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29th January 2004

Rural Women Shocked at School Closures
Rural Women New Zealand (RWNZ) is aghast at a Ministry of Education announcement that fifteen rural schools are to be closed in the South Canterbury region.

“The government professes to be tackling the skills shortage on one hand, yet they are responsible for compounding it on the other. Closing country schools means that employers in rural areas are unable to offer education for workers’ children. It is the closing of rural schools and the promotion of urban drift that has exacerbated the rural skills shortage,” says RWNZ President, Ellen Ramsay.

“The government does not promise a better education for our rural children but simply offers better ‘resourced’ schools. A new computer does not provide education for a child it only provides information. A child needs good education in order to use information properly.”

Mrs Ramsay states that since there is no commitment for better education in the form of reduced teacher:pupil ratios, RWNZ is compelled to vigorously oppose the restriction of education opportunities that this government is imposing on rural children.

The rural sector produces 65% of New Zealand GDP and had a growth rate of 4-5% per annum last year, while other industries have experienced 2 % growth. Despite the fact that the rural sector is more than paying its way, the government has shown little interest in maintaining the rural economy through school closures.

The introduction of an urban lifestyle to rural children by sending them to urban schools is likely to erode the rural infrastructure of New Zealand further. “This situation does nothing to sustain the agriculture economy of this country long term,” Mrs Ramsay says.

“Removing the social hub of the community, which is the school, does not recognise the important place school has in rural areas. Many of these schools are a focal point for sporting and recreational events and they attract a high level of community support. Rural school often have accumulated assets and significant resources through the hard work and commitment of local families.”

Mrs Ramsay points out that rural schools offer unique learning opportunities nurtured by a caring community, not overcrowded class rooms where teachers are unable to dedicate sufficient attention to individual students. “There is not one school closure or amalgamation where the continuing school is rural in all the reviews. Why is that?”

RWNZ acknowledges that some school closures are either logical or unavoidable, but urges rural families affected by unfair closures to appeal to their local MP, particularly where long travelling distances are involved.

The timing of this announcement by the Minister, during a period of major drought in the region, points to a gross insensitivity by government as to the pressures faced by the rural community.

Ellen Ramsay
President - Rural Women New Zealand


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