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What's the carrot?

The Press
Last updated 05:00 01/10/2009

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OPINION: You've never set eyes on the troublemaker in your child's class but you have heard more than enough about them to know exactly what they're like, writes The Southland Times in an editorial.

You know the disruption they cause, the effect it has on the other kids in the class, and you share the teacher's frustration.

You've probably put a face to the brat. It's probably the same face as the kid who caused all the trouble in class when you were at school. Bet your bottom dollar that little bugger became the parent of the kid causing all the problems in your child's class. They didn't want to be at school then, had no intention of learning, didn't know how to behave and only ever managed to make life miserable for everyone else. And they have passed all those antisocial skills on to the next generation of no-goods.

So what could possibly entice that adult back to school to learn how to be a better parent? It has to be the hardest lesson of all, finding the skills to get a kid already off the rails to behave well, to sit up and learn in class, to show respect for other kids at school. It's the parents' fault when children become naughty and disruptive, so how can the Government hope to teach those parents the remedial skills they need to put things right?

Now, obviously, we're painting with the broad brush here and dangerously overdoing the generalisations, but it helps make the point.

The Government announced yesterday that it is spending $45 million during the next five years to put 12,000 parents through programmes designed to improve their skills to deal with their badly behaved offspring. Parents will have to volunteer for the courses, which will run for between 12 and 20 weeks. At the same time, 5000 teachers from low-income areas will get extra training in dealing with violence.

Education Minister Anne Tolley and her officials deserve a round of hearty applause for setting out to do something about the growing problem of violent behaviour in schools that is not only downright dangerous but also disrupting the learning process for all the kids who do want to learn – and, remember, they are in the majority.

It's not clear, though, how the ministry plans to entice parents into signing up for the programmes. What will the incentive be? Perhaps extra family support payments for every session the parent attends, but again that relies on the generalisation that kids of only low-income families are the troublemakers, and that is not the case.

Mrs Tolley and her officials are being mightily optimistic with this project.

The teacher unions were less than jubilant yesterday when they heard about the plan. Post Primary Teachers Association president Kate Gainsford said it was a step in the right direction but – and that's underlined and in capitals – it would not be enough to help teachers already dealing with disturbed and violent students.

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The minister reminded us that most disruptive incidents in school "have their origins" outside the school gate. It's not a school problem but the school has to deal with it.

There are no official statistics on the number of excellent teachers who have walked away because of the daily battle to discipline the few before they can teach the many. Anecdotally, there will be hundreds, even thousands. They can make better money elsewhere without the aggro.

The risk of failure, however, is no reason for the ministry to give up on this programme. It has a big budget and a big aim – breaking the cycle of inappropriate behaviour, giving parents the skills to instil in their children the desire to learn.

Let's hope Mrs Tolley and her team have the solutions, which are so urgent.

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