Hard Lessons from COVID
Nigel Lawson’s aphorism “to govern is to choose” reminds us that there is no such thing as a free lunch. When a government chooses a particular course of action, it necessarily has less money, time and resources to spend on other things. More starkly, choosing a particular course of action actively detracts from other worthy goals.
We are now spending as much on debt servicing as we do on the Police, Corrections, Justice and Customs combined.
In the aftermath of our Government’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic, we should refamiliarise ourselves with Lawson and the costs of governmental decision-making.
First, the economic cost. As a proportion of GDP, core Crown borrowing has grown from 32 to 50 per cent between 2019 and today. We are now spending as much on debt servicing as we do on the Police, Corrections, Justice and Customs combined.
But perhaps the most significant cost is to our children.
Secondly, the health cost. As the Minister of Health noted recently, the current increased wait times at Emergency Departments emerged during the pandemic: “I think it’s pretty clear since the pandemic, there has been increasing pressure on our emergency departments overall… there is an increase in acute demand following on from the pandemic, and that is putting pressure on our hospitals.”
But perhaps the most significant cost is to our children. We all remember the extensive post-COVID truancy as school-aged children stayed away from school in large numbers, even after in-person learning resumed. Overseas evidence gives us a hint of what Kiwi children went through. A survey of English parents conducted by the Institute for Fiscal Studies and the UCL Institute of Education recently reported that just under half of parents said that their child’s social and emotional skills had worsened during the first year of the pandemic.
The untold story is in the primary school sector.
Scholastically, the number of school leavers with NCEA Level 2 or above has plummeted since the COVID lockdowns. Māori students were particularly hard hit. University completion rates have also fallen thanks to learning loss during the pandemic.
The untold story is in the primary school sector. That’s received less attention from both the Government and the national consciousness, according to Maxim Institute’s new Discussion Paper released this week, Hard Lessons: How Schools Can Profit from the Pandemic. In fact, this part of the school system is the foundation for all later learning—if students are struggling here, it will be much harder to catch up later. In essence, it’s what the future looks like.
Our primary school sector needs to be better resourced…
Our paper demonstrates that primary schools weren’t ready for a sudden and significant shift to online learning. As a result, the primary school sector’s response, albeit well-intentioned and often commendable, was unprepared. The digital divide between well-resourced schools and learners and their poorer counterparts was exacerbated. Teachers had to devote more time to trying to improve their students’ well-being. On the positive side, there was much more engagement between schools and students’ families and between families and what students are learning.
Overall, the paper’s message is that our primary school sector needs to be better resourced, prepared and skilled in order to undertake fully remote learning in the future. Will our Government make this choice? After all, to govern is to choose.go back