Quote of the day

May 19, 2016

Real education should educate us out of self into something far finer; into a selflessness which links us with all humanity.Nancy Astor who was born on this day in 1879.


Quote of the day

May 6, 2016

The secret of freedom lies in educating people, whereas the secret of tyranny is in keeping them ignorant. Maximilien Robespierre who was born on this day in 1758.


Project Manuka sweeetens life

April 27, 2016

This is a honey of a story:

A group of young Kaikohe men who have never had full-time work have begun planting manuka as part of a pilot project aimed at improving their future and that of their small Northland town.

Project Manuka is a joint venture between Northland College and the government to reboot the moribund local economy.

The school owns 450ha of land, gifted decades ago for educational purposes, and has run it as a dairy farm and forestry block giving students opportunities to learn agricultural skills.

In its latest venture, it has begun replanting some of the land in manuka for honey production.

There is currently fierce competition for manuka as beekeeping takes off as an industry in the north.

Under a scheme backed by several government ministries, 11 long-term unemployed people have been training in forestry skills over eight weeks and preparing scrubby hillsides for planting in the valuable crop.

None of them have held a full-time job before, and none have formal qualifications.

Their tutor, forestry training contractor Jack Johnson, has had them training at the gym, on the hills cutting tracks and in the classroom swotting for Level 2 NCEA forestry papers. And all eleven have passed.

“A Level 2 certificate in anything – that’s a huge achievement for these boys,” said Mr Johnson.

“Passing a drug test was a huge achievement. The challenge I’ve given them now is refraining altogether from drugs. That’s a life change that they need to make – not only for themselves, but for their families.”

It’s a challenge the workers themselves seem happy to meet. . . .

Drug free, legitimately employed, gaining new skills and qualifications – life will be sweeter for these men and their families.

The official leading Project Manuka is Ben Dalton, from the Ministry of Primary Industries, who says the pilot scheme is intended to lead to much bigger things.

The three priorities for the government in its Northland Economic Action Plan were to increase productivity in existing industries, attract new industry and investment to the north and to build a workforce capable of meeting the needs of that industry.

Mr Dalton said there were 86,000 hectares of undeveloped Māori land around Kaikohe and a huge pool of unemployed people who would relish the chance to escape poverty and improve their families’ lives, given the training.

“These are good people,” he said. “They just haven’t had the chances. All of these guys cost the New Zealand taxpayer a lot of money. So if you spend a fraction of that helping them to become employable and also to see a brighter future, then I think it’s a worthwhile investment. ” . . .

It’s far better to invest money in helping people help themselves than keep on investing in misery.

The chairman of Northland College’s board of trustees, Ken Rintoul, dismissed any suggestion that a new generation of young Māori were being trained just to be labourers.

A percentage of all these students will go into management.

“They’ll be earmarked at the end of this course to be crew leaders, or business owners “

Mr Rintoul also chairs the Youth Enterprise Scheme in Northland which aims to get young people into governance.

“Three years in a row now local Māori have won the National Awards, so we must be on the right track,” he said.

Mr Rintoul said the eventual proceeds from the Northland College manuka plantation would go back to the school.

This is an opportunity for people to escape poverty which brings social and economic benefits for them and the country, and the project will eventually provide an income stream for the school.


Rural round-up

April 20, 2016

Farm the secret to school’s success:

Northland College’s agricultural focus is helping to turn the once struggling secondary school into a success story, says the school’s Commissioner, Chris Saunders.

Absenteeism was an issue at the Kaikohe school, but truancy has halved since several initiatives were put in place to help prepare students for careers in agriculture, with Lincoln University contributing to Northland College’s curriculum and the operations of its commercial dairy farm.

“I think a big part of the success we’re seeing now is that we’re using the farm to offer students practical, primary industries-based training,” Mr Saunders says.

The University offers curriculum support that allows students to undertake on-farm courses, which will lead on to Lincoln qualifications.

“The farm is a significant asset for a small secondary school to own, so it’s very helpful to have Lincoln playing an active and supportive role with the management of it.” . . 

Woolly thinking in Norway – Sally Rae:

At first glance, the similarities between a Norwegian clothing company and a Gimmerburn farm might appear remote.

But with both enterprises sharing a strong focus on quality and a passion for wool – along with histories spanning more than a century – there were definite synergies.

Three executives from high-performance wool clothing brand Devold, including chief executive Cathrine Stange, recently visited the Paterson family’s property Armidale in the Maniototo. . . 

Merino key to ‘amazing’ new fabrics – Sally Rae:

‘‘It’s not your grandfather’s merino”.

Addressing a group of farmers in the Paterson family’s woolshed at Gimmerburn, Global Merino founder and chief executive Jose Fernandez outlined his business.

Global Merino is a United States-based technical textile manufacturer

founded by Mr Fernandez in 2007. It sold its first product in 2009. . . 

Dairy professor retires after years in dairy industry – Jill Galloway:

Peter Munro is about to retire after spending most of his working life in the dairy industry.

The professor, Fonterra chair in food materials science at Riddet Institute, started his life on the family’s dairy farm in Northland and has gone on to develop new dairy products for New Zealand.

“What I am proudest of is creating value for the New Zealand dairy farmer.”

Throughout a long career Munro has worked on milk protein manufacturing and its use, whey proteins and other products.

Fonterra often gets stick for exporting commodities, but at least 30 per cent of its products is sold in a specialised form, usually for food ingredients, says Munro. . .

My most valuable stock unit – Jamie Mackay:

A recent conversation with a sheep farming mate of mine about the current plight of the dairy industry resulted in me reflecting positively on the bad old days of sheep farming in the 1980s.
 
My friend was somewhat surprised when I declared, off the top of my head, that even during the lows of Rogernomics we never ran our farm at a loss.  This is in stark contrast to some dairy farmers who this season will run at a $300,000-plus loss per annum.
 
So I went back through some old annual accounts from 30 years ago to check I wasn’t looking back at farming through rose-tinted spectacles. Those annual accounts for the year ended 30 June, 1986 made for very interesting, if somewhat sobering, reading. . . 

How hill country can be profitable and resilient – Doug Edmeades:

It seems that we have lost sight of what a good clover-based pasture looks like and have forgotten the skills to grow and manage it, says Doug Edmeades.

A two-day symposium on hill country was held recently in Rotorua.  It was well attended by 300 farmers, consultants and agricultural scientists. Clearly, there is a thirst for innovation, new technologies and knowledge in this sector. 

The aim of the meeting was explicit: “What does a profitable and resilient future for our hill country farming look like?” And, “What do we, collectively and as individuals, do to achieve this future?” 

The output of the symposium, and hence, one hopes, the answers to these questions, is to be formally captured in a “position paper”. More on that after the paper comes out. . . 

Fertile ground for enhancing farming software:

Farmers are fairly enthusiastic about using the latest digital technologies to run their businesses, but there is still room for improvement in the agricultural software area, preliminary Lincoln University research suggests.

Lincoln student Jamie Evans recently undertook an exploratory study that involved surveying some of Canterbury’s farmers about the types of technologies they used and how well they thought they were being served by the programmes.

“With this study, we wanted to identify any issues farmers might have with their software, but the long-term goal is to carry out further research that will help us find solutions and ultimately improve these digital technologies,” says IT lecturer Shirley Gibbs, one of the project supervisors. . . 

Big sell off begins and big dry continues – Brian Wood:

THE big dump has started and, unless substantial rain falls across the Bathurst region, the panic to sell livestock before winter sets in shows no signs of abating.

An incredible 20,000 cattle have gone under the hammer at the Central Tablelands Livestock Exchange during the past two weeks.

Last week’s sheep sale had a yarding of 20,000 and 19,300 the week before, which also shows how the weather is impacting on the rural community.  . . 


We don’t hem women in here

April 10, 2016

Hemlines are causing a contretemps at  Henderson High School.

. . . Sade Tuttle was rounded up with a group of girls after a uniform inspection at a school assembly, and she says she had no problem with making her school uniform skirt longer until she was told why.

“Basically we were told that the skirts needed to be lowered to below our knees or we would be given detention after school,” she says.

When I was at high school our gym frocks (was there ever a less practical and more unattractive uniform?) were supposed to touch the floor when we knelt.

They often didn’t and we also had to wear a braided girdle our house colour. This we did, slung low on our hips and on some that wasn’t much higher than some of the hems.

Fast forward a few decades and schools were unhappy about the fashion that led to kilts almost at ankle-level.

However, in this story, it’s not the hem length but the explanation for the rule that is causing the controversy:

The reason? Sade says deputy principal Cherith Telford told the group it was to “keep our girls safe, stop boys from getting ideas and create a good work environment for male staff”.

For Sade and her fellow year 11 student, Jazmyn Green, it was those two comments that upset them.

“The rules themselves aren’t the problem; the problem is when these codes target girls specifically because their bodies are sexual and distracting,” says Sade.

Henderson High School is a decile three school in west Auckland. It has gone through a remarkable transformation under the helm of current principal Mike Purcell. . .

Several of the parents that spoke to Newshub believe Mr Purcell is doing a great job, but they’re unhappy with the way the issue of the uniform’s skirt is being handled.

“Henderson High School has rules relating to the wearing of school uniforms,” Mr Purcell says in a statement released to Newshub.

“These rules are not new and all families are made aware of them when they enrol. They include a stipulation that the hemline of female students’ skirts must be on the knee, no higher.

“The uniform is practical for school wear and these rules are regularly enforced to ensure that all students can focus on their learning and feel comfortable in the school environment. . . 

I back a school to have any reasonable rules about a dress code for pupils and the hemline requirement isn’t unreasonable in itself.

But the explanation supposedly given by the DP belongs to other times and places not in 21st century New Zealand. It’s that sort of reasoning that puts women in burkas and neither our culture nor our laws hem women in like that.

If male pupils and teachers are distracted by shorter hems it is they who have and are the problem.

 


BPS targets

March 15, 2016

The Public Service is working hard to meet the targets the government set for better public services:

Student achievement is ahead of target, welfare dependence continues to fall, immunisation rates are growing and child abuse rates are stabilising, Ministers Bill English and Paula Bennett say.

The Government has released the latest update of the Better Public Services (BPS) Results, outlining their progress against the ten challenging targets set by the Prime Minister in 2012.

The BPS targets include reducing long-term welfare dependence, supporting vulnerable children, boosting skills and employment, reducing crime, and improving public and business interaction with government.

Provisional 2015 NCEA Level 2 achievement results show the proportion of 18-year olds who achieve a NCEA Level 2 qualification has increased to 84.4 per cent, from 74.3 per cent in 2011.

“This means the target of 85 per cent by 2017 has almost been meet, two years ahead of schedule,” Mr English says.

The number of benefit recipients has decreased by 7,245 in a year, largely driven by decreases in Sole Parent Support and Job Seeker support numbers.

“This is good news on two levels because sole parents are getting into the workforce and becoming independent.

“In the last year we’ve reduced the long term cost of benefit dependence by $2.4 billion dollars through welfare reform and better support for beneficiaries to get back to work.”

The reduction of cost isn’t the only benefit. Social indicators such as health, education and crime are better for people in work and their children than for those on benefits.

The most recent results show that since the targets were introduced:

  • the proportion of immunised 8-month olds has increased from 82 per cent to  93.7 per cent
  • there has been a 45 per cent decrease in people being hospitalised for the first time with rheumatic fever, a disease of poverty
  • the trend in the number of children and young people experiencing substantiated physical abuse has flattened, after previously being on an upward trajectory
  • total crime, violent crime and youth crime have dropped 17 per cent, 10 per cent and 39 per cent respectively
  • 52.9 per cent of government service transactions with citizens are now completed digitally, up from 29.9 per cent in 2012

“This has always been an aspirational Government, which is why we set challenging targets in areas that matter to New Zealanders, like ensuring our schools deliver outstanding education, healthcare is reaching those who most need it, and our communities are safe,” State Services Minister Paula Bennett says.

“Without doubt, we wouldn’t be seeing these kinds of results without the hard work and dedication from hundreds of thousands of public servants across New Zealand.

“We’re committed to backing them to do their jobs, which is why we’re spending more on frontline services and changing our structures so agencies can work together more effectively.”

The latest Better Public Service Results update can be found here

New Zealand National Party's photo.


Fee-free uni not best use of money

February 5, 2016

Martin Robbins was in favour of fee-free tertiary education but he’s found that not only could scrapping fees be a terrible idea, there’s also a far better place to put the money:

For a long time I hated tuition fees. I hated them for moral reasons and for selfish ones. I obviously wasn’t too thrilled to pay them. If I’m honest, it felt like a tax on effort, on intelligence, on wanting to make a contribution to society. ‘The country will benefit from me and people like me,’ I smugly and conveniently believed, ‘and so my education should be a taxpayer investment.’

A better reason to hate them was, I believed, the deterrent effect that they would have on poorer people entering university. If you make it more expensive to get a degree then naturally that’s going to favour people with more money. . . 

There’s just one teeny tiny problem. The evidence shows that if you want to invest ten billion reducing inequality, the university system is about the worst place you can possibly put it. In fact it’s such a bad idea that it could have the exact opposite effect. . . 

He shows that more people from disadvantaged areas are going to university in spite of fees.

. . .In the last decade, in spite of rising tuition fees, students are more likely to apply for university, poorer students are more likely to apply for university, and the inequality gap – while still a problem – has closed. We’re not talking about small debatable improvements here – these are massive changes. . . 

Fees are a relatively small part of the cost of tertiary education and in New Zealand taxpayers already give a subsidy of about 70% towards them.

The truth is that the rot of inequality sets in years before a pupil reaches the age to be thinking about university. Research published in 2014 by the Centre for Analysis of Youth Transitions – and a stack of similar studies before that – tell us exactly where.. .

The high ability kids start off about the same, but over time the rot sets in. The gap grows and grows, with a dramatic decline for the less advantaged kids between key stage 2 (7-11) and key stage 4 (14-16). The same gap opens up between the average ability kids too, to such a large extent that by the time the four groups of children reach their GCSEs, the average ability rich kids are pulling ahead of the high ability poor kids, who by the age of 16 are already stuck in a long term rut that will affect how the rest of their lives unfold.

So taking all of the above into account, the impact of tuition fees to date and the evidence about where inequality sets in among children, I think I’m pretty clear now on where I’d like to see extra cash spent. . . 

The greatest need for more money isn’t relieving tertiary students of the cost of the small proportion of fees they now pay.

The greatest need is much earlier in the education system.

Pupils who succeed at secondary level will be able to choose whether to take on tertiary study, those who don’t won’t only not have that choice they will have very limited opportunities for work as well.

UPDATE:

The NZ Herald editorial says fee-free tertiary education is an expensive fix which has little purpose:

A universal entitlement to three years’ free tertiary education has overwhelming public appeal. Whether it is in the public interest is another question. The policy is expensive: $1.2 billion when fully implemented.

That is a considerable lump of public spending. As always when something of this magnitude is proposed, we should not look at its merits in isolation. Governments do not have infinite budgets and there is a limit to the taxation an economy can provide and remain healthy.

Labour needs to be asked, is this the most worthwhile use of $1.2 billion Is it even the most worthy use of funds allocated to education?

This question should be asked of every dollar that is spent.

Many professionals (outside the tertiary sector at least) would say raising funding of pre-school education is more socially urgent and productive than relieving school-leavers of an obligation to contribute to the cost of their qualifications.

 

University student associations have complained about course fees and loans to cover them since they were introduced. But many thousands of graduates have paid their fees and repaid their loans over the past 20 years.

Tertiary education has seen spectacular growth over that period, attracting foreign fee-paying students as well as meeting New Zealanders’ needs. Why change the funding system now?

Or to put it another way, what problem is this policy designed to fix? Labour’s leader presents it as an answer to the frequent and unpredictable career changes people will need in the workforce of the future. But this “future” has been present for many years now and there has been no sign the costs of retraining have become a problem.

So long as the economy remains strong and apprenticeships are available, as they are, it seems it cannot be too hard to acquire new skills.

If the wage drop creates difficulties for those with dependants, for instance, targeted assistance would be more effective than a costly new universal entitlement.

The economy is strong in large part because public spending is under control. Expensive proposals that waste money purely for political gain could put the country’s prosperity in peril.

The return to surplus after the previous Labour government had, in the words of Michael Cullen, spent the lot, was made more difficult by the GFC and the Canterbury earthquakes.

Forecasts aren’t optimistic about surpluses in the short term.

Any increase in spending must be directed where the need is greatest and it will achieve the most – that’s not making tertiary education completely fee-free.

 


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