I had a interesting interaction this week that has got me thinking about haves and have nots when it comes to education. With up coming pay negotiations, articles like this about school donations and BYOD policies and general feeling of we (my household) are running on a tight belt, it really hit a chord with me.
A bit of back story, I live in South Dunedin. According to the data sent to me by the lovely releaste agent each month, over 50% of households in Sth D earn less than $35,000. My husband and I are the top 1% (which is hell scary cause we feel like we have no $$ ever). Recently we were struck by some pretty awful floods, and it is always just a bit tough for a lot of families in our neighbourhood.
My son goes to the local daycare. We live close, and only have one car, so the hubby walks him there in the morning, and I walk to pick him and we then usually go to the park across the road for a bit afterwards so the small person can run around, and I can unwind, before we walk home. This gives me a precious 10-20 minutes with no child to light the fire and get dinner in the oven etc when I first get home from school.
It was at the park that I got asked a seemingly innocuous question from another Mum from daycare ‘have you travelled with Ollie before? Like, left Dunedin?’ Sure I replied, when drive to ChCh reasonably often, and he has had a few plane trips to chch and rotorua. ‘Wow, lucky’ was the reply ‘ how did you keep him entertained?’
As it turned out, this family had been saving for a trip away, and had booked bus tickets and ferry tickets to go up north to Wellington and Hamilton. This wee boy had never been further away than about 25 minutes north of Dunedin, so it was a massive adventure. I think because she had never seen us with the car, she thought we were in the same boat as her and walked or bused.
And note, I am not trying to instil pity or want in this family. The wee fellow is so well looked after and so loved there is no way to doubt how hard his family is working for the best for him.
And it was this comment that really got me. ‘A few people have said just to buy him a tablet – and I guess he might need one for school next year so maybe that is a good option – it could be his christmas present’
How can we ensure that all children in NZ are exposed to an equal education, when there are genuine, hardworking families that haven’t left Dunedin in 5 years? And are thinking now about saving for a christmas present that will be useful for school.
Is a tablet really that important for a family who are struggling? Or would that money be better spent on experiences? Is a tablet necessary for a 5 year old just starting school? Or is that a perception? Are genuine families being sold a lie? Are we investing precious money into the wrong places?
And who am I to say? But I do worry that the gap between the haves and the have nots is not just about devices, it is about experiences that are just out of reach for many. A school camp takes on a whole new level of importance for me now, and I feel slightly naive to not have considered it before.
So as the whole systems is squeezed for money, more students go without lunch let alone books and devices, where can we spend the money the best? Can we ‘support’ students in a school, or do we need to put that ‘support’ into communities and families so all the other types of learning can occur. Because there is more to learn than reading and writing and knowing your times table. I fear that these experiences are moving out of reach for many.