Written by Stacey Shortall; 6 December 2018
The statistics are well known. One in four children in New Zealand live under the income poverty line. At least one in ten New Zealand children live in material hardship. The 2018 UNICEF Innocenti Report Card ranks New Zealand 33rd out of 38 countries for education inequality, reflecting the huge gap between our highest-performing and lowest-performing school students.
But there is a light in the tunnel. With support to become a lifelong learner, it is possible for children to overcome hardship, close gaps, and build a better future.
Numerous studies show that reading with children helps them learn to speak, interact and bond well, not to mention empowers them to understand more of the world around them.
According to the Education Review Office (ERO), “reading proficiency is a gateway to the world”. In fact, engaging and reading with a child is widely accepted as providing a strong foundation for lifelong learning.
Engaging and reading with children facing hardship in our country need not be restricted to formal schooling and paid teachers. Instead we can all play a part in helping these New Zealand children to be lifelong learners.
Being a lifelong learner is powerful. It means that children become adults who never stop learning. Among other things, lifelong learners are curious and motivated to extend their knowledge. They strive for improvement and innovation. They are more resilient and adaptable to change. They become open to more possibilities around them. As reported in The Economist last year, lifelong learning is fast becoming an economic imperative as technological changes require more continuous education.
Using Homework Clubs in which low decile primary schools are partnered with local businesses, firms, departments or agencies, the Who Did You Help Today charitable trust enables more people to help more New Zealand children become lifelong learners.
Run after school on a weekly basis during school term time, Homework Clubs provide an opportunity for volunteers to engage and read with young students. Through conversations, volunteers are also exposed to new ideas and insights from the children too, therefore furthering each volunteer’s lifelong learning as well.
The American educational reformer John Dewey once wrote that “education is not
preparation for life; education is life itself.” As New Zealand strives to improve the lives of those children living in hardship here, we should also look to improve their education journey by tapping more corporate and other volunteers to help them become lifelong learners. The more of us who start playing our part to move things forward, the fewer of our children get left behind.
Stacey is a partner at the MinterEllisonRuddWatts law firm and a trustee of the Who Did You Help Today charitable trust (www.whodidyouhelptoday.org) that runs Mothers Project, Homework Club and HelpTank.