By Steve Saville
If we listen to the current narrative from Politicians (is there an election coming up?), and the media, then education in Aotearoa is in pretty dire straits. And yes, it is true that we have some significant problems within our schools that we need to address (not the least being the question of, where are the teachers going to come from to educate the next generation?), but it is not all doom and gloom. In fact there are some very good reasons to celebrate our work.
I read in the Sunday papers last week that teenage pregnancies continue to fall. I have also seen research showing there is a marked decline in teenage binge drinking and although I haven't seen specific data, I am pretty certain that, based on everything I hear, teenage drug use is also in decline.
Yes, if we are looking at social behaviors we still have serious issues with vaping, with technology, with social media and with the way we treat each other, but let's pause for a moment.
Could it be that the decisions around sex, drugs, and alcohol that our youth are making could be partly based on the fact that we have, over quite an extended period of time, introduced and developed effective forums, programmes and processes where these issues can be discussed and considered in our schools? I would argue that our sex education programmes are pretty good. And the way we have detailed the issues around drug and alcohol abuse has also been dealt with effectively in schools (generally speaking).
The key factor here is how we have facilitated these conversations.
Most of these programmes present the relevant facts in a direct, honest, and no nonsense way but, more importantly the most effective approaches are based on conversations and discussions where scenarios are explored and our young are conversed with, not spoken down to or lectured. They are encouraged to be active participants who have opinions that need to be listed to, and invited to ask questions that need to be answered.
The good programmes, and there are many of them, engage young adults as if they have a brain, a conscience, an opinion and an ability to make rational decisions based on the facts. They work with the young adults in a respectful and mature manner.
Increasingly I would also place programmes and approaches that deal with suicide and self harm n this category as well.
Teenagers are wired to experiment; wired to push against the boundaries that we set them. This is the reality and what we have to do is arm them with the skills, knowledge and confidence that gives them the strength to make rational decisions based on facts and an awareness of the consequences. I would argue that we have done a pretty good job in some of these areas, and continue to refine and improve our approach.
The key here is providing time and space for discussion, conversation and the sharing of stories in an honest and respectful manner.
By engaging and working with them it seems that, unsurprisingly, teenagers grow and develop their awareness and, again not surprisingly, act accordingly.
There are two reasons why I think that this is all worth saying.
The first is that the next wave of issues is already upon us and we need to develop forums and approaches that enable and empower discussion and conversation around these new issues.
Vaping is one, AI is another, new forms of bullying a third, and one that has attracted quite a bit of attention lately, the toxic impact of influencers here and globally - people like Andrew Tate and the effect they have on, in this case, young men.
A headline in the New Zealand Herald on the 6th June highlighted this growing concern,
“Parents and teachers sound alarm over ‘king of toxic masculinity’ Andrew Tate content being consumed at school."
And last week in the Sunday Star Times repeated this concern,
“Schoolboys are parroting toxic views.”
So we know the problems are there and this leads to the second reason for his blog.
We, as educators, know what the problems are and we also know that, based on experience, we can be effective in giving students the tools and knowledge to deal with these social issues but when, where, who, and how? Who plans the programmes? When is there time in the school day for this important work to be discussed? We can't just hope that Mike King is due in town soon, and we can't just hope that parents are doing their thing. We know we can be part of the solution, a big part, but when do we get the time to plan the resources? When do we get the time to prepare information that is presented in a way that we know our students can relate to, learn from, and engage with?
Put simply, we don't have the time.
All too often the material that arrives at our door is a bit too sterile and feels like it is a case of ‘one size fits most.’ Useful, but not the complete answer.
Well, here comes the shameless plug, if you find that you have nodded your head over any of what is written above, and if you want to address some of these issues, like bullying, AI, Chat GPT, toxic influencers etc. then I urge you to look at our two resources The first is already available and the second will be available for Term 3.
What we have done here is provided a scenario that testing has indicated does resonate with the target audience, kids in our schools. Each scenario is followed by a series of activities and discussions aimed to enable conversations, not lectures. Based on facts and stories, the activities aim to empower the voices of those we are trying to help.
By themselves these resources are not the full answer, but we hope they are a practical resource that will be able to be used effectively in schools. We hope they are able to a bit more contextualized, more than much of the current material, and that they enable schools to address the issues without having to somehow find the time for overworked teachers to do all the preplanning themselves. And if nothing else we are, as always, happy for you to adapt our resources to suit your kura and your kids.
Together we can understand and know them better!
Series 1: The impact of AI in their world, the effects of social media influencers, and the real dilemmas they face when being bullied.
Series 2 (available July 1st): How our young people feel about Climate Change, the complexity of media backlash, and the challenges they face with exam pressure.
Both these student resources use the Understand, Know, Do framework.