Tuesday, 22 September 2015

Task Six: Issues in Education

Inequality and food literacy
We live in the 21st century, and we are starting to move our teaching practice and learning communities towards the 21st century too. However, the march of progress seen in our classrooms sometimes feels like a march away from the nearly 20% of New Zealanders living in poverty. 
Source: Statistics New Zealand
In "Some inconvenient truths about education in Aotearoa-New Zealand", Martin Thrupp argues that there is a section of children from low-income families who are "locked out" of the educational opportunities available to those who are better-off. Decile ratings are used a blunt instrument by parents and some sections of the media as a measure of a school's quality. There is no centralised program for feeding the poorest children in society as in other countries, so charities and NGOs are left to fill the gap. It is estimated that 180,000 kids in Aotearoa New Zealand go without the essentials. The effect of hunger and deprivation on classroom performance has been a point of political debate but most teachers would agree that without adequate nourishment, resources and family support, students struggle in school. 

Y7 students showing off their carrots, grown in our school garden
My learning community is in an area that is seen as being quite affluent. However, the issues of malnutrition and poverty are still found in every classroom. Our whanau has responded with strategies to help those students most in need. To meet the immediate needs of hungry students, we started buying noodles, muesli bars and protein shakes to keep in case students turned up hungry. This program has evolved so that we are now offering fresh sandwiches to students who need it. It doesn't seem like much but for those students it's helped them focus in class, helped them feel supported and has improved attendance. 

We also support students in financial hardship by paying for trips and events that they might not otherwise be able to access. I have paid for Science roadshow entries for students who could not afford it, and as a whanau we have found funds to send some students on school camp and OPC out of our budget. 

 In the longer term, I have taken over the school garden which has been rather neglected in the last few years. Yesterday students carried out a litter pick and in the process discovered that carrots planted some time ago were ready for harvest. The students were incredibly excited about eating produce grown in their own "back garden" and from next term I hope to plant vegetables so that we can offer fresh, nutritious food to our students. This also ties in with my commitment to the environment, sustainability, and giving students authentic, relevant outcomes for learning.

Making students more food aware addresses another issue, that of food literacy and nutrition. 

"What's the green bit for miss?"
With over half of our young people failing to eat enough vegetables, and the number of children who classify as obese in New Zealand rising, there is a real need to investigate how we can help young people and their families access better-quality food, in particular fruit and vegetables. 

There are lots of NGOs working in this field across New Zealand Aotearoa and abroad, but within our own learning community being able to show learners how food is grown, and giving them a space where they can grow their own food, is invaluable. 

Watching my students pull carrots out of the ground, wash them and then tentatively take a bite before triumphantly proclaiming that they "taste just like carrots!" reinforces that we need to show children the value of getting their hands dirty and seeing where food comes from and how it can be made. By providing education, space to practice, and time to experiment, we can help reconnect our communities with the whenua and their food.

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