Finally, the day came, on Tuesday, January 29, when I had to drop my child to school again, after six weeks of holidays.
Both, my child and us (me and my wife) seemed to be pretty excited with the reopening of schools.
It was the same for many other parents dropping their kids to schools and with whom we casually exchanged smiles and pleasantries. Clearly, the reasons for kids’ excitement of returning to school were different than us parents.
In our regular catch-up with parents, there was more about the kid’s excitement and what everyone did during the school holidays and less about the recent debate around the length of summer holidays.
Unsurprisingly many Kiwi-Indians and other ethnic migrant parents were supremely unaware, and even more worryingly, were reticent to express any opinion on the issue when explained briefly about the nature and the origins of the debate.
National MP Nicola Willis had sought to initiate a public debate in the country to see if there was an appetite for reducing the number of school holidays, especially during the summer.
From the looks of it, the debate has been trampled much before it could become a public debate in a real sense.
At least this is what social media is telling us.
The mainstream media’s posts on social media about the story was immediately inundated with disdain, if not an outright rejection, of the suggestion to reduce the summer holidays.
The social media opinion were backed with media commentaries emphasizing why any idea of reducing school holidays was absolutely rubbish and a symbol of poor-parenting and selfish motives of parents, especially against the teachers, for a number of reasons.
Surprisingly this was despite many honest confessions by parents about the cost escalation as most of them have to take help of school holiday programs to negotiate through the school holiday period.
In fact, many enthusiastic opponents of the idea of reducing the number of school holidays, avowed to happily continue with the status quo, rather than explore what could be the possibilities if we choose to challenge the status quo.
Any voices of entertaining the idea were either in the minority or were too feeble to put forward their views.
If that was not enough then the Education Minister Chris Hipkins was quick to dump the seemingly rubbish idea in the bin by asserting that the government had no such plans to bring that change or support Nicola Wills’ members' bill if it was to see the light of the day.
Adding insult to injury was the rant by the Minister stating “National has had plenty of opportunities to change the law during their time in charge.”
Through this assertion, the right of the Opposition Party to raise any issues of public interest was categorically rejected, on the pretext that their own Party was in the government for three consecutive terms.
In this regard, it is submitted that while it may be appropriate to rebut the Opposition in the first six months or first year of the change of the government, but definitely not in the second year of government, especially in a three-year-term parliament.
It reflects more a disdain towards the public than to the Opposition in a democracy.
The government might do well to keep away from this tendency of disfranchising the Opposition and rather come up with more appropriate responses to the issues being raised.
Anyway, coming back to the main purpose of this piece, that is to come up with an ethnic-migrant perspective of the suggestion that a number of school holidays should be reduced or not.
Majority of ethnic migrants find negotiating with their children’s school holidays - a slightly different experience - like all other social activity they indulge in their new country of residence, in comparison to what they would have experienced back in their country of origin.
Managing the exuberant cost involved in sending their kids to school holiday programs is one such pain, though shared by many native Kiwi residents as well.
However, what is most startling for them is the fact that despite evident discomfort around the issue of school holidays there is the least willingness to debate around the issue.
If school holidays are so paramount for children’s overall well-being and learning proficiency and development, then our society should collectively be able to put systems in place to facilitate cost-effective ways of managing school holidays.
Indeed, the state has to play an instrumental role in driving this change.
If the gap in rising living costs and wages is the primary factor precipitating the pain of working parents, then that is the area for the governments to work.
Undoubtedly we are living in the modern period of exceptionally high living costs that require in most working families for both parents to work, to just be able to meet their ends. But that does not mean that state should also be reflecting similar helplessness as of working parents, to find solutions of the problem on hand.
Negotiating through school holidays is a challenge, if not nightmare, for working parents, even during semester breaks.
Maybe subsidising the school holiday programs could be an option to mull upon.
However what many parents confided with us is that managing costs of school holiday programs were not their only concern.
At least many parents believe that there is not a much constructive and productive use of the time made available to children, out of schools, especially with parents away at work.
For me personally, my child’s “screen-time” goes exceptionally high during the school holiday period as putting them in front of television or laptops for a long time becomes a convenient option either at their school holiday program or at our workplace.
It would be helpful to remind that school holidays originally began in 19th century England before being instinctively followed in NZ for the primary reason to allow kids help the adults during the harvest season.
So if school holidays were started at the first place in response to societal needs in the past then why societal requirements (both parent working) of present times should not be able to influence them.
A simple putting off an issue as relevant as school holidays is not desirable. Sooner or later we will have to think and act upon it, therefore sooner is better.