Like many other NZ writers and illustrators, I received some of my first writing contracts from Learning Media, NZ’s flagship educational publisher of the School Journal. Now, with a National Government intent on selling off all our state assets, this iconic organisation has been forced to close. It was not through poor performance, as our Deputy Prime Minister Bill English claims, but because they had the heart stripped out of them when the Ministry of Education was forced to tender out for its resources. The collapse of Learning Media falls directly at National’s feet.
Market forces should not be considered when the education of our children is involved. High quality, NZ written and produced material is vital for our national identity and for the best possible achievement of our children. This is a national disgrace.
Below is a press statement jointly written by some in the children’s writing community. If you, too, feel strongly about this issue, please take the time to lobby your MP and the Minister of Education.
New Zealand children’s writers and illustrators have been concerned all year about proposed changes to the School Journal. Now they have reacted with horror and outrage to the announcement that Learning Media, the government-owned company that publishes the School Journal, is to be closed down, because it is not “financially viable”. They say that this iconic New Zealand enterprise has been made to tender for its own core business and set up to fail.
This forced closure means far more than the loss of over 100 jobs at Learning Media itself, many more jobs for contributing artists and writers, and the loss of expertise and in-depth knowledge of the curriculum. In the words of Greg O’Brien (author of A nest of singing birds, written in 2007 to celebrate the centenary of the Journal’s publication): “The contribution of the School Journal to the art and literature of New Zealand has been priceless, profound and ongoing… The School Journal is one of the great educational periodicals to emerge anywhere in the world, ever.”
The School Journal is a New Zealand institution, both culturally and educationally. It provides a way for New Zealand children to see their own lives reflected in print. We live in a world where globalisation of information is increasing. There are real concerns that New Zealand written and illustrated content will be forfeited to overseas providers. Do we really want our children to be deprived of their own New Zealand, Maori and Pasifika stories? Our culture is unique and is one of the key reasons New Zealand punches above its weight in so many fields.
Other contributors over the years have included many of the country’s top artists and writers, such as Rita Angus, Juliet Peter, Dick Frizzell, Russell Clark, Colin McCahon, Joy Cowley, Patricia Grace, Witi Ihimaera, James K. Baxter, Fleur Beale, David Hill and many others. The School Journal’s editors took the time to nurture new talent, and we have them to thank for the work of many of today’s top New Zealand children’s writers and illustrators.
We would urge all parents, teachers, librarians and anyone who cares about the education , literacy and future of our children, to write to the Minister of Education and to their local MP and protest this decision.
• Learning Media has traditionally had a contract with the Ministry of Education to supply materials to schools, in particular the School Journal, but also learning materials across the whole curriculum, including publications to support Te Reo Maori and Pasifika languages, highly respected science resources like Connected, and online and digital resources for TKI through their digital publishing arm. This contract expired last year and other publishers have been invited to submit bids for series previously published by LM.
• Until recently, the School Journal was made up of four levels aimed at 5 year olds to 12 year olds. Four issues a level…16 journals a year sent to schools (free) in class sets of 30. Each journal would typically include 3 short stories, 3 articles, one play, one craft activity, and 1 or 2 poems, all graded at the reading ability of children in each level and cross indexed according to subject and reading level in a comprehensive index issued every year covering 5 years. Many schools would consider their journal room, holding up to 20 years’ worth of class sets, to be their prime reading resource for teaching reading literacy and keeping NZ in the top 5 for reading literacy in the world over many decades.
Update: (follow link to: Morning report 6 Sept 2013 )
As for the revelation about the huge salaries being paid to the CEO and top managers, this is just another example of how the Government’s corporate model worked against the best interests of Learning Media. The government stood by while they allowed the life-blood of the company be sucked dry by a few individuals, while the hundreds of writers, illustrators, designers, editors and other Learning Media staff have now had their income streams cut off for good.