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Salient. Victoria University Student Newspaper. Volume 39, Number 14, 5 July 1976.

Students Object to Attack on Education

Students Object to Attack on Education.

Dear John,

In his report of the last SRC meeting Hugh Blank quoted me as describing the education system as "unjust and inequitable". He went on to say that he did not think my "suggestion of jumping on the band waggon of protest for the opening of Parliament would much advance student interests".

My remarks at the SRC meeting were made before I moved the following resolution: "That VUWSA hold a demonstration at Parliament on 23 June to protest against the Government's rejection of NZUSA's representations on student bursaries; that the Association support the Wellington Trades Council's protest against the Government's attack on working people's wages, conditions and democratic rights; that the President and the Education Officer be directed to carry out this resolution and that the Wellington Trades Council be immediately informed of this decision."

The point I made at the meeting was that NZUSA's case for a cost of living increase and other reforms in the bursary system must be seen in the context of two wider events.

First, the trade union protests against the Government's wage freeze and other attacks on the trade union movement. Like many union members, studetns are low income earners; like the trade unionists, students' incomes have been effectively cut by the Government's refusal to increase wages or student allowances to fully take account of inflation; and like the trade union movement, the student movement has in recent times protested against Government attacks on democratic liberties. I suggest to Hugh Blank that all these things constitute a firm basis of unity between students and the trade union movement not "jumping on the band waggon".

Second, the Government's policy of cutting education spending which has affected all levels of education, especially primary and secondary teachers through the curtailment of the day relief scheme.

Some of those who have protested against these cuts have suggested that minority groups, in particular, such as children in rural areas and Maori and Polynesian children, will suffer from these cuts. This is undoubtedly correct. But the point I made at the meeting was that these groups are already suffering in our education system.

In this regard, Hugh Blank may be interested in the following comments which are taken from a speech by Mr W.L. Renwick, Director-General of Education, at a conference in Christchurch on 19th January 1976:

'The days have long since gone when a policy of equality of educational opportunity could be summed up in a commitment to increase access to education under conditions that provided a fair field and no favour. Many of the questions that now torment the social conscience arise from inequalities in the outcomes of eduation. The issue that confronts us today is no longer how to provide quality of educational opportunity; it is the educational consequences of a commitment to equality as an objective of social policy.

For we now know that educational systems are not neutral in the way they con convert educational opportunities into life chances Relative success in school is highly correlated with the educational level of a child's parents. The higher the educational level of a child's parents, the longer the children are likely to go to school, college or university. The longer the period of education, the higher the leaving qualifications, and the more interesting and remunerative the occupational opportunities. Our education system, in common with education systems the world over, has come to be seen as an agency of social selection. For various reasons, which I will not elaborate here, it performs this function less starkly than do a number of other countries that come to mind. But we can now see from our own educational experience why school systems have come to be regarded as, in the words of one radical critic, institutions for the manufacturing of underdogs. A policy of equality of educational opportunity is fine for the winners. The education system helps them to maximise their abilities and get a step up in the world. But what about the losers? What has the policy done for them except to make it clear to them and everyone else that they are losers and that they apparently had little in the way of ability that could be maximised?"

I would not claim that because Mr Renwick says something about the education system he is necessarily right. What is significant about his remarks is that he has publicly drawn attention to problems that critics of the education system have been hammering for years.

I have tried to make the above points as briefly as possible in this letter, but I feel they need to be debated fully in "Salient". Therefore I hope that Hugh Blank and others who disagree with me will take these matters up.

Yours fraternally,

Peter Franks.