link between resources and their child's interest in a subject.

"One of the issues is unfortunately education is not getting any cheaper," ASG chief executive John Velegrinis said.

"We know that over the past 10 years education costs have risen in New Zealand by a factor of about one and a half times the average CPI [consumer price index].

"So relative to incomes, education costs are growing at a faster rate, and there's no reason to suggest that that will abate."

This was leading parents to feel "stressed" over their child's education needs, he said, especially when added to the demands or pressures to participate in extracurricular activities.

Basic education costs could include a uniform, laptop or tablet, transport to school, he said, and on top of that was added a layer of costs related to extracurricular activities.

"Generally speaking [extracurricular activities] are not cheap, whether they're music lessons or swimming or whatever the case might be.

"Parental budgets are starting to feel the stress," he said.

Dr Sivanes Phillipson, from Melbourne's Monash University Faculty of Education, who co-authored the report, said parents needed to be "realistic" about the aspirations they had for their child to help deal with the cost.

"In many ways the point for parents to consider is they should prioritise what they think are important aspirations for their children, and those important aspirations are the ones they should budget [for], instead of trying to work two jobs and fund everything," she said.

For example, she said if higher education was a priority aspiration for both parent and child, parents should "prioritise what can lead their children to the pathway of higher education".

Education added to housing, food bill

Associate Professor Carol Mutch, head of school in Critical Studies in Education at the University of Auckland, said New Zealand now has "a 'free education' in inverted commas".

Education expenses weren't 'hidden costs' as such, she said, as school's made it clear in what they expected parents to pay for.

These included school uniforms, often a separate sports uniform, stationary, extracurricular activities, field trips, school camps, and competitions or programmes the school may be participate in.

"I think what's happened in New Zealand is that being a parent you're not just caught up in wanting to get the best education for your children, but as we know a whole range of other costs are going up," Mutch said.

"Housing costs are going up, getting your children to school, those costs seem to be going up as well, and it just seems it's harder to provide the basics, and everyone considers that a good education is one of those important basics, along with housing and food to put on the table."

Parents really had to "balance their budgets", these days, she said.

Labour's education spokesman Chris Hipkins said the report's findings were not "hugely surprising".

Schools were facing ever tightening budgets, and were "increasing costs to parents" to "make up the shortfall", he said.

Green Party education spokeswoman Catherine Delahunty said a free education, a cornerstone of New Zealand society, was "becoming a memory when parents are feeling under so much pressure to supplement a public education".

"More resources need to go into our public education system to support children getting their education as promised."

More 'holistic' approach wanted

The report also highlighted concerns over a lack of holistic learning, concerns over the amount of time children spend in front of electronic devices, and a lack of understanding among some teachers in how to deal with disruptive behaviour in class.

"This year we saw ... an acknowledgement from parents that, 'we're pretty happy with the curriculum-based education, but we do have some concerns around the holistic learning'," Velegrinis said.

"How we're creating great, rounded individuals, which includes both curriculum-based education, but also social and emotional learning skills that children need, not only cope but to perform better ultimately."

More than half (54 per cent) of parents said their child is not taught how to manage stress well at school, and 47 per cent said their child becomes angry when they feel they can't control things.

More than half (55 per cent) believed their children spent too much time in front of screens, while 48 per cent said they struggled to limit their child's screen time.

Hipkins said such 'soft skills', were often what employers and universities sought in young people, and it was vital for both parents and the education system to teach them.

Mutch agreed, saying it needed to be "a parent/teacher partnership".

"We need to get children to realise that to achieve you have to put the effort in, and if you don't fail, you're not going to improve. Absolutely not be afraid of failure, in fact, see every failure as something you're going to learn from."

Education under-secretary David Seymour said more and more global companies were investing in 'upskilling' their employees on soft skills, which indicated "the education system may be lagging behind a bit".

Such skills, such as working collaboratively, were becoming more desirable to employers as technology made hard knowledge less and less useful, he said.

ASG Parents Report Card 2016 findings:

• 26% of parents feel they must work two jobs to ensure a successful education for their child.
• 56% admit they cannot afford after school tuition if needed
• 85% wish they had more money to support their child's education
• 54% feel stress management is not taught well in schools
• 62% believe their child is easily upset by unexpected negative experiences
• 32% concerned their children do not have confidence in their ability to handle personal problems
• 47% believe their child becomes angry when they feel they can't control things
• 55% believe their children are spending too much time using screen-based devices
• 48% struggle to limit their child's screen time

'Cost is an issue' - mum says

With a 12-year-old at intermediate school and a 4-year-old at daycare, Onehunga mum Cindy Tuitupou is starting to become more aware of the costs of education.

"The on-going cost of supporting a child and making sure they've got everything to set them up for success ... is becoming more expensive," she said. "That is a concern."

PMO analyst Tuitupou, 37, said: "Cost is an issue."

However, she's more concerned that her daughter Simone, a Year 7 pupil at Royal Oak Intermediate School, and 4-year-old son Masini, become well-rounded individuals, ready to cope with life outside school.

"I'm kind of more concerned for their overall development, making sure that they're emotionally ready, socially ready and all set up to go to uni after school," she said.

These 'soft skills' could be taught better at school, she said.

"I know schools are quite good for academia, and the school that my daughter goes to is really a sport-focused school, which is great, I really like that because they can focus on things like teamwork.

"But the other factor is once you get into the real world, looking at things like how do you deal with stress, and pressure and that kind of thing."

Screen time was a "major" thing in her household, she said.

"Yes, it's great for research and for projects, but we do have Netflix and YouTube, and that can be a big distraction.

"That's a big issue in our house at the moment, and it's just finding a balance of, yes, the internet is there, but we need to spend more time outdoors with the family."

- NZ Herald

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