Underserved Learners: Aotearoa’s $11 Billion Missed Opportunity

Maori, Pacific peoples and people with disabilities are overrepresented among underserved learners

For the first time, the multi-billion dollar economic cost of abandoning underserved learners in Aotearoa has been quantified. At the same time, the huge economic, health, cultural and societal opportunity to innovate our educational system has been revealed.

UP Education, New Zealand’s largest independent higher education provider, presented the findings in an article titled Changing the dial: the economic and societal impact of removing barriers for underserved learners in Aotearoa. The paper aims to advance the conversation on how best to innovate and invest to tackle education inequality in 2022 and beyond.

Economic modeling from the New Zealand Institute of Economic Research described in the paper finds that raising the educational outcomes of underserved learners to the national average would result in additional wages of $10.9 billion over a thirty-year period, in taking into account labor force participation.

A wide range of stakeholders, including students, guardians, iwi, support groups, advocacy organizations, education experts and the Ministry of Education, came together to contribute to the document and share their ideas on how to better meet the needs of students currently underserved by the education system.

UP Education Group chief executive Mark Rushworth says we are leaving too many young people behind, graduating from high school with no qualifications or failing to progress to post-secondary education.

“While underserved learners come from a wide range of ethnicities and backgrounds, Maori, Pacific peoples and people with disabilities are overrepresented in the group of underserved learners. It is therefore clear that we can improve our education system, as it is currently not suitable for too many learners in Aotearoa,” says Rushworth.

“The benefits of education are obvious. On average, someone with a level 4-6 degree will earn $585,900 more over their working life than someone without a degree. This is a huge opportunity for the sector, but it also demonstrates the cost on an individual level if we do not innovate.

“Beyond wages, higher rates of educational attainment are associated with lower levels of obesity, smoking, crime and welfare dependency. Education also improves social cohesion and civic participation and has links to higher self-esteem, health and longer life expectancy.

When it comes to solutions, there is a staggering consensus across the 19 essays in the article that to improve educational outcomes, New Zealand’s education system must go beyond a one-size-fits-all approach.

“Ultimately, it’s about breaking the mold of the existing education system and meeting the needs of students on their own learning terms. From students to frontline teachers to political and cultural experts, they are all saying the same thing,” Rushworth says.

“We need to invest in a system that embraces a diversity of learning environments and changes the dial for our priority learners. »

Katrina Sutich, director of the Department for Education’s tertiary policy group, says the department, as steward of the system over time, clearly hasn’t had all the answers.

“Learning to listen to and integrate a diversity of viewpoints from the learner population can be messy and difficult, especially in times of great uncertainty and stress, when quick decisions are needed. But we know it yields better results – for all of us.

The document presents 13 recommendations for government, policy makers and education providers, including:

  • Adopt and invest in proven solutions coded learning programs with Maori, Pacific and disabled communities to create system-wide change.
  • Execution tailored learning plans focused on each learneridentifying their barriers to education and developing a strategy to overcome them.
  • Presentation improved wraparound services – social workers, counsellors, support workers and guidance counselors – dedicated to working with hard-to-reach students.
  • Presentation accessibility legislation with clear standards for post-secondary education providers with a focus on mainstreaming accessibility.
  • Execution national best practices for support services who regularly work with students at risk of being underserved.
  • Encourage innovation and flexibility in the post-secondary education sector with the implementation of incentives to improve educational outcomes for hard-to-reach ākonga.
  • To increase the visibility of Maori, Pacific and people with disabilities in the education sector through a targeted recruitment strategy and workforce development strategy.
  • Facilitate education providers to partner with iwi to offer education programs through the marae, with a tikanga-based learning approach.
  • Provide improved mechanisms for
    Maori, Pacific and disabled students will have a stronger voice in decisions and strategies that impact them.
  • Ensure the teaching of soft and life skills is integrated into all coursesso that all learners leave a course not only academically qualified, but ready to work.
  • Expansion vocational training for trades in more secondary schools through partnership with tertiary service providers, with the aim of keeping more young people engaged in education.
  • Undertake a review of curricula so that they are immersive and culturally inclusive.
    Ensure course materials reflect a modern New Zealand and that all students can see themselves in the material they are learning from.
  • Create a sense of belonging and a positive learning environment through
    cultural motifs, works of art, posters and signage that make all students feel welcome.

“Investing in underserved learning is a social investment in New Zealand’s future and is one of the most influential levers we have to improve the lives of thousands of New Zealanders and transform our country,” says Rushworth.

“We can do better. Together, we can innovate our education system, so that it meets the needs of every New Zealander.

The Complete White Paper
Changing the dial: the economic and societal impact of removing barriers for underserved learners in Aotearoa
can be found here.

Student perspective

maori learner
“The system is afraid to embrace differences and demands conformity. This can frustrate Maori learners, who aim to achieve their own personal definition of success,” says Alexia Williams, a graduate of the New Zealand School of Tourism.

Pacific learner
“I didn’t speak English, so primary and secondary school were tough times for me. There were many language and cultural barriers, and I ended up leaving school without any qualifications,” says Mele Koula Ahomana, graduate of NZMA.

Disabled learner
“What people with disabilities need most is an education system that prepares us for the workforce to achieve our dreams and goals – and to do that, we need the right support. and individual,” said NZMA graduate Ronan McConney.

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