The government has announced that the Aspire scholarships scheme is to end. This scheme was set up by the previous administration, where students from low-income backgrounds would have fees paid to attend private schools. National Party apologists have decried the end of the scheme, saying that low income children will be denied opportunities as a consequence.
From the start there is one glaring problem: The assumption that a private education is a viable pathway to improve the circumstances of low-income children. I reject such a concept, for I myself disprove it. My education was done entirely in state schools, yet I am a high achiever: NCEA level 3 with Excellence, a first class honours degree in engineering and postgraduate study to boot. I outclassed most of my privately schooled peers at university. I even worked as an after-school tutor for privately educated students. That’s because private education confers no real academic advantage over state schooling. I had mathematics, chemistry, and physics teachers who had doctorates, and there were plenty of sporting and cultural activities for student participation.
Furthermore, the scholarship makes no difference on a nationwide level. A select few get to go to private schools and penetrate the pervasive networks that have more influence than they should; everybody else left behind in low decile schools can go hang as far as the National Party is concerned. Only up to 250 students per year were funded when there are currently about 300,000 students at high school. What about the many dedicated, hard working, high achieving school students that will never get a dollar in scholarship money (I was one of them)? A stable, cohesive society requires that opportunities are available for us too.
In brief, the Aspire scholarships are based on insulting assumptions about the alleged superiority of private schools, benefit a small number of students and cost twice as much per child as state schooling. Why then are right-wingers so upset about their cessation? Because this is their way of virtue-signalling out of both sides of their mouth. To ordinary voters they use the policy to claim that they care about those on low incomes, and to their swivel-eyed base they show their distaste for state schooling and teaching unions. Education outcomes be damned, it is always about politics for National.
This posturing is so valuable that the National government was prepared to waste millions of dollars of taxpayer money on Aspire scholarships, and the obscene charter schools. Fortunately, that time has come to an end. Public education has its problems (many caused by the National Party), the solution is to make class sizes smaller, train/pay teachers better, and to foster a culture of sceptical inquiry and academic freedom. Siphoning top achievers into elitist institutions will not make New Zealand a better place to live. Right wingers: get over your precious scholarships and learn to make the best of our state schools, it certainly didn’t do me any harm!