Taking issue – alumni respond

Letters, News — By on May 29, 2012 2:22 pm

G I Laurenson, Principal, Otahuhu College

As the Principal of one of the largest Decile one schools in the country Otahuhu College with the greatest number of Pasifika students I was extremely disturbed to read the article in Ingenio written by Uesifili Unasa.  It is one thing to write an article to generate discussion but something else to write an opinion piece without making any effort what so ever to discover the realities of the situation before putting pen to paper.  As a graduate of Auckland University with an Arts degree I was dismayed and upset with the false assumptions and generalities in the column.

I can assure you the children of the poor are being taught at Otahuhu College.  Yes they dance at Polyfest and play in the 1st XV but they are mentored all year long and leave after the external exams are complete.

With monotonous regularity they are reminded of the perils of relying on professional sport as a career (not an issue for the girls).  They are three of the four Head Prefects and when they leave to go to University they do degrees in medicine, engineering, commerce, law and the arts.  Through our GATEWAY programme we even got seven apprenticeships in 2011 and they are harder to get than entrance to university.

To meet the challenge of getting more students into health related careers we have started a Health Science Academy to encourage our Pasifika and Maori students to do extra science at school so as to remove a lack of science as a barrier to taking on degree courses in medicine, nursing, physiotherapy and other health related fields.  Now in its second year over 40 Pasifika and Maori students are making giant steps towards careers in these areas.  One has even been selected by the Royal Society as one of twenty one students from all over New Zealand to attend a week long science symposium in Dunedin.  Textbooks are given to them and laptops are about to be issued.  Extra classes are run outside of normal school hours and specialists brought in for seminars on exam techniques and study skills.  To visit a level two physics class being taught with 18 Pasifika girls in it shows how successful the academy concept has been already.

It is ironic however to read the article on page 35 of Ingenio and to see a photograph of our Dux from 2011 as a recipient of one of two “First in Family” scholarships.

Maybe we are getting some things right for the “children of the poor”.

Perhaps a journey from the “Ivory Towers” to the depths of South Auckland to see the reality might be in order.

Otahuhu College

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1 Comment

  1. Susan St John says:

    I note the comment [in the response from McAuley High School] “We also do not spend our extremely busy days “handwringing and writing endless reports” as stated by Susan St John, although we do support her point that the negative effects of poverty are both varied and many in our society”.

    I was not referring to these very talented and hardworking alumini at all, but to the Children’s Commission, the Families Commission, the Pediatrics Society, the Salvation Army, the Child Poverty Action Group, the NZInstitute of Economic Research, Manuka Henare’s report on Maori child health for Every Child Counts, medical journal articles, church groups reports, the Welfare Working Group, the Ministry of Social Developement reports,the Expert Group on Child Poverty (announced the day I was asked to write this piece), the Maori select committee on child health, the Ministerial enquiry into child health — to quickly type a few that come to mind.
    As as part of the child advocacy sector CPAG is forever expected to produce yet more research/ make yet more submissions. Academics are often involved in contracts that rehash what is already known. So the comment was as much as anything self-deprecating.

    My message, clearly missed, is that poor educational achievement is one of the symptoms of child poverty. We know enough to act now, especially in the first years of life when NZ does really badly in supporting young families. A low income child with good food/good health/good stimulation will have a well developed brain by 5- but this takes resources and huge support. .
    Of course we should celebrate success-and it was heartening to hear of that, but Maori and PI are unfortunately still disproportionately represented in statistics of social distress. Health outcomes are really worrying. In the case of South Auckland we are also very conscious of the degree of transience in the school system, largely due to difficulties in housing. Anything that can be done to alleviate social distress should make the task of the educators easier. Saying so should not be taken to devalue the marvelous efforts already being made by many dedicated teachers.

    Susan St John

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