Why I won’t be going

Later this week a seminar is being held in Wellington to celebrate 100 years since the formation of the ANC (African National Congress) and to also look at the history of the anti-apartheid movement under the heading ‘How New Zealand helped to abolish apartheid’.
Several Wellingtonians active in the anti-apartheid struggle have organised the event where the keynote address will be given by former ANC Cabinet Minister Arnold Stofile.
Several people have asked me if I will be attending or alternatively why I won’t be attending so for the record I’m reprinting here the emails I sent declining the invitation.

To the organising committee (18 March 2012)
Thanks for the note. I’ve given it some serious thought and have decided to decline the offer to take part. I don’t think the programme can have real credibility as it stands unless in some way it addresses what has occurred in South Africa in the 18 years since the ANC was elected to power. I, and most people in the anti-apartheid movement in New Zealand, took part in the boycott campaigns not to simply change the colour of the faces of those who ruled South Africa. We didn’t face batons and barbed wire to replace race-based apartheid with economic apartheid. Our intention wasn’t to stop the apartheid gravy train for the wealthy just long enough for a tiny number of the black elite to jump on.

I appreciate the seminar is about New Zealand’s role in the struggle to see the end of race-based apartheid but it seems designed to avoid the uncomfortable questions about what the ANC has done with its democratic mandate which our actions here were designed to help bring about. The seminar should be prepared to hear from the many organisations fighting for decent housing and jobs etc in South Africa but who now suffer harassment and hounding by the ANC In short I think the seminar needs to have some serious critique of the ANC’s neo-liberal economic policies which are enriching the few at the expense of the many just as they have done in New Zealand for the past generation under successive Labour and National led governments.

Without this I think the seminar will be just an exercise in nostalgia.
John Minto

After a second invite I wrote again on 28 June:
Thanks for the note. Sorry for the late response but things have been hectic this week. _____ wrote and asked me to speak on one of the panels which was the first I’d heard of the event. I replied that I wouldn’t speak and for the same reason as I explained to her I won’t be coming either. For a number of reasons I don’t think it’s helpful to tie an event to mark the ANC Centenary with an event to examine the history of the New Zealand anti-apartheid movement. For example the movement in the earlier decades under discussion offered much broader support to the liberation struggle that to just the ANC. But my greatest concern is the failure of the seminar to look at what the ANC has done in the last 18 years of that centenary – namely when it has been in power in South Africa. You will know what I mean. The voices we should be bringing to New Zealand (as we did last year for the 30th anniversary of the Springbok Tour) are those such as S’Bu Zikode from Abahlali baseMjondolo who speaks for a large group of the dispossessed in South Africa and whose movement has suffered violent attacks and killings at the hands of young ANC activists.
On the same day I received your email below I received a statement from ABM which commented on the ANC celebration of its centenary with these words:
“All is slowly sinking as the new government is making sure that we remember the heroes of the struggle but not what the struggle was for”.
My concern is the seminar is precisely reflecting that view rather than the much more arguable view that the ANC has betrayed the struggle of the people of South Africa. The seminar looks more like an exercise in nostalgia than an honest appraisal of the ANC then and now.
This is not intended as an attack on the people taking part in the seminar, many of whom I have great respect for. It’s unfortunate I didn’t have the opportunity to comment on the proposal before it was set in concrete as I would have put forward these views then and perhaps the seminar could have been associated with a much more robust analysis of ANC history.
John Minto

Minister’s rose-tinted glasses are two generations out of date

Published in NZ Herald – 30 May 2012

Education Minister Hekia Parata’s comment that she was once in a class of 43 students will resonate with older New Zealanders. Large classes were the norm in the 1950’s and 60’s and I have a class photo showing 57 alongside me at primary school in South Dunedin.

Today class sizes are closer to 30 than 50 and many will think the Minister’s proposals to use an increase in class size as a way to fund improving the quality of teachers is no bad thing.

But classrooms have changed dramatically in the intervening generations. In the past most teaching was done as “chalk and talk” from the front of the room and kids assessed with exams twice a year. But teachers today are expected to see their students as individuals with individual needs, learning styles and challenges and adapt their teaching accordingly. They are expected to be able to give good and frequent individual feedback on progress and feed forward what students need to be working on to develop their learning. Assessment has grown like topsy into a much larger burden and with national standards now infecting primary schools this will increase again.

Relating to students as individuals is good education practice. This is especially so in schools in low-income areas where all the research and my many years of personal experience show the relationship between teacher and student is critical to good learning.

Changes in the teaching of children with special education needs has also impacted significantly on classrooms since 1989 when the Education Act gave children with special needs the right to enroll at their local school. This was universally welcomed but like so many good policies was never resourced for success. There is no better illustration of this than last week’s announcement that the Ministry of Education wants to close four residential schools for intellectually disabled children and those with serious behavioural difficulties and require them to access their education in mainstream schools.

This mirrors the 1998 Ministry decision to withdraw direct funding from the country’s special needs units attached to mainstream schools and require the children to enter mainstream classrooms unless their school or local cluster of schools could fund a unit themselves. Many schools and parents put up valiant struggles but the massive financial leverage of the Ministry means the small number of remaining units are facing forced closure at the end of this year.

These changes are fraught for teachers because the resources and the smaller class sizes are just not there for this to be a successful strategy in many cases. One of my most dispiriting experiences in education was some years back when a meeting of several thousand secondary school teachers loudly applauded a speaker who was struggling to support children with special education needs he was required to teach in his mainstream classroom. He was supportive of mainstreaming but frustrated at his inability to do the best for all the kids in the class without the support needed for them all to become successful learners.

Increasing class sizes makes all this that much more difficult. We already have the unsavoury behaviour of some public schools discouraging enrolment of children with special needs. God forbid that that extends to classroom teachers who will see their own reputation tarnished and their income reduced through performance pay if they welcome children with special needs into their classroom.

Today’s teachers are expected to be super-teachers – to take a class of 30 or so students and deliver increasingly individualized education programmes with much more emphasis on assessment and feedback to students and parents. Instead of helping and resourcing teachers to do this job the government is making it harder.

One of the ironies is that National Party government ministers seem to prefer to send their own kids to elite private schools where small classes are given priority, children with special education needs or behavioral problems are refused enrolment and rather than performance pay the teachers are paid the state school pay rates with an additional percentage.

And just to make sure their kids are resourced properly the government gave them a 22.3% increase in government subsidies for 2010 with further increases since.

Not so for schools in our low-income areas where student achievement is well below other areas. The issues here are multiple but the elephant in the room is our appalling low-wage economy where on top of 160,000 unemployed we have half a million people earning less than $16 an hour and over a hundred thousand who don’t get enough hours of work to enjoy a decent income.

But despite the now frequent attacks on teachers and schools New Zealand has a good public education system which consistently ranks third or fourth in the world in international achievement comparisons. If only our athletes in London could do so well.

These fine levels of educational achievement have been built by teachers and schools despite recent government policies which mimic the failed school policies from the US and UK.

Let’s give our public school teachers and public schools a break and applaud them as world champions. And let’s give them the resources and support to ensure every kid is a champion learner rather than belittle them and make their job that much harder.

John Minto
National Chairperson
Quality Public Education Coalition

Students from low-income families pay the price

(Media release for QPEC from National Chairperson John Minto – 4 May 2012)

The budget changes to student loans and allowances foreshadowed by Tertiary Education Minister Stephen Joyce reinforce the difficulties faced by students from low-income families in accessing quality tertiary education.

The four-year freeze on the parental-income threshold for access to the student allowance will mean the struggle for these students gets that much tougher as inflation cuts their access to what is already a minimal payment.

Similarly the refusal to extend the student allowance beyond four years makes it harder for students from low-income families to enter the longer, more expensive courses such as medicine or optometry. They will be left high and dry after four years.

These students, often Maori and Pacifica students, are already on the margin in terms of representation in higher level tertiary study and the hard work done by families and schools in low-income communities to get them into high-quality tertiary education study will be further undermined with these changes.

At the other end the post-graduate road is tougher as well with repayment requirements up 20% to 12% of earnings over $19,084. This will shorten repayment times but make a post-graduate experience that much more difficult.

The government’s arguments for the changes don’t stack up. Yes, we are in an economic recession but the government’s priority was $2 billion in tax cuts for the top 10% of income earners two years ago with the shortfall to be picked up in this case by tertiary students from low-income families.

We should be removing barriers to tertiary education for these young New Zealanders rather than adding barbed wire and broken glass to the top.

Glen Innes needs our support – why? and how?

Aucklanders could be forgiven for being confused as to why so many Glen Innes residents are stridently opposed to the redevelopment of their suburb.
Who could object to a project which promises major upgrading of state houses, refurbished community facilities, improved education, more job opportunities, better shopping and recreational areas?
It sounded great when the plans were first announced in 2008 with barely a few ripples of concern through the community.
However with a change of government and more details of the project being released alongside harsh policies to reduce and sell state houses the concerns have mushroomed.
So close to Anzac Day it’s worth remembering the area around Glen Innes was settled in the aftermath of the Second World War and street names reflect some of the battles where New Zealanders fought the rise of fascism. Dunkirk, Tripoli, Tobruk, Benghazi and Alamein Roads are there along with Upham and Ngarimu Roads remembering Victoria Cross winners Charles Upham and the Maori Battallion’s Moana Ngārimu.
A large war memorial reserve beside the Tamaki estuary provides a reminder of the history and a place to celebrate community life after six years of war.
Returning soldiers and their families moved into this community in large numbers after the war with the government providing much-needed housing. It’s an example of the best of urban development from the 1950s when state houses were spread through a community and every family could expect a decent standard of living. Generations of kids have grown up in these well-treed streets with robust houses and large sections.
Back in 2008 the then head of the Tamaki Transformation Project Pat Snedden told the community –
“There will be no requirement at all for any existing tenant in any state house to move out of the area as a result of anything that occurs here. There will be no reduction in state houses as a result of anything that occurs here”.
However in the first stage of redevelopment state housing is being halved (from 156 to 78 homes) and families on low-incomes are being forced to abandon homes they have lived in for decades. By any measure these families have paid off their houses several times over but they will either be forced out of the suburb altogether or into a new high density housing area which will be an urban slum in five years.
It’s small wonder the community feels betrayed and abused with previous assurances shown to be meaningless.
The government’s plan has a public relations name (TTP) but in practice it’s ethnic cleansing on a grand scale. Maori and Pacific families are being forced out of their homes on the slopes of northern Glen Innes for high-income housing to take their place. It seems the government thinks families on low-incomes don’t deserve homes with a harbour view.
The first state house was shifted out last week and up to 40 are scheduled to be moved in the next few weeks as the land is prepared for selling to property developers. They in turn are excited at the rich pickings they will take from buying this crown land and developing it for private profit. It’s hard to believe there is a desperate shortage of state houses.
The government claims the community has been consulted widely but this is a sham. The only local person from Glen Innes on the transformation board is National MP Alfred Ngaro who believes “state housing creates dependency”. Alfred is entitled to his views but he has never been elected as a community representative of Glen Innes.
The makeup of the transformation board looks as though it could happily represent Remuera but is hopelessly out of its depth in understanding the Glen Innes community. I have never seen a more patronising, unsympathetic and inarticulate response from an organisation as given by the transformation board chair to an angry community meeting in February.
But these National Party appointees blunder on uprooting this community family by family, street by street. They won’t be happy until this last piece of coastal Auckland which is still occupied by low-income families is handed over to property developers to create another McMansion suburb by the sea.
This is not what New Zealand soldiers fought for or, in the case of Ngarimu, died for. He was killed in 1943 and never had the opportunity to raise a family in a suburb such as Glen Innes.
Looking at Glen Innes today there’s a lot to feel embarrassed about as we remember our old soldiers’ legacy.
So what can we do to support this community under attack?
• Join the text alert to join protests against the movement of state houses. Text to 0211239252 to get the alerts.
• Come to the community forum on Wednesday 9th May at Grace International Church (off Line Road, GI) at 7pm where the community will speak out with a plan to deal with the crisis.