Beehive Chat – 12 March 2007

by Kyle

March 12, 2007
By MP Tariana Turia | Maori Party
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Last week a fourteen year old Taranaki boy took on the state broadcaster. Kyle Wadsworth caused TVNZ to suffer major anxiety attack after he broke into its new website, and downloaded a couple of episodes of Shortland Street. “It was pretty easy” Kyle reckoned. “It was just there”.

Whilst security buffs were thrown into high alert, I marveled at the ingenuity of this teenager and at the sophistication of his IT skills.

For too many of our young people, their exceptional creativity and analytical minds are undervalued because they don’t fit the ‘mainstream’ mould.

Instead of looking for positive ways of engaging them in productive learning environments; schools are pushing students out of their gates. Less than a decade ago the Ministry had just 400 ‘alt-ed’ students on their books – last year the expectation was up to 3500; and a huge number of the students being pushed out are Maori.

Fortunately there are alternative education providers ready to look after these rangatahi.

Last month I had the privilege of visiting one of these – Whanganui’s latest alternative education programme, Manaakitia Nga Tangata.

The programme got going because of the support of Waiora Christian Trust; which has a well-established reputation for responding to the unique opportunities presented by our young people.

Alternative education, so the Ministry tells us, is for students who are “genuinely alienated from the education system”. Some students are “habitual truants, while others are behaviourally challenging and are consequently excluded from school”.

I find it rather ironic that the ‘alienation’ seems to be all one-sided – the system getting off scot free, with the focus only on these so-called ‘behaviourally challenging’ students.

The one-size-fits-all model of our schooling system often deserts the strugglers and ignores the gifted; plonking everyone into the statistical average; neglecting those on the margins. The funding just isn’t made available for schools to do so – and this despite budget surpluses of billions of dollars, year after year.

Just as ‘alienated students’ are missing out in schools; alternative education providers are also treated with contempt. Providers have told me they are starved of funding, that they are subsequently unable to employ qualified staff or provide a full range of opportunities, and consequently, that their students miss out again. It is another form of social control – limiting the effectiveness of programmes which are generally innovative, responsive and visionary.

Those involved in alternative education have earnt my utmost admiration.

Rolls are over-flowing, funding is inadequate, and yet still the individuals involved are slogging it out, through sheer commitment and dedication.

In Whanganui providers have reached their ceiling limit of thirty students – but another fifty are on the waiting list.

The costs of maintaining a programme like Manaakitia Nga Tangata far outweigh the costs of not having them. The sooner we see alternative education as an investment in the lives of young people – rather than a cost that needs to be managed – the better.