Opportunities for employment and subsequent economic status

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How well an individual achieves in their education can have a lasting impact on their opportunities for employment and their subsequent economic status. Employment can be obtained by an individual accessing a certain industry through successful academic achievement. Alternatively, an individual may have a number of potential employment avenues occluded by an inequitable education system that limits access to some sectors of the labour market. With reference to historical and current education in Aotearoa New Zealand, this essay explores the way in which individuals and groups have had their employment prospects helped or hindered by the education system. Further scrutiny of this identifies that some groups have been, and are being, advantaged by this system at the expense of others; this essay addresses this problem and highlights how this has been, and is being, remedied. To prepare students for employment in the labour market, by providing them with the knowledge, skills and credentials that will enhance their employment prospects, is the aim of the Aotearoa New Zealand secondary school education system.

Government agencies in Aotearoa New Zealand reiterate this claim by emphasising the role that education plays in gaining entry into the workforce. A successful education, according to The Ministry of Education (2007), is measured by the consequent employment of students in the labour market. The Ministry of Education also maintains that people with higher levels of education are more likely to be employed and to earn higher wages; it therefore stresses the need for students to obtain qualifications in order to access the workforce, recognizing that employers value, and are prepared to reward, abilities, knowledge and credentials acquired by individuals during their education. Secondary school qualifications also provide a foundation for tertiary education and higher learning that assists students in acquiring specialised employment in the labour market (Ministry of Social Development, n.d ). Nash (1993), as cited in Adams, Openshaw & Hamer, (2005), describes this process by saying, credentialed knowledge, acquired through the education system, is traded in the labour market for an elite occupation. The aim of a high quality education and successful employment is a better quality of life; through education, individuals can lift themselves out of hardship, because of the employment that it brings, and contribute more fully to society (Human Rights Commission, 2008).

To understand this aim in the context of the current education system, it is useful to examine the history of the education system and its relationship to the future employment of students. In order to understand who is achieving at school and who is not, and how this reflects in qualifications and future employment, the question may be asked, whose interests were and are being served through the education system? Coxon, Jenkins, Marshall & Massey (1994) state that it is important to ask, what knowledge is selected for inclusion in the curricula, who decides that knowledge and on what basis? In early Aotearoa New Zealand education, British colonists, who had established governance, dictated the roles of groups within society by setting a curriculum that supported and perpetuated their societal viewpoint (Gilbert, 2005). In this early curriculum, the education of males was geared to prepare them for life in professions or industry while females were offered subjects that prepared them for domestic roles. This system established Pakeha males as the highest educated and most likely to join the labour force in higher paying employment. Coxon et al. (1994) view the formation of this education system, as promoting the viewpoint of the dominant Pakeha group, at the expense of female and Maori students. "It is claimed by some educational historians, class, ethnic and gender inequalities were embedded in the education system at the time that it was established" (Coxon et al., 1994, p16.).

Due to more students entering secondary school in the early 20th century, technical high schools, offering a practical curriculum, were established alongside academic institutions that catered for more able students (Gilbert, 2005). Effectively, the education system began to act as a social filter, with middle class children mostly being channeled into academic education and Maori and working class children being encouraged into manual and trade type education (Coxon et al,1994). The 1940's saw the establishment of a School Certificate designed to create a broader and balanced education. Of note, is the fact that females couldn't participate in all subjects, as some of these were still gender based (Adams et al, 2005). Maori needs were not being catered to either, as the curriculum still had a strong Pakeha emphasis; Pakeha knowledge was what was valued and the method of assessment was based on this knowledge alone (Coxon et al. 1994). Those who did not achieve school Certificate were denied access to higher education and entry into professions and skilled trades.

The 1970's and 80's saw a shift towards gender equity in the education system, with the goal of establishing parity with males in the labour market and society in general (Coxon et al, 1994). Reforms to the education system included the introduction of a non-sexist, gender inclusive curriculum (Middleton, 1988), which was designed to bring about a "language of fairness and equity" (Marshall, Coxon, Jenkins & Jones, 2000). The increasing success and consequential gaining of credentials by females that this brought about had an impact on the position of females within society; they accessed the labour market in larger numbers and began to transition from their traditional home based roles into paid employment (Adams et al, 2005). According to the Ministry of Social Development (n.d.) this curriculum change has had an ongoing positive impact on female educational achievements; female students are now more likely than male students to leave school with upper secondary school qualifications; this success at secondary school also creates opportunities for females to reduce gender earning disparities by obtaining higher qualifications at a tertiary level (Ministry of Education, 2007).

The 1980's brought about a neo-liberal approach to education, driven by the market place that remains in place today (Adams et al, 2005, & Gilbert, 2005). This system aims to respond to the needs of the labour market by providing it with skilled workers, able to sustain and grow New Zealand's knowledge based economy. According to Adams et al, employers wanted a secondary school assessment system which involved industry in the development of qualifications and which was tailored to suit the changing needs of a future labour market. This led to the introduction of National Certificates of Educational Achievement (NCEA), an assessment-based system, consisting of subsequent levels of assessment in each school subject. The Ministry of Education (2007) describes NCEA as a more flexible qualification system than one based on examinations as it can be tailored to suit the needs of most students. NCEA also allows students to prepare for the workplace by incorporating study with practical workplace experience.

While the education system has improved the outcomes for females, Maori students have not faired so well. Ballard (2007) states, that the current school system meets the needs of the dominant Pakeha group, but not those of Maori students. The Waitangi Tribunal (2010) claims that the education system has persistently produced an inadequate education for Maori, resulting in them being disadvantaged when they try to find work as they are competing with credentialed Pakeha students. In 2007, only 43.9% of Maori students left school with NCEA level 2, or higher, compared to 70.6% of European students. Those who leave school early or with few qualifications are at a much greater risk of unemployment or vulnerability in the labour force and of having low incomes (Ministry of Social development n.d.A.).

Steps are being taken, within the education system, to improve the educational achievements and future employment prospects of Maori. The Ministry of Education (2010) states that an associate document of The New Zealand Curriculum has been created to help Maori medium schools to provide a foundation for Maori learning and boost Maori student achievement. This curriculum, Te Marautanga o Aotearoa, is based on Maori viewpoints and values and is not a translation of The New Zealand Curriculum, instead, it has been designed for the requirements of Maori students. The Ministry of Education (2009) states that the development of 'Ka Hikitia - Managing for Success: The Māori Education Strategy 2008 - 2012', lays down guidelines for Maori education, focussing on and presenting solutions for Maori academic failure. One illustration of this is the Te Kotahitanga programme being initiated in schools to enhance the engagement of Maori students in secondary schools. The objective of Te Kotahitanga is to produce culturally responsive classrooms where Maori culture is replicated in the curriculum. According to the Ministry of Education (2009), schools involved in this programme have reported considerable increases in achievement by Maori students. The Ministry of Education proposes to increase the number of schools adopting this programme in the future.

The education system, from its conception to present day, has influenced how individuals have gained entry to the labour market. This has not produced equitable outcomes for either individuals or groups, especially females and Maori. However, through obtaining equitable education, females have gained access to education credentials and the resulting employment opportunities and financial independence that this brings. There are steps being taken to address and remedy the long term aspirations of Maori in Aotearoa New Zealand; these steps encompass all sectors of the education system, from educational policy and curriculum through to classroom dynamics. Although it is a challenge to prepare students for employment in this day and age, it is a challenge that the education system will need to rise to, by providing an equitable education for all, while at the same time imparting the skills and knowledge required for the diverse labour market that the 21st century will bring.