Paul Little at large

Paul Little is a Herald on Sunday columnist

Paul Little: Benefits rare in short term solutions

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On once-fertile farmland stands the shoulder-to-shoulder bricks and mortar of Dannemora. Photo / Chris Skelton
On once-fertile farmland stands the shoulder-to-shoulder bricks and mortar of Dannemora. Photo / Chris Skelton

Teachers' representatives got their dusters in a twist when the Secretary for Education, Lesley Longstone, said in her first annual report that our system was not "world class" because it was failing Maori and Pasifika children who consistently underperform.

Interviewed, the secretary sounded as Dickensian as her name, which didn't help anyone concentrate on the facts.

She is right about the children who are not prospering in the system, but wrong about the cause. It's not the education system that is at fault, but the economic and social systems which, if they were doing their job, would be identifying and helping those who start life on the back foot. That way, they would be prepared to take part in the education system. Those hungry kids from unheated homes are still refusing to knuckle down and concentrate on their times tables.

As for our ranking on any - at best, dubious - world league tables for education, it would be most relevant to compare our results with those of other post-colonial countries with indigenous minorities.

I suspect a similar pattern would emerge.

Instead of putting their energy into defensiveness and name-calling, the parties concerned should concentrate on providing what we really need - a New Zealand-class education system, to suit our conditions.

Maori language Commission language services manager Te Haumihiata Mason is not happy that Maori language equivalents for 50 social media terms have been translated without her organisation's blessing.

"See all friend requests", for instance, is "Tirohia Nga Tono Hoa Katoa". As far as ideal jobs go, inventing names for things in any language would be near the top of my list, so I can feel her dudgeon.

There should be no question of the need for a commission. The language it protects came close to extinction a generation ago. But Mason doesn't own te reo Maori - the people who speak it do.

France still has an academy which approves the introduction of new words. It is widely ignored, even by those who aimez beaucoup le Facebook.

Of the behind the scenes subtleties at play here, I have no inkling. But I do know that Mason can stop worrying. Words will have their way regardless of the wishes of commissions, experts or enthusiastic amateurs. Good words survive. Bad words fall out of use. The internet is no longer called the intergalactic computer network, movies saw off talking pictures, radio defeated the wireless, even though radios indeed have no wires.

And the coining of new words is a sign of a healthy, vigorous language - no matter who is doing it.

The Government believes that the solution to our housing shortage is to chew up more former farmland. This proposal works on the same principle as asset sales - flogging off something for short-term gain that can't be replaced. It's hard to believe that anyone who has ever laid eyes on the blights of Albany or Dannemora can seriously advance such a nightmare scenario, even if for just 25 per cent of our needs.

The obvious question to ask is what will happen once all the land has been used up? The equally obvious answer is something that we could and should do now: create medium density housing for most and pockets of high density housing for the many who would be happy with it.

Aucklanders need to adjust their housing expectations. Rather than vandalising a natural resource, planners could easily identify areas of extraordinary ugliness that could be replaced by well-planned communities that are a pleasure to live in.

- Herald on Sunday

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