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NZI proposes radical reforms for disadvantaged youth

NZI proposes radical reforms for disadvantaged youth
The New Zealand Institute's prescription for doing better by our youth.

High crime, unemployment, suicide, drug and teenage birth rates. We know the drill; we're not doing our youth any favours, yet practical measures to address these dismal statistics are few and far between.

Summary of youth disadvantage

Despite the involvement of many government agencies, a large number of interventions and extensive research literature, there is no widely agreed understanding of why New Zealand's young are experiencing poor outcomes and no agreed strategy for improvement. It's not a promising outlook for our future parents, citizens and leaders.

The New Zealand Institute's first social wellbeing discussion document More ladders, fewer snakes proposes two interventions to reverse the decline: accelerating the rollout of e-learning to low decile schools and improving the school-to-work transition.

NZI director Rick Boven says our disadvantaged youth are worse off than their OECD counterparts and this is particularly true for Maori and Pacific ethnic groups.

"There is no convincing sign of improvement."

The institute estimates the annual cost from youth who are unemployed, incarcerated or on the sole parent benefit around $900 million.

"An improvement to the OECD mean outcomes on these variables would repay a $200 million per annum investment." 

Estimated cost reductions from improving OECD ranking

The proposal

Rather than focusing on remediation, the NZI concentrated on the socialisation process.

While some OECD countries insulate their teens by keeping them in education or training, New Zealand has the lowest median age of leaving initial education. Forty-five percent of our total unemployed are youth, the highest such proportion in the league.

Share of labour force vs share of unemployed

According to the Ministry of Education, New Zealand has one of the highest proportions of disengaged 14-to-18 year old students of any OECD country.

The NZI believes engaging students at school and strengthening links between education and industry is key, and e-learning forms one of the two pillars of its recommendations.

“E-learning can reach everyone and improve outcomes for those already disadvantaged,” says Dr Boven.  “It should be scaled urgently and systematically with the initial priority being the lowest decile schools.”

The NZI says this will require:

·       Provision of a turnkey technology solution to schools;

·       Development and communication of principles to guide school improvement and to deploy e-learning;

·       Resources at a district level to ensure professional support is available where and when it is needed; and

·       Effective mechanisms for identification and transfer of best practice.

The report cites examples of decile-one primary schools successfully implementing e-learning, such as Manaia View School. "E-learning is 21st century learning and is an important reason why schools are being given priority for the fast broadband roll-out."

E-learning is engaging. The proof of that for us was when we visited classrooms where e-learning was being used. We are not experts in education nor in engagement but we could see that every single student was engaged in every classroom we visited. No pre-warning or preparation, just unannounced visits. They were almost all Maori and Pacific students at decile one schools.

Students who become disengaged at school may continue to turn up and passively go through the motions. Teachers may not recognise or report when students become disengaged so it may be difficult to reverse the disengagement by the time it becomes apparent.

With e-learning as we have seen it implemented, the teacher and student content is visible to all teachers. A student’s disengagement is much more likely to be recognised immediately and responded to effectively.

In addition, four initiatives are proposed to improve the school-to-work transition:

·       Establish vocational and technical pathways to work that begin at a younger age and are positively encouraged and recognised as leading to employment success;

·       Develop a national view of future workforce requirements and adjust education capacity to more closely match the supply of workers that will be needed;

·       Strengthen the connections between employers and educational institutions so employers have more input into the content of education and earlier links with potential employees; and

·       Require active career planning and tracking for all students, not simply those at risk or those who are headed for academic success.

The NZI says many young people are leaving school, but not finding their way into permanent work. Career guidance is inconsistent, and too many students and apprentices fail to complete their training. Unemployed youth are then at a greater risk for suicide, mental or physical ill-health, criminal offending and substance abuse.

Where we stand

Statistics New Zealand estimates there are 644,000 youth in New Zealand (usually defined as those aged 15-24), representing 15 percent of the total population.

According to the NZI, five social issues that affect youth are education, unemployment, crime, health and safety, and teenage births. Many youth are affected by these issues and many are affected by more than one. While our youth perform well on average relative to OECD norms in education, NZ lags far behind on the other four measures.

The report says these outcomes can and should be prevented.

"Improving outcomes for disadvantaged youth will provide three important benefits: lower harm and costs while the youth are young, establishing the youth on better trajectories for the remainder of their lives and a better start in life for their children."

It's worth noting here that our 20 to 24-year-olds have similar experiences to their OECD counterparts. Rather, it's the younger age group suffering. According to Statistics New Zealand's latest figures, youth unemployment rate is 25 percent among 15-to-19 year olds and 12 percent among 20-to-24 year olds.

Unemployment among 15-19-year-oldsUnemployment among 20-24-year-olds

Further issues

The NZI also identified other areas "worthy of further effort".

 •    Establish work opportunities in provincial towns with high unemployment

•    Understand what it is about New Zealand’s culture or society that leads to such a high incidence of risky youth behaviours

•    Identify interventions to reduce the damage caused by the influence of
violence in the culture

•    Understand what is done differently by those countries that have reduced teenage births to much lower levels than those here and apply those lessons

•    Develop a way to support all motivated unemployed youth who have become detached from mainstream communities to develop the skills and attitudes that will equip them for work

•    Consider the potential impact of reintroducing the youth minimum wage on the current high levels of youth unemployment.

Calling for change, of course, isn't enough on its own. Boven says while many people are making a difference for young people, the think tank's investigation found no organised centres capable of scaling up.

"The challenge now is to find a person or agency with the leadership, motivation, resources and mandate to successfully drive the effort and coordination needed to launch the changes we propose," he says.

Read the full report here.