Labour prioritises luxury education


I used to teach Spanish night classes, with the very necessary help of a Uruguayan friend.

We had fun, so did the pupils but even the best learned little more than the absolute basics.

The classes ended when funding was cut and I couldn’t argue against that.

There might have been some social benefit to the ACE – Adult and Continuing Education – classes, but using scarce taxpayers’ dollars for what was a luxury wasn’t sensible.

Labour railed against the cuts and is now promising to reinstate funding.

There is a case for public funding of numeracy and literacy classes and ESOL (English for Speakers of Other Languages).

But reinstating funding for hobby classes is wasting money on luxury education – mostly for upper and middle income people – when it would be far better used for those requiring necessities.

The PWC study which Labour uses to justify this spending has been discredited.

And Matthew Beveridge spotted that  Labour also scored another SMOG (Social Media Own Goal) with its announcement:

. . . Now you will notice that the graphic claims that they will increase funding to community education  TO $13million. Now there are two issues with that claim. Firstly, the funding for ACE this year is already $71million. (ref page 173) . . .

So as you can see, non literacy and numeracy programs already get $22.89mil allocated for them in the coming financial year. So Labour’s graphic is claiming to increase ACE funding to a level that is around 45% lower than the current appropriation.

The bigger issue is that their graphic doesn’t agree with their policy documents. . .

So Labour are promising in their policy documents to restore the nominal value of funding, with no inflation adjustment. This is a HUGE difference from what their graphic says. Their graphic implies a total funding of $13million next year, but their policy documents indicate a funding of around $36million. That means the funding difference between “graphic policy” and actual policy is around $23million.


How did no one in the whole Labour leaders office pick up this issue? I am not sure what would be worse, over selling a policy, or underselling it. One makes you look like you lied, the other makes you look inept. Neither of which is going to help an opposition party win.

Once more, Labour shows it’s the one in need of education on how to develop policy and deliver its announcement without contradiction and confusion.


What does $10 buy?


The ODT reports most Otago schools will abandon adult learning next year when changes to government priorities withdraw funding from hobby classes.

“You could still run courses, but the adults would have to pay all of the fees. They won’t be subsidised any more.”

Mr Craigie said adult students paid about $50 a term for ACE courses.

However, without the Government’s funding, they would be expected to pay more than $100 a term for each course.

Over a four-term year, it could cost students between $400 and $500, making it too expensive for many adults.

Let’s get add a little more to this discussion.

There is a high attrition rate in night classes. In each of the four years I’ve taught Spanish people rarely come to every class and several drop out altogether. That isn’t a reflection on my teaching, other teachers report a similar falling off in numbers, particularly over winter.

On average we had about 15 people on the first night. When we went for one term four or five dropped out and when we went for two terms the last couple of classes had only seven or eight students. Missing the odd class is inevitable, because people have other things to do, some knew when they started they wouldn’t finish the course because they were off on the holidays which prompted them to learn Spanish in the first place, some had other more important things come up and some found learning Spanish wasn’t for them.

Would it have made any difference if they had been paying more for the classes? I’m not sure. However, I am quite sure it is not good use of taxpayers’ money to subsidise classes for people who don’t turn up.

Another point to consider is that a lot of courses don’t run for the full year. Most continue for only one or two terms which would drop the cost to students to quarter or half the $400 to $500 cited.

That’s still a lot of money for some people, but regardless of how long the courses run, it’s only about $10 a class.

What else will $10 buy you? You’d pay more to go to a film.

But the more important question is, what is the best use of taxpayers’ moeny?

Keep in mind, we are facing a decade of deficits. You don’t just have to consider what else the money could go on now, you have to remember that it is borrowed money which will have to be repaid, cutting in to what is available for future spending.

Given that, what would you rather spend the money on, classes to improve literacy and numeracy for people who really need it, or on hobby classes for people who may or may not turn up to them?

If they want it why don’t they pay themselves?


Criticism of government plans to stop funding hobby classes for adults continues.

Community Learning Association through Schools (Class) president Maryke Fordyce said Government had under-estimated the level of outrage at cuts to Adult Community Education.

“Initial surveys conducted by schools with learners show that adults will not enrol in night classes if course fees are increased.”

She said over 200,000 adults participating in night classes would be affected by the cuts and that the self-funding option was not viable.

“A distinctive feature of night classes is its affordability and accessibility for learners,” Mrs Fordyce said.

But why aren’t the students willing to fund them themselves?

Students in the Spanish classes I taught paid only $6.50 a lesson for 10 two-hour lessons. Had they continued for another 10 it would have cost them only another 50 cents a lesson because their fees paid the upfront costs, the biggest of which was advertising, and the taxpayer paid me.

I don’t think anyone in the class would have called $3.25 an hour expensive and given most were employed, and many were professionals, they could probably have afforded to pay a lot more.

Of course they’re not going to say that if asked because they’ll hope that if they cause enough fuss the government will back down.

But if they’re not willing to pay more directly why are they willing to pay more indirectly through the taxes which now pay the bulk of the costs?

And if they think hobby classes for adults are a priority for taxpayer funding, what other area of publicly funded education would they sacrifice instead?

Community classes do have value but they aren’t nearly as important as improving literacy and numeracy.

Job lost by Nat budget cut for 2nd time – updated


 The Ministry of Women’s Affairs was seeking an editor for their Women In Agriculture newsletter.

It could be done from home and a very generous salary was being offered – from memory it was about $20,000 which was a lot of money for a very much part-time job in 1991.

The job description could have been written with me in mind. I had the journalism training and experience, was one of the co-founders of WAg in North Otago and still actively involved with it.

I applied, was short listed, interviewed and offered the position. But the offer came with a proviso that funding continued and the Budget a few weeks later cut it.

That was bad news for me as an individual but as a taxpayer I couldn’t argue for continued funding for something which definitely wasn’t necessary and which, if truth be told, shouldn’t have been publicly funded in the first place.

Nearly two decades later another National budget has put paid to another part time job for me. Teaching Spanish night classes has fallen victim to a change in rules for Adult Community Education (ACE) with funds being redirected towards priority areas of literacy and numeracy.

Again while I’m sorry as an individual I can’t argue against this move as a taxpayer because that would mean trying to justify public funding for private indulgences because these are essentially hobby classes.

I’ve been teaching the classes for four years with a Uruguayan friend. We’ve taken it seriously, spent time preparing lessons, provided notes and done our best in the classroom. We’ve enjoyed it and so have our students but the relative contribution by taxpayers and students was brought home to us this year when we discovered that 20 classes had been advertised when we thought we were only offering 10.

The students had paid $70 for 20 lessons but would get a refund of just $5 if we taught only 10 because most of the costs their fees covered were upfront ones, in particular advertising, and the major on-going cost of our wages came from taxpayers.

The classes were fun for our students and us but when there are so many other more important calls on public funds I couldn’t argue that paying for us to have fun was a priority.

Someone in the first lesson always asked how much they could expect to learn and I brought them down to earth by explaining after two years studying Spanish at university, three months of total immersion classes in Spain and five trips to Argentina to practise I have only an intermediate grasp of the language and a rusty one at that.

Even if the students went over what they’d learned between classes, which few if any ever did, 10 or even 20  two-hour lessons once a week were never going to be able to give them any more than the very basics – especially for those who’d never learned a foreign language before and/or didn’t understand how English worked either.

That’s not to say the classes didn’t have value. Apart from enjoyment, the students learned a little about another language and different cultures, they met new people, used their brains and expanded their horizons. But even so I couldn’t put my hand on my heart and say that anything they learned or gained could justify taxpayer funding.

There are many important priorities for education which taxes should fund, hobby classes aren’t one of them .

Stargazer sees this differently at The Hand Mirror.

UPDATE: Labour has launched a petition against the changes to ACE funding.

Bill English responded:

“Keeping ACE funding at previous levels would have meant not funding some of the Government’s other priorities such as special education, literacy and numeracy or skills training for the young unemployed.

“Labour, presumably, would just put the extra spending ‘on the credit card’ like everything else it is promising. Labour left behind about $500 million of unfunded tertiary education commitments, which is one of the reasons we’ve had to reassess some existing funding.

“I challenge Maryan Street to show how she would fund ACE at current levels, meet other education priorities, and stay within Budget,” Mr English says.


I’d struggle to make a case for public funding of hobby classes at the best of times let alone now when the country is facing years of deficits.

There is no case now when we’re facing years of deficits and literacy, numeracy and special education are much higher priorities.

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