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Letters March 2 2013

Gay marriage; alcohol; and education.


What a tragedy that the purposes of assessment for primary schools have become confused and that children’s learning may ultimately suffer (“Testing times”, February 23). Testing for primary school children is now driven by high-stakes political imperatives rather than by the aim of better learning for all children. School principals, with their professional experience and knowledge of their students, tell us results of two current tests seem to be inflated, possibly for the purpose of providing enhanced results for National Standards, an apparent success story for government policy. As long as schools are pressured to provide comparative data for National Standards and competitive league tables, and potentially for teachers’ performance pay, we will endure endless dramas and controversy about the validity and reliability of tests. We may well ask what is the point of collecting all this data when we can’t rely on its integrity. Assessment of real learning is complex and will never be an exact science. Teachers recognise this and are continually developing their skills in making professional judgments based on a range of information about how each child’s understanding and skills are progressing. The purpose is diagnostic, to plan for further teaching and also to be accountable to parents through better communication about their child’s learning. Teachers must now judge how much time it is worth spending on assessing the narrow range of learning areas for National Standards compared with putting their energy into fresh learning across the breadth of the curriculum. Until now, teaching, learning and assessing in primary schools have taken account of the range of developmental paths and the variable pace of an individual’s learning. Primary children have not been subject to the same regime of testing and exams as those in secondary education, which lead to external qualifications. Now, with the Government’s determination to standardise and politicise primary education, how are children to benefit?
Ruth Mansell
(Korokoro, Petone)

A number of truisms have been demonstrated in the various forms of secondary assessment over the years. If you change the test, the results will change. If the test involves marker judgment, different markers will make different judgments. If essentially the same test is presented, the result will rise over the year. This is because teachers will become more skilled in preparing students and will probably spend more time on examinable material at the expense of other stuff. And now this has come to pass in primary assessment. No surprises there. What is surprising is Education Minister Hekia Parata’s naive faith in testing. Her goal of “lifting achievement for all students”, although superficially laudable, is meaningless. What is the purpose of education? Is it for personal development and enriching lives? That was certainly the case when miners attended WEA courses in poetry, ancient history or whatever. For brief periods, their spirits soared above their dirty, degrading and dangerous jobs. How quaint this now seems. Clearly, education is seen in economic terms. Would unlocking the talents of the “tail” be the country’s salvation? What would happen if everyone gained NCEA level 2? The increase in the number of people in tertiary education resulted in graduate unemployment and the devaluation of many qualifications. We live in an unequal and rapacious society. Were we to create an even larger pool of the talented, the skilled, the competent and the creative, the unseen hand of the market would simply force wages down. Someone has to pay for the seven-figure rewards given for corporate failure.
Jim Colvine
(Mangawhai Heads)


Let’s take the hysteria out of the cat debate. Calgary, in Alberta, Canada, has a Responsible Pet Ownership Bylaw that applies to cats and dogs. The part that refers to cats is sensible, requiring owners to be responsible and not annoy the neighbours or anyone else. What more could we want?
Barbara Camp


I agree with the concept of a living wage as a way to improve the lives of lower-paid employees. However, before employers begin their predictable response that it is unaffordable and will cost jobs, let me offer a radical suggestion. Were all employers to start treating their employees as assets instead of liabilities/ costs, employer/employee relations would immediately improve, and this could just possibly have a positive effect on the so-called nationwide problem of low productivity.
Ray Harrison
(Algies Bay, Warkworth)


It’s too soon to judge whether National MP Amy Adams is competent in her portfolio as Minister for the Environment (“Parliament needs mums”, February 2). The omens are not good. First, it seems inappropriate for a lawyer to be a minister in an administration that has decreed the Environment Canterbury commissioners will have a further term – making their “temporary” period in office some six and a half years. This is no minor matter. The New Zealand Law Society, in a detailed submission, has criticised the bill allowing the extension of time as unconstitutional. Second, the Cabinet seems determined to make rivers wholly subservient to the demands of a select group of irrigators intent on intensive dairying. Schemes such as Hawke’s Bay’s Rua taniwha project – to be propped up by a generous taxpayer handout – are in regions ill-suited to this type of farming. Once nitrates from agricultural fertilisers get into the aquifers, no power can get them out. National seems to think poisoned rivers and dying lakes are an acceptable price to pay to maintain the illusion of economic growth. The only problem is that New Zealanders have not been consulted on the matter.
G Henderson
(Northcote, Auckland)

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I find churches’ vehement opposition to the gay marriage bill and their reasoning hard to understand. The bill proposes that two people of the same sex can marry just as a man and a woman can. It proposes equal access to civil marriage. The churches argue that the bill is an attack on the family. But how can any measure that aims to stabilise or formalise relationships be an attack on those relationships? Many gay people already live in successful stable family relationships with or without children, yet they are denied the legal and social recognition that marriage bestows. If the bill is passed, churches do not need to offer church marriage ceremonies to same sex couples if they do not approve. And it’s doubtful whether many gay couples would request them. It is simply a matter of human rights. Gay people should have the same civil rights as straight people. I don’t think I would feel the need to marry the man I love. But I should have the right to do so.
Barry Allom


After World War II, New Zealand opened its doors to those wanting to come here. Yes, we needed manpower to replace those people lost in the war and to help rebuild the economy, but we also knew we had to reach out to those who had suffered the indignities and horrors of war. So it was therefore appalling to hear Prime Minister John Key suggest boat people aren’t genuine refugees and that any who land here are likely to be shipped off to an Australian detention centre. Then, within a week, MP Richard Prosser came out with vitriol condemning those of Islamic faith. This is too much. Some people witnessed the dawn raids and saw Maori treated shabbily at Bastion Point. Many marched against apartheid during the Springbok Tour in 1981. We have had two unsatisfactory debates over the foreshore and seabed, neither of which resolved the issue, and then there was the case of the Urewera Four. New Zealand is now being driven by those in the 50-plus age group, many of whom no longer have the vision or compassion to fully understand what it is to be a New Zealander. It’s not often I admit to being ashamed to call myself a New Zealander, but the actions of such people question the credibility of all New Zealanders and our standing on the international stage.
Peter Kennedy
(Melrose, Wellington)

LOW SELENIUM and pregnancy

The February 9 article “Eating for baby” didn’t mention that low selenium can affect pregnancy viability. It has been shown that inadequate selenium can cause a tendency for sperm tails to deteriorate and drop off. Women can fail to conceive because of low selenium levels. However, for women who do conceive, New Zealand’s miscarriage rate is about 30%, several midwives have told me. This is regarded as “normal”. The good news is that there is something we can do. Eating two brazil nuts a day has been shown to raise an adult’s selenium level to the optimum (1.6-2.0 micromol/litre) within two months. Men and women should start today, if possible before conception, and for optimum health continue eating the nuts for life. The cost is about $200 a year for two people.
Erica and David Walpole


After a lifetime working with young people, I share Roger Hall’s concern over damage done by alcohol, especially in regard to the upcoming generation (Letters, February 2). What I fail to comprehend is the Government’s inertia. It prides itself on being an economic hotshot, yet fails to get to grips with a $6 billion headache – the figure quoted to me by a National MP as the price tag for alcohol damage in the community. Howard Broad as Police Commissioner spoke of two-thirds of police work involving alcohol; Principal Youth Court Judge Andrew Becroft said 70% of his cases would disappear if alcohol was taken out of the picture. Now, there’s a way for the Government to reduce public expenditure. Regulate alcohol effectively and save on extra police. These savings would, of course, carry over into Health and Social Welfare budgets. Any way you look at it, alcohol abuse costs us (taxpayer and Government) a fortune, and there are proven ways to reduce that expense. Countries similar to New Zealand have a realistic tax on alcohol and fund rehabilitation programmes. This has cut recidivism drastically among those guilty of alcohol-fuelled crimes, saving the $90,000 it takes to keep someone in prison for a year. We cannot expect the liquor industry to do anything, as it seems interested only in profits – it can even afford to spend millions on aggressive advertising.
Dennis Veal


Coroner Ian Smith’s call for compulsory high-visibility clothing for cyclists is typical of the unnecessary rule-making that is rife here (and in other parts of the world). This is putting the blame on cyclists. I spent two months in Nanjing, China, where the roads are full of people apparently with a death wish – those who stroll across busy roads between cars and the thousands who drive silent electric scooters without lights or helmets in winter in dark clothing. The difference there is that drivers are observant, prepared to stop and not territorial about their piece of the road. As a cyclist, I have been shown a lot of consideration on the road by drivers, especially during heavy snowfalls last year when the cycle lanes were unusable, but a significant number are too blasé, as evidenced by the rise in cellphone use. The fine for this should be $400 or more, with the phone confiscated for a period. Drivers need to improve their observational and road-sharing skills.
Geeoffrey Mentink
(Huntsbury, Christchurch)


I have long thought we should have a national day separate from Waitangi Day and Anzac Day. We could instead celebrate on September 26, Dominion Day – the day we became a self-governing dominion rather than a colony. Such a celebration should be devoid of political attachment.
Denis Skeet
(Snells Beach)