Saturday, August 13, 2011

Not 'Every Child Counts' in a neoliberal world...

Every Child Counts, a report, commissioned by a coalition of child advocacy organisations was released today and shows that when comparing education, deprivation, suicide and infant mortality, Kiwi kids have some of the bleakest futures in the developed world, ranking a dismal 28th out of 30 for child outcomes – we just beat Mexico and Turkey.

Social Development Minister 'Basher' Bennett said that our ranking was a "real concern".


From Stuff:
She said the report backed government plans in early childcare, work testing for beneficiaries and asking parents on various benefits to work part-time.” 
They just cut funding to ECEC which forced many families out.

The report also found New Zealand had one of the lowest rates of spending on children at $3 billion, or 1.5% of GDP in 2010/11, and that it was not as well used as in other countries, especially when poor outcomes cost the country 3% of GDP, or $6b.
The report recommended government attention and funding be focused on the first 1000 days of a child's life, and warned that support for at-risk families tended to discourage people from working.”

Christ, were do we start? This is their baseline:
  • Children don't vote.
  • It's the parent's fault – they make “poor choices” to quote PM Key and should just get a job.
  • Quality schools and teachers will sort out any problems.
This is neoliberal ideology: Individual responsibility and minimal collective social support. If we ensure 'equality of access' then if you apply your self and make “better choices” then you to can be a global success. How sexy is that eh?

From here on I mainly draw on the brilliant Ivan Snook.

Firstly there's poverty:

Poverty is a by-product of the capitalist economic system whereby the exploitation of workers generates profit, thus inequality is an integral part of the economy and therefore society (Rata, 2009). The question must be asked: How do governments intend to lift child outcomes such as educational achievement if macro social and economic policies do not address the inherent inequality of capitalism?

Carpenter (2009) talks about how macro non-educational policies of neoliberalism are nullifying the best of educational intentions:

Policies such as market rents for state houses, the availability of adequate housing, transport costs, the minimum wage, and health costs all impact on the education system, they trump it, and they undoubtedly have a huge impact on children in low decile schools (Carpenter, 2009).

Snook claims that social factors such as those listed above are determining the educational achievement of a child before it is even born and that subsequent financial support has little effect as entrenched poverty affects birth weight, cognitive development, and IQ levels. Yet the Ministry of Education insists that “all students will achieve highly provided only that the teacher is sufficiently skilled to create an optimum learning environment” (Snook and O'Neill, 2010). Such confidence – and in the face of decades of research!

So while material deprivation is a primary factor in educational achievement, the paradox is that money alone cannot solve this deficit (Snook and O'Neill, 2010). Targeting resources to alleviate the effects of poverty through special benefits such as Working For Families and the school decile system have been problematic and critics query their overall effectiveness. Working for Families is not available to households supported by state benefits and the decile system has created a 'white flight' situation that has stigmatised poorer schools and entrenched community inequality by inadvertently advertising the socio-economic status of the school community (CPAG, 2011; Carpenter, 2011).

Rather than address entrenched social inequality (that's the whole fucking system), neoliberalism keeps throwing the money at the education system – well it's more like 'redirecting existing funds to target groups', so it's a pretty half-arsed attempt at the best of times. National Standards! Yeah!

Why school? Because it maintains the system that so benefits them.

Carpenter (2001) describes how rather than being the mythical social ladder, school prepares children for social class positions similar to their parents through a rigidly prescribed curriculum that rejects the cultural and social capital of children from low socio-economic groups.

'Cultural capital' refers to “language, meanings, thought and behavioural styles, values and dispositions” (Rata, 2009, p.112), which link a child to a particular socio-economic class. 'Social capital' refers to networks of influence and resources available to a child and his or her family. These variables can be seen as a lack of parental agency and social connections, working class sub-culture with its emphasis on present-time orientation, the absence of values and skills for learning and high achievement.

According to Social Reproduction Theory (Rata, 2009), education is the main site where material, cultural and social capital can be used to create more capital, thereby improving ones life-chances. By structuring the school system in such a way that learners from low socio-economic groups are 'othered' or marginalised, they are denied access to capital and the reproduction of class in ensured. A critical component in this reproduction is curriculum (Carpenter, 2009).

Curriculum is “... a social and political construct that changes over time in response to a wide range of factors and influences, not only those recognisably internal to the educational system, but also many that are external to that system” (McCulloch, 1992, cited in Carpenter, 2001).

Yep, global capitalism primarily.

So what's going to change. Nothing. Until the revolution of course.


Carpenter, V. M. (2001). Curriculum and the (re)production of education. In V. Carpenter, H.
Dixon, E. Rata, & C. Rawlinson (Eds.), Theory in practice for educators (pp. 109-135).
Palmerston North: Dunmore Press.
Carpenter, V. M. (2009). Low decile schools and teacher professional development, published by Child Poverty Action Group.
Carpenter, V. (2011). Lecture: curriculum and urban (low decile) schooling. Auckland, New Zealand: University of Auckland.
Child Poverty Action Group. (2011). Retrieved from
Rata, E. (2009). Socio-economic class and Māori education. In E. Rata & R. Sullivan (Eds.), Introduction to the history of New Zealand education. (pp. 101-119). Auckland: Pearson.
Snook, I. & O'Neill, J. (2010). Social class and educational achievement: Beyond ideology. New Zealand Journal of Educational Studies. 45(2).

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