Saturday, 28 January 2017

Contemporary Issue or Trend: Student Mobility and School Choice

Each year, parents around the world face a similar conundrum: Should their child attend the school around the corner or opt to travel away from home each day to a school outside of their local community?  As a parent, I too have had to make this decision. For some, the choice is limited by income or geography while for others the allure of top academic results, an all-conquering rugby team, or the proximity from poverty helps dictate the decision.  

Choosing a school is one of the key times when parents reflect on what is important to them in terms of their child's education.  While the Ministry of Education has now stopped the publishing of school decile ratings (established in the mid 1990s to facilitate more systematic and objective decisions about fair funding to all state schools), there is still a lot to consider: Public or private school, single sex or co-educational, full primary or separate intermediate/middle school, school zone regulations, school culture and reputation, quality teaching and learning programmes, subject choices (and how well they are resourced), class sizes, the provision of extra curricular activities,  access to technology, school fees/donations/uniform/stationary costs to name just a few.  

The factors that influence parental choice of school have been well documented.  I have found the following research papers helpful:
  • Karen Wespieser examines some of these priorities in her report: How do parents choose a school for their child after interviewing over 1,000 parents of students aged between 5-18.  
  • Caroline McEnvoy has also examined the factors that influence parental choice of school in her dissertation published in 2003, and I would argue that not many of these factors would have changed since then.
  • Peter Morey provides an Australian perspective in his Research titled School Choice: What parents choose 
  • Matt McFadden provides an alternative perspective and looks into the roll that marketing has on school choice 
As mentioned in my previous post, one of the big problems for many residents across West Auckland is education.  Few of the schools have an outstanding reputation and thousands of parents choose to send their children out of the area for schooling (Prasad, 2011).  This is supported by the Ministry of Education figures that highlight that over one third of our West Auckland students went outside the area for their education in 2010 to schools perceived to be successful or fashionable.  We are blessed that our school continues to be the school of choice for families in the wider West Auckland area (ERO, 2011), with almost 40% of our students coming from outside of our school zone, however we also have a large number of in-zone students who choose to attend schools outside of the area.

The OECD Trends Shaping Education 2016 Report acknowledges the mobility of students' and their families is driven by the search for a better life and increased opportunities.  Increasingly affordable and accessible methods of transportation are just one of a number of factors influencing this trend.  Toby Morris explores some of these issues in this confronting comic.

Waipareira Trust Chief Executive, John Tamihere, says it's natural for parents to send their children wherever they can get the best education, and those parents that can afford to offer their children better opportunities will endeavour to do so.  He acknowledges that west Auckland schools are limited by the area's socio-economic situation with many schools in our area being decile four or below.  He adds, sadly, "For the most part, Waitakere has a lot of hard working people who aren't necessarily making a lot of money and that socio-economic factor will take a long time to change." (Prasad, 2011)

The Global Trends 2030: Alternative Worlds Report predicts that between now and 2030 individual empowerment will accelerate substantially due to poverty reduction and a huge growth of the global middle class.  This is fundamentally important as for the first time, a majority of the world's population will not be impoverished.  While most new members of the middle class in 2030 will be at the lower end of the spectrum, the growth in the number of those living in the top half of the range of this new middle class will be substantial, rising from 330 million in 2010 to 679 million in 2030.  Much of the future global leadership is likely to come from this segment.

The increasing cultural and linguistic diversity that emerges out of these mobility trends, has a strong impact on our schools and classrooms, which need to prepare students for a global life.  Emphasing multiculturalism and implementing a responsive and rich curriculum for students of different backgrounds will continue to be a priority within school systems.  Lifelong learning is also an important component to keeping our societies abreast of the new challenges and opportunities that arise from an increasingly mobile world.

However, I feel it is also important to acknowledge that not all families will be able to take advantage of choice, whether because of family circumstances or limits on the capacity of schools to accept new students.  School policies are predicated on the assumption that parents have enough information to make informed decisions on where to send their children.  School choice policies also assume that students have the means to get to their desired school, however many families do not have the flexibility to drive children across the city, or schools do not provide a bus service.  Research also suggests that many parents prefer to send their children to their local school and that they would rather have higher-quality local schools than the option to send their children to high quality schools elsewhere.

Reflective Questions for Discussion:

  • Should parents be free to send their children to any school of their choice, regardless of where they live?
  • Do students who have been educated outside of their local community (or country) have a responsibility to return to work in their community (or country) in order to transfer that knowledge back to their peers?
  • How can schools better prepare for the inflow of students from various backgrounds, socio-economic classes and cultures?
  • What responsibility do schools have in communicating and teaching the values of society?

1 comment:

  1. There was quite a discussion on this issue a few months ago. Sorry I can't remember exactly when, but there were parents choosing to take their children away from their Local schools. This was either due to school decile or ethnicity. I'm not a parent, but I can understand wanting the best for your children. However, the point being made in the articles was that the local schools had good teachers and programmes, but were becoming dumping grounds for the lower socioeconomic groups. There was no mixing of cultures either. It would seem that choosing schools is more of a difficult decision these days than when I was young in the 70's and 80's, and I think I turned out fine.