Decision ’17 — Giving Kiwi Kids The Best Education

This election, Unicef NZ is focusing on issues that affect New Zealand children, encouraging voters to keep those issues in mind when they cast their vote, and pushing for policies that improve the lives of children.

In the lead up to polling day, Unicef NZ is looking at four key issues affecting Kiwis — and asking all New Zealanders to think of how their vote could be used to help our children.

Taumarunui Primary School has around 160 pupils. And every morning, up to a quarter of them arrive to have the breakfast that they haven’t been able to get at home.

They rely on the school providing that, and much more.

Children arrive at school in the depths of those cold Taumarunui winter days with no shoes, no jackets, and empty bellies.

And then the teaching has to start, and hopefully, these children get to learn.

This is not an isolated situation — we see these scenes played out throughout New Zealand every day.

Schools are doing what they can to help, but the concerns for children go way beyond hunger, and help goes far beyond a bowl of Weetbix.

Like most schools, Taumarunui Primary School is having to do more with less — providing support for its pupils depending on what their needs may be, and finding the money to do that. What schools now have to cover goes well beyond teachers and classrooms.

Taumarunui is one of just a handful of primary schools throughout New Zealand with its own counsellor, so that children can talk about whatever it is that they may be going through.

In June, UNICEF’s 2017 Innocenti Report confirmed that New Zealand has the worst teen suicide rate out of all the countries measured. It is a sad and shocking indictment of how we’re looking after the mental health of our children. Providing a safe space for young children to talk about their feelings, experiences, and what may be affecting them is a great way to start addressing those issues.

But the school has to fund the money for that out of its own budget — and it’s money that can’t then pay for children with learning disabilities, or teacher aides, or language classes.

UNICEF is calling for all schools to receive appropriate funding so that all the learning needs of their pupils are being met — whether those needs are physical, intellectual, emotional, or social.

Even feeding children through its school breakfast club costs. While it’s enabled through the likes of KidsCan and the Milk in Schools programme, it is still reliant on volunteers to turn up each morning and ensure breakfast is ready for the kids.

Throughout New Zealand there are children living with family violence, abuse, upheaval, material hardship, and hunger. They are all barriers to ensuring that these children get a good education.

That not only prevents a child from reaching their full potential, it adds future costs to New Zealand society — whether it be in the health system, judicial system, or simply in lost potential and productivity.

Schooling is vital for the future well-being of these children. Schools need to be given the resources they need to provide our children with the education they deserve.

We have teachers who are willing to help, schools that have the best interests of those children at heart, and communities that cares. But our schools are being stretched, and are having to make funding decisions between children’s learning needs that are all important.

We ask you to think of the children in your lives, and what they may need to ensure a bright and healthy future. If we can’t provide the best education possible for our young people, what sort of future are we creating for them?

UNICEF is calling for all schools to receive appropriate funding so that all the learning needs of their pupils are being met — whether those needs are physical, intellectual, emotional, or social.

New Zealand needs a long-term education plan to ensure that the education needs of all kiwi kids are met, and that schools remain the hub of their community.

We need teachers committed to te Reo Māori and Sign (our official languages alongside English). Classes need appropriate teacher: child ratios. And if children or their families experience violations, or abuses for their rights, there needs to be an independent complaints procedure for them to turn to.

This election, we ask you to think of the children in your lives, and what they may need to ensure a bright and healthy future. If we can’t provide the best education possible for our young people, what sort of future are we creating for them?

By Vivien Maidaborn, UNICEF NZ Executive Director

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