About 1500 primary and secondary school pupils nationally have been surveyed about their experiences in the system.
The Office of the Children’s Commissioner and the School Trustees Association published the Education Matters To Me report today.
The students from primary and secondary schools, including Kura Kaupapa Maori, alternative education groups and teen parent units relayed their stories to researchers.
The report included the experiences of Maori children, Pakeha, migrants, and their emotional well-being.
One Maori student described how he was called on to perform a haka to entertain visitors to the school, but that was the only time his principal paid attention to Maori culture.
One secondary student described how she was targeted because of her ethnicity.
“At other schools we’re judged like ‘typical Maori girls’.
“We were labelled at other schools. They already decided who we were. Like ‘oh there’s a brown girl, she is going to beat us up. Stay away from them Maori’. Makes us mad and feel down,” she said.
A primary school student of Maori, Pakeha and Pacific descent said “the racist bastards that call us brown kids, pieces of poo and baa baa blacksheeps – schools need to get this stuff improved”.
Another Maori secondary school student describes being ignored by her teacher.
“I am a library, quiet, but full of knowledge – it’s dumb that I’m not asked.”
Children’s Commissioner Andrew Becroft said the government’s plans for the education system – called the National Education Learning Priorities – were looming and young people’s voices needed to be included.
“They are in a sense experts in their own experience, they’re a rich resource, they always add quality to any decision-making,” Becroft said.
Bullying, mental health issues and too few counsellors on school grounds were another major cause for concern.
In the report, a student describes his experience of trying to speak to a counsellor.
“Really, my biggest concern is that the counsellors are always booked up. I once put in a booking that said ‘very urgent’ and they only got to me a month and a half later.
“Imagine if I was bordering on suicide and they didn’t get to me on time. That’s what’s wrong. No one cares enough.”
Children wanted to be kept safe, Becroft said.
Bullying would always occur among teenagers, he said, but adults needed to be “crystal clear” about how to be “prompt and decisive” in dealing with it.
Students were also asked what would help them achieve, and one student responded with this: “When teachers are cool and are good, when I can connect to them and I don’t feel like they are just there to hassle me.”
Many students said they wanted more supportive teachers, even if the pupils were troublemakers.
And they wanted rules on uniforms to lighten up, because sometimes they would get in trouble if they didn’t own the right gear, despite a lack of money to buy new items.
Others wanted smaller classes and environments that adapt to the changing world: “Focussing more on the problems in the world and what we can do to help. I think it would be good if we learned to be more aware about equality and what’s good for our planet.”
Becroft hoped the Ministry of Education would factor children’s perspectives into its decision-making and that parents and whanau would also realise the importance of supporting children in school.