We know that hungry kids do not learn. We know that hungry kids probably have other issues; they will often come from homes that are damp, cold and overcrowded. There is an underlying commonality in this----child poverty. A growing number of children in New Zealand are falling into this category.
Now, before I discuss this issue further, I know that many families are struggling and they do not send their kids to school, hungry and cold and there are shining examples of how many families lift themselves out of this unfortunate position. Perhaps the parents have found work or better paying work, but for a large number of New Zealanders, life is a struggle that most of us find difficult to understand.
For politicians and other ‘commentators’ who regularly play down the situation afflicting so many of our populace, especially in decile 1-3 schools, I often wonder if they have ever spent any time talking to teachers or better still visited these school; not just once for a ‘flick-through tour,’ but staying and speaking to the teachers at length. If they stayed long enough to experience something closer to what the teachers/support workers/ teacher aides, just to name a few of those working with the students and families, then they would be more informed and would perhaps not make some of the statements we have come to expect from such sources.
Hungry kids and those who have come from ‘unhealthy’ homes will figure highly on the misbehaviour scale. They will also be behind their cohorts and if the ridiculous National Standards were applied, then an even more dire position would be exposed. Of course, using that mechanism to tell us what we already know will only have the effect of taking more teacher time from that which really counts; teaching the students.
There is a growing cry from those who work with kids and from the wider community for lower decile schools to feed their students. The Government’s response has been Luke warm at best. If their reluctance is based on purely economic considerations, then they are wrong. Would it not follow that better fed kids would be more engaged in the learning process, then isn’t that a stronger indicator for their chances further down the line? Wouldn’t that be more cost effective?
Of course, then we need to address the ‘unhealthy home’ syndrome; including cold and leaky houses and in the long run---overcrowded homes. I accept that much needs to be done and that it will take a great deal of money. In todays’ times that is something that the present Government will be reluctant to tackle. At least start with our hungry kids and keep the issue of child poverty to the front as an issue that we must face as a nation.