It’s been 2 days since National, ACT and United Future voted down the Feed The Kids Bill, and I am still fluctuating between heartbroken and seething.
As for the Under-Secretary-for-Charter-Schools-and-Generally-Selling-off-our-Education-System-to-the-Private-Sector, said that “…in general from a Māori perspective, top down centralised solutions have never been very good for them.” Because, you know, only Maori kids are hungry, and he’s such an expert on all things Maori, being a rich white guy from Epsom.
So let’s turn to people who DO know about poverty. Who have lived it. Who aren’t just waffling to promote or protect their own careers. No, not teachers this time – let’s turn to a gang leader.
Jamie Pink is the president of the Tribal Huk gang. This gang runs a Feed The Kids operation of its own: “They are making sandwiches for kids at school who have nothing to eat. They make between 450 and 500 sandwiches every school day and deliver them to 25 Waikato schools in Hamilton, Ngaruawahia, Huntly – as far north as Rangiriri.” They fund this themselves, and use either home-grown produce or bought goods, using 40 loaves a day (Coupland’s Bakery sells it to them for 90c a loaf – bless you, Coupland’s).
The Tribal Huks have been making and delivering sandwiches for two and a half years and haven’t missed a single day, reports Waikato Stuff.
This gang sees a need and meets it. They realise that kids learn far better if they are not hungry. They get that children will will see school as a far more positive experience if they are fed there.
“When I was little we had no food,” says Pink, “so I grew up a hungry little bugger and a bit angry, too.
“The main reason we’re doing this is because there’s a lot of hungry kids out there and it means a lot to be able to fill their little bellies up.”
And despite David Seymour’s ‘expert’ comments, it’s not only Maori bellies that need feeding. When the gang heard of a child who could not eat their sandwiches as they weren’t halal, they made different sandwiches just for him. Because whilst David Seymour thinks only Maori kids are going hungry, Pink knows different, and rather than wax lyrical his gang meet the need. Jam sandwiches it is, for as long as the lad needs them.
Will Pink stop? No. “‘There’s no stopping,” says Pink. ”There’s no, ‘Oh, I don’t feel well today, we’re not coming in.’ Nah, it don’t work like that. No way, no way. Because then you’d get that nightmare that those kids might not have been fed that day. Oh, that’s enough to keep you going.”
How shameful that failure to feed the kids would give Pink nightmares but doesn’t make Peter Dunne miss a wink.
And while Pink is delivering sandwiches daily, John Key maintains his wilful ignorance and refuses Metiria Turei’s invitation to visit a school in need of a food in schools programme.
What a bizarre and shameful situation for New Zealand that a gang understands hunger’s relationship to education better than those in government.
Read the full article here.
Last week Metiria Turei of the Green Party took over the Feed the Kids Bill that Hone Harawira had introduced to Parliament. If passed, the Bill will provide government-funded breakfast and lunch in all decile 1 and 2 schools.
Metiria explains, “Hungry kids can’t learn and are left trapped in the poverty cycle when they grow up. Let’s break that cycle, lunchbox by lunch box. We can feed the country’s hungry kids, if we work together.
“My Bill is at a crucial stage of its progress – part way through its First Reading – and may be voted on as early as next Wednesday 5 November.
“The way the numbers stack up in the new Parliament the Bill will be voted down unless we can persuade the National Party to change its position and support it going to Select Committee. National have been talking a lot about child poverty since the election, and supporting my Bill is one way they can start to address it.
“You can help me persuade the Prime Minister to let the public have a say on this important issue by emailing John Key, asking that National support my Bill at least to Select Committee.
“We need to broaden and build the public debate on addressing child poverty, and submissions on this Bill to a Select Committee will help achieve this.
“Because of the potentially short time frame, you’ll need to send your emails as soon as possible and before Monday 3 November at the latest.”
Email John Key at email@example.com
by Judith Nowotarski, NZEI Te Riu Roa President
When it came out this week that Treasury had advised the government that school breakfasts had no measurable impact on educational performance, principals of low decile schools around the country were flabbergasted.
It appears the officials at Treasury know more than the doctors and nutritionists who have long championed the crucial importance of breakfast, especially for children. They certainly think they know more than the principals who see the difference a full belly makes on concentration and behaviour levels. They have even managed to find one study from Auckland University to support their stance, despite what the overwhelming majority of other local and international research says.
Windley School in Porirua has a breakfast club five days a week and principal Rhys McKinley has observed that on the three occasions that fights have occurred, they involved students who hadn’t had breakfast. Many of the students come from very difficult home situations and being able to come to school and start the day with a hot, nutritious breakfast means they can focus on their work rather than their gnawing hunger.
The students at Windley School are lucky to have a breakfast club, run most days by volunteers from Arise Church and school staff, but many low decile schools are missing out or receive support and funding on an ad hoc basis from various NGOs and community groups.
Certainly the government doesn’t want to get involved – they are trying to farm out social services such as housing. They don’t want to take on any more initiatives, even though every charity that works with impoverished families thinks school meals are a great idea.
Feeding hungry kids is surely a moral obligation in a country that can afford to do so. It is also just the beginning of what needs to be done to break the cycle of poverty that is trapping too many families. It is almost two years since the Children’s Commissioner’s Experts Advisory Group released its report with 72 solutions to child poverty, but it was largely sidelined. Boosting family incomes is the obvious key to reducing poverty, but that will take time and investment. In the meantime, children still need energy to learn.
The Treasury paper from February 2013 warned that if the government itself got involved in providing food in schools there was a risk of “scope creep” – uncontrolled or continuous growth in costs. It pointed out that the government already supplies fruit in low decile schools and the likes of KidsCan, Fonterra and Sanitarium run breakfast clubs. The fear of spending too much money is apparently a good justification for spending hardly any at all.
Treasury recommended more research on the extent of the problem and engaging with existing providers of food in schools to understand the level of need.
Meanwhile, as the numbers are crunched, children are going hungry through no fault of their own. As treasury pointed out, not every child who misses breakfast does so because of a lack of food, but tens of thousands do. Many of these children went to bed hungry in the first place. And then we ask them to come to school for a mentally and physically exhausting day of learning.
Inevitably, in a discussion such as this, some people will blame the parents for inadequate budgeting, but whether parents could have stretched the grocery budget more effectively or not, the fact remains that children in our first world country are going hungry. If you don’t have compassion for hungry kids in this land flowing with milk and Weetbix, you could consider what a drain on the public purse their poor health and educational underachievement will be in the future.
For the government to depend on charities and corporate philanthropy to meet the needs of the increasing number of families that are falling through the cracks is like baling a sinking boat with a tea cup. Certainly the government needs to focus on growing the economy and creating jobs that families can afford to live on. But please, in the meantime, can we also ensure no child has to learn and grow on an empty stomach? What’s good for the weakest and most vulnerable amongst us, is good for all of us.
Children go hungry in all countries, in all walks of life, but some countries are better than others at accepting the responsibility for ensuring children are fed.
“Today our goal to offer every infant child a healthy, tasty school meal has become a reality, a move that will put money back in parents’ pockets while ensuring all children get the best possible start in life.”
“The government has provided £1bn to meet the costs of the meals over the next two years.
“In addition, it has made £150m available to improve kitchen and dining facilities, plus an extra £22.5m for small schools.
“Schools will have a legal duty to offer the meals, which are expected to save families £400 per year per child.”
“Mana Party leader Hone Harawira’s member’s bill to provide free breakfasts to all low decile schools is due before Parliament in coming weeks but is unlikely to get majority support.” Source
I didn’t pass. Just breakfast for low decile schools – not even all schools – just those at the sharp end – and it STILL didn’t pass.
So, charities are again filling the gaps:
Other countries like the UK… provide state-funded free meals to eligible students, and some such as Brazil and Chile provide state-funded free meals to schools with high levels of deprivation.
Come on, New Zealand, it’s not too much to ask that kids are assured on one decent meal a day on school days so they can concentrate and learn. It’s time to get this sorted out. Let’s do this.
“A strong, progressive education system that acknowledges the beauty of difference in our kids and supports its people on the front line is what I demand from the next government…”
I shared this meme on the SOSNZ Facebook page tonight, and it elicited the response below. The author has given me kind permission to share (bold for emphasis has been added by myself, not by the author):
“Thanks for posting, I was really moved by this tonight. I love my job so much. Every day for the last two months I’ve come home grinning, laughing or feeling really proud of my students. I am so happy to work with my colleagues and be teaching what I really care about. Sure, like any job it can be a pain and Sunday evenings lose their sparkle in the shadow of an impending Monday, but not a day goes by when I’m not laughing or smiling a lot about something in class with the kids or in the office with the staff. I love meeting other teachers, because they’re often interesting and nice people. I’m honoured to be able to proudly say I work in education, I’m a history and social studies teacher, I work here.
I believe education is the key to everything.
“And yet we lag behind countries like Finland because, for some reason I just can’t find logic in, our government has latched onto other countries as examples to follow, such as the United States (!!!)… countries whose education systems we can be quite critical about. Their policies are regressive and we are too happily taking them on, without much if any consultation with a range of the professionals (You’d think that would be a good idea right?).
“The result is that it is the most vulnerable in our society who get often left behind. This is NOT because the teachers in low decile schools are worse or their management is under par, but because the government does things like bring in National Standards and slash funding to integral and creative areas. They are not just perpetuating this system of inequality, they are worsening it.
“There isn’t enough room in here to explain all I would like to with this, but it’s possible to sum up this much quickly: kids that go to school hungry will not learn easily because they will not be able to concentrate. They are being set up for struggle and failure. They are the future, they are our future. This should not even be a political issue – Feed the Kids!
“Our kids are leveled against all other children in standardised tests that only measure intelligence, competence, knowledge and development in one pretty narrow way. Their background, family life, artistic strengths, personality, challenges, ability to empathise etc. are not acknowledged. Kids develop at different levels at different ages in different ways. Now a lot of our kids are labeled as failures because they are below the expected or average, and they have to feel that. At age seven. What does that do to a generation? We’ve seen it in our older generations to realise that we don’t want that for our tamariki and mokopuna. Do we?
“From a number of things that Education Minister Hekia Parata has said, National looks like it would like to change the zoning system of funding school budgets (which granted isn’t perfect) to performance funding. For schools maybe at first, and then perhaps for teachers themselves.
“How insulting to pitch us against each other on a very unequal playing field, and worse, how rudely ignorant of what it is actually like to work in schools, to teach, to manage, to aid. There are far too many factors at play that make it almost impossible to make those funding decisions really fairly.
“It wouldn’t be fair for me at a high decile school to get paid more than my mates teaching out west or down south, just because my kids are doing better in the exams. I know that I worked equally hard at a decile 4 whose students aren’t at the top of the tables like ours. I know that the kids there are just as deserving of a good education, and that they’re not necessarily less able or studious than mine. There are different parts about each, some that are harder and some that are easier, but it all levels out. My friends and colleagues at lower decile schools work hard and they have many difficult, often poverty-related external factors to deal with at the same time as the teaching. They are great and their students are great, but they would be punished with less money. Again it’s the poor who lose out. We cannot move ahead when we leave so many behind.
“The current government makes it harder for us to do our jobs really well and to live up to the potential of our profession.
“The next Minister for Education must talk to the professionals and experts, and make their decisions on that advice.
“A strong, progressive education system that acknowledges the beauty of difference in our kids and supports its people on the front line is what I demand from the next government, however it is made up.
by Miriam Pierard
I read an interesting piece today about the perils of assuming kids in higher decile schools are being fed.
It resonated with me and gave me reason to ponder my own experiences and reflect on what opting into programmes can mean for those kids on the receiving end of the help.
There were (and are) no deciles in UK schools, but if were to hazard a guess I would say it would have been a decile 7-8 school.
Lunch time was a lesson in class and wealth.
The UK school lunches programme was subsidised so there was a small charge for the fabulous hot meals provided – one my parents could pay and were happy to do so. And if your family didn’t earn enough, you got a ticket to say you were entitled to FREE MEALS.
It was great!
There was food for all, in every school, and it was hearty and healthy. No burgers and chips back then, it was all Shepherds’ Pie and peas gfollowed by sponge and custard, and a second helping if you were lucky.
But it did have a down side that only really struck me again today after reading Coley’s article.
Them and Us
At lunch time, it was totally clear to everyone who was who in the poverty pecking order; I remember my best friend’s true mortification every day as she handed her free meals lunch ticket over in front of the whole waiting queue and all of the seated kids in order to get her meal.
They could not have embarrassed her more, short of stamping her on the forehead with POOR.
The Mystical Lunch Boxes
And even then it had other complications. Not everyone took advantage of school meals. I remember those children that brought packed lunches. Cold food all packaged nicely in a lunch box and brought in each day. I had no idea why they had those. Why would you have cold food when hot food was on offer? It was a mystery to me, completely, but I did recognise that it was those kids that bused down that brought packed lunches, not us that bused up. And we sat in separate spaces – hot meals in one area, lunch boxes in another.
The divide was very clear.
So, I knew I was poorish because “the posh kids” ate cold food from a box. But I knew I wasn’t as poor as the ticket kids. They were very poor – the ticket told us that.
In short, at lunch times, my place in society’s pecking order was laid bare.
How it feels to be ‘othered’
As Coley Tangerina says “Let me tell you something about being part of a poor minority in a wealthy private or “well zoned” public school – if your classmates can’t tell your poor because of the weird shit you wear to school, they will tell when you’re asking for food in the mornings.”
Despite the passing of time and the change in my circumstances, I can feel my cheeks reddening even now remembering how I felt as I realised that the kids from my area were different to those that bused down. That I was different.
Was it even worse to be in the top stream with the kids with the proper uniforms? None of them wore uniforms that were never quite the right shades of blue, bought from the market or made by mum. I don’t know if it was worse than handing your food chit over every day, but it was certainly embarrassing enough to put me off uniforms for life.
These small thing tell a child that they are different to their classmates, and that those differences are beyond their control.
This is what it is like when a child is in a school where only some kids opt into the food programmes. Them and us.
What a rotten way for any child to feel.
There’s no easy answer, but the discussion surely cannot be over with this Weetbix opt-in half-cocked solution, can it?
Do it properly: Extend free food at school by Colin Espiner
Feed the Kids A Fact Sheet on the Education (Breakfast and Lunch Programmes in Schools) Amendment Bill
We’ve got to feed these kids.
Give them food so they can learn and know that they live in a society that care.
Break the cycle.