School life and looking for a clearer vision, by Kath Curran , Napier Family Centre,CEO
When I saw the TV ad from Harvey Norman screaming back-to-school deals for BYOD it took me a second to translate this latest acronym for the school setting – Bring Your Own Device. Then my next thought admittedly was relief that I have escaped that particular cost of schooling as 2016 sees one of my teenage sons to University and the other is heading into his last two years of High School. That children’s education comes with a cost for parents is not new but a hot topic right now as the media publishes a study that predicts state education will cost parents upwards of $35,000 per child http://www.nzherald.co.nz/nz/news/article.cfm?c_id=1&objectid=11390477.
Going back to my initial reaction of being pleased at what I saw as a near-miss; I do wonder if this attitude paints a less than rosy picture of me as a parent. You see, I felt the same when the car safety law changed and older children had to have booster seats as my sons were well out of primary school when those regulations came in. I am absolutely all for safe children and for children to be educated relevant for their environment; it is simply taking a single working mother’s perspective, the costs and logistics would have added another layer of stress to daily life, often invisible.
There are school costs outside of the classroom too. My young son had a habit of losing shoes at primary school, forgetting where he had kicked them off to run and play. He got sick of the escalating consequences and when having to use his own pocket money to replace them he decided on a strategy he thought was win-win. He simply stopped wearing shoes to school. The shoes became less of an issue in high school but replacement uniform and sports gear items were still needed constantly, whether through theft or carelessness or growth spurts.
Thirteen years ago, when my soon-to-be uni undergrad started school, the issues to face that my mother’s generation did not contend with were around working and juggling childcare. The cost of childcare became part of the cost of working. Certainly working mothers in the 1970’s had to deal with childcare but society rules allowed for quite young siblings to take responsibility. We certainly wouldn’t go back to that thinking, neither should we resist progress in our children’s education. I am in wonderment of my sons’ easy movement between technologies – they will happily buy paperback books, read downloaded books on their phones; play chess together equally on a board or on laptops and music and film come into the house via internet and dvd. Their world is infused in technology. Applications for entry jobs for young people – retail and orchards – require being savvy online. Not many workplaces don’t have an online presence. There is an acceptance that jobs our children will be doing haven’t been thought of yet – my CV is littered with obsolete jobs. Even my first after school job at 15yrs old was working in a tobacconist, a long-gone option.
The debate is where education costs should lie and one thing is obvious in our work at Napier Family Centre, our low-waged local economy means a great many parents cannot afford these creeping costs of educating children. If children are being kept home, e.g. because families cannot afford a uniform, or an excursion that day requires a contribution, we encourage people to go to a budget advisor to see if they are eligible for income support from WINZ. As well, talk to the school principals. Feelings of shame may be stopping people getting the help that is available. So it is up to us all in our community to stop and think with some compassion about what it might be like for families where money for a basic school education of $2,000-$3,000 per child per year has to be found from already strained household budgets to give their children just a starting chance for equality in state education. Given school needs is not how it used to be, and nor do I want it to be so, there needs to be a clearer vision on what our children’s school life looks like and how parents, community and government are going to ensure all children have equal opportunity.