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New Zealand schools need to teach more life skills, parents say

The Elseras moved to Upper Hutt from the Philippines 10 years ago. From left, Aaliyah, Arabelle, Aaron, Bernadette, Arvin, and Arielle.

Kiwi parents want more life skills taught in school, a new survey shows.

From cyber safety to sex education and manners, two-thirds of parents believed it was the responsibility of teachers to impart lessons traditionally handled at home, according to a survey of 500 New Zealand families.

Ethnicity played a role in what parents regarded as important in a public education, with Asian parents more likely to want schools to handle the teaching of life skills.

Bernadette Elsera, left, is among an estimated 91 per cent of Asian-New Zealand parents who want their children learning more communication skills at school.

Parents perceived schools' responsibilities increased in secondary school. 

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But Post Primary Teachers' Association (PPTA) junior vice president Melanie Webber said that while teachers were role models, it would be difficult to fit more life skills into the curriculum.


Michele Fantham and her daughters Neve, 6, on the left and Bella, 10. Fantham wants her daughters to learn communication skills and financial literacy at school.

The study by the Australian Scholarships Group (ASG) and Melbourne's Monash University found a "social shift" away from valuing scholastic success towards a more holistic education, ASG chief executive John Velegrinis said.

"There are increasingly blurred lines as to where (teacher responsibility begins and ends as parents' perceptions of their traditional roles and responsibilities change."

Asian amilies viewed education more traditionally and set higher standards for their children's academic success than Pākehā parents.

About 92 per cent believed a degree would help their child achieve their ambitions and 38 per cent did not think their child could be distracted from learning.

Just 18 per cent of Pākehā families felt that way about distractions and only 66 per cent said they set "high standards" for their child's education or agreed a degree was important to their success.

Asian families overwhelmingly supported schools teaching more about social skills and public behaviour (91 and 88 per cent respectively), with about 42 per cent of Pākehā parents on board.

Christchurch mother Michele Fantham said she wanted daughters Bella, 10, and Neve, 6, to be taught social skills and financial literacy at their school, Fernside.

"I think the curriculum is pretty cram-packed full of lots of things the school or Ministry (of Education) think are really important that are just not going to benefit them in the real world."

She was concerned technology impacted children's ability to "use manners and communicate properly". She was among a third of Kiwi parents who believed teaching cyber safety was a school's responsibility.

Monash University associate professor Shane Phillipson said Kiwi parents were "not really convinced" about using technology for their children's education.

"One of the things that came out [of surveying] was teachers' perceptions were often the opposite."

PPTA's Webber, who is a practising teacher, said teaching subjects like sex education and cyber safety made sense, but things like values and manners had to come from home.

"The difficulty is there's a huge range of parents and what I might consider to be appropriate for my children to be taught is going to be quite different to what someone from a different culture thinks is appropriate," she said.

"It will always be a moving target, depending on what the school and the community thinks is important."

Webber said children spent more time at home than at school and generally learnt life skills from their families.

"Just as there are people who are maybe wanting to outsource that, there'll be people who would be very upset about me teaching my values to their children."

She said teachers acted as role models and upheld standards.

"But it's not something that's explicitly taught within the curriculum, and I don't know where you would fit it in."

When it came to sex education, Fantham said she wanted to be her daughters' "first teacher".

"We're a really open family. Ideally we want to teach them (about sex) before they find out on the internet."

Roughly a third of all parents surveyed agreed school was the best place to learn about sexuality, with Indian and Asian parents (58 per cent) more than twice as likely to agree than Pākehā parents (26 per cent).

Just 45 per cent of Asian families said they could talk about sex openly at home compared to Pākehā (74 per cent).

Bernadette Elsera, whose family moved from the Philippines to Upper Hutt 10 years ago, said she wanted her children – Aaron, 12, Aaliyah, 9, Arabelle, 6, and Arielle, 3 – to be taught sex education from intermediate school onward.

"Sometimes I ask my husband to talk to my son because he opens up more to a male than to mum.

"I want them to have fun and encourage them to do what they want, love school and learn how to communicate and express themselves."




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