Education priorities


Whether you’re an individual or a government, when your expenditure exceeds your income you’ve got to set priorities.

Education Minister Anne Tolley made it clear on Q&A this morning that her priority for the education budget is younger people.

Well 124 million dollars will still be spent in adult and community education. What I’ve said is we’re going to focus on literacy, numeracy, language, foundation skills – those courses that will lead on to employment. We’re still in an economic recession, there are people out there, particularly young people, who are the most vulnerable, they are the most likely to lose their jobs and the least ones likely to get jobs.

PAUL Yes, but night classes in schools of course as adults – migrants, refugees adults trying to improve their lot – the strugglers.

ANNE Some of them are, some of them are hobby courses courses like belly dancing, ukulele playing. We’ve got courses like pilates and yoga – I’ve attended those classes myself. The average age of people attending those night classes is about 46. What we’re saying I had a half billion debt from the previous government to find in tertiary education what we’re saying is we’re going to put those tax dollars into supporting our young people through the recession.

Tolley said that English language classes will remain and, pointed out what seems to escape many of the critics, that schools will still be able to offer other classes on a user pays basis.

She also countered the criticism about taking money from Adult Community Education while funding private schools.

Economically, private schools save the State system money. I’m looking at a small private school at the moment that’s probably going to close – wants to integrate – currently costs the State around $65,000 a year. If it integrates and comes into the State network it’s going to cost $380,000 a year which is an enormous difference.

That argument might not sway people who are ideologically opposed to private education and think they should be self-supporting. But if it costs the state less to keep them going than to bring them, or their pupils, into the state system it makes sense to take the least expensive option.

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?

Questions for protesters


Would the 300 or so people who protested at parliament  yesterday about cuts to Adult Community Education classes:

* Be prepared to pay more tax to fund these classes?

* Consider paying for adults to attend hobby classes a higher priority than paying for more classes in literacy and numeracy?

* Suggest other areas of education spending which could be cut instead?

* Consider other methods of funding hobby classes than taxpayer largesse?

And :

Do they know there’s a recession and that government income is woefully short of that needed for its expenditure?

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.

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