Educating New Zealand
The clash between geography and history has nowhere been more evident than in post-primary education. Nowhere has there been a more pious regard for tradition, a more self-conscious attempt to reproduce the original pattern, a more vehement denial of any need for adaptation to New Zealand conditions; and nowhere, in the long run, have those conditions brought about more striking divergences from British practice. Indeed, the English or Scottish educationist who visits New Zealand to-day is at first apt to be baffled by our complex post-primary system and only gradually perceives that its unfamiliar features are a reflex of a social and economic structure very different from that he knows at home.
Education of a secondary character arose in the first instance to meet the demand of a very small group of middle and upper middle class emigrants, many of whom had been educated in the grammar schools, 'public' schools, and universities of Great Britain. Of all classes they had least cause to be page 109critical of the social arrangements of the homeland, and they hoped to enjoy in the antipodes the rights and privileges that went with their social position. It was natural that they above all others should feel the nostalgic yearning for home and try to cultivate a small piece of Britain in the colonial wilderness. The wealthier among them (like some of their successors) often sent their sons back to England to get the same kind of schooling they had themselves received—the classics and mathematics on the intellectual side, and on the social side a training in the code of the Victorian gentleman. If that were impossible a local school was the next best thing, and it was generally assumed that it would be a good school precisely to the extent that it approximated the standard British model. There were some interesting exceptions. For example, the preliminary prospectus of the first high school to be established in New Zealand, Christ's College, not merely admitted but underlined the claims of agricultural studies. In practice, however, and usually in theory as well, it was taken for granted that the 'good old fortifying classical curriculum' was the only avenue to culture and the best possible preparation for public and professional life in New Zealand. Not that all who could afford such an education for their boys actually sought it. Some among the first generation even of the colonial aristocrats, though men of culture themselves, were curiously indifferent to the education of their children, page 110while the men of humbler origin who 'made good' in the new land often insisted that a boy should be at work instead of wasting his time with Latin and Euclid. This was one of the reasons why so many of the early schools were poverty-stricken institutions that had a hard struggle to survive and why so much of their work was of a purely elementary kind. Nevertheless secondary education was at first, indeed for many decades, the exclusive domain of the classes who, if not wealthy, at least possessed moderate means. There was little or no demand for it from any other group. At a time when universal primary education was still a dream, and the development of industry and commerce and the public services had not yet created a market for large numbers of workers who were more than literate, a good elementary schooling represented the summit of the ambition of the great bulk of working and lower middle class families. In any case the few schools that could really justify the claim to give 'instruction in the higher branches of knowledge' charged substantial fees that put them beyond the reach of the ordinary person. In this way the socially selective and narrowly academic traditions of English secondary education took firm root in many parts of the colony.
To this general picture, however, Otago presented a partial, but important, exception. As we have seen, the Otago Scots inherited educational traditions which in some respects corresponded very neatly page 111with the needs of an agricultural colony that was moving hesitantly in a democratic direction—there was the tradition of the district high school, and the tradition that secondary and higher education should be accessible to the 'lad o' pairts'.* Moreover, both these principles were in due course embodied in the Otago school system. Otago, therefore, had built a bridge—a very narrow one, admittedly, but still a bridge—across what the conventional middle and upper class English colonist had regarded as a gulf that could not and should not be spanned. It was a portent of changes that would have profoundly shocked not merely the well-to-do English colonists but the well-to-do Scots as well; in the meantime it helped to strengthen the growing conviction that the 'lad o' pairts' should get his chance.
* Theoretically the same principle was sometimes admitted elsewhere in the colony, but in practice it was a dead letter.
As yet then there was no marked break with traditional views about the place of secondary schools in the general educational scheme. Still less was there any departure from British conceptions of the kind of institution a secondary school should be. Indeed, the Education Act itself laid down as the subjects district high schools might teach 'all the branches of a liberal education comprising Latin and Greek classics, French and other modern languages and such other branches of science a the advancement of the colony and the increase in population may from time to time require. . . .' In practice foreign languages page 113and mathematics remained the staples for all children in both secondary and district high schools, though, the century wore on, French tended to replace Greek and English got a firmer footing. The 'other branches of science' were generally neglected. If touched at all they were usually taught from the text-book, with little or no experimental work, and no attempt whatever to use the rich material of New Zealand's natural environment. As late as 1900 James Adams, who, as headmaster of the Thames High School, had some years before revolted against the general practice and related the teaching of science to the needs of his mining district, declared that 'our primary schools do not fit children to be anything but shopmen and our secondary schools do not fit them to be anything but lawyers'.
Adams was by no means the only critic, but for most of his colleagues the English 'public' schools with their characteristic ethos, their academic curriculum, their prefect system and their organised games, represented if not educational perfection the nearest thing to it in an imperfect world. After 1888, moreover, any tendency to stray from well-trodden paths was discouraged by the academic requirements of the matriculation examination (later re-named the university entrance examination). Previously the schools had examined their own work—a monstrous thing in those days and the subject of indignant criticism—and it was a case of their submitting to page 114the control of either the Education Department or the University. The principals of the schools finally elected to accept the matriculation examination of the University as the hall-mark of a secondary education, a choice that many years later, when 'the domination of the matriculation examination' was a stock complaint, some of their successors were sadly to regret.
Something of what this unbending conservatism implied may be gathered from Hogben's first report on the secondary schools, published 1901. He wrote that 'in most schools . . . the language teaching consists to a very large extent of the dry bones of grammar, and of detached sentences based on grammar rules; the consequence is that the total amount of time spent on grammar is . . . abnormally large. . . . I fear that I fail altogether to see any virtue in mere gerund-grinding; and the fallacy that pupils acquire a knowledge or appreciation of the literature of the languages they learn needs only to be mentioned in order to become manifest.' English, he said, was well taught, but he was very critical of the formalism of much of the work in mathematics and science. Hogben pointed out—the same argument, alas, had to be used forty years later—that the majority of children receiving secondary education! in New Zealand did not spend more than two years at school, and that not one pupil in twenty went to the University (it is one in sixteen to-day). In such circumstances, he asked, why should the whole school page 115programme be framed to lead up to the university trance and junior scholarship examinations? And, in particular, what excuse was there for including two languages in the curriculum of the large majority of pupils, when they could get 'but the merest smattering' of either? Five-sixths of the pupils, Hogben thought, should learn one foreign language only, and that a modern one, and the teaching should be enlivened by the adoption of more rational methods, including a free use of translations. In short, he wanted to see applied throughout the secondary school the same principles that inspired his syllabus of primary education. The time had come 'when all concerned should seriously consider the expediency of recasting . . . the whole framework of higher education'.
And indeed it had. On the one hand, what passed for a liberal education was for many children a dry mental gymnastic. On the other, technical education had been making but slow progress. It was not that the colony had no urgent need for technical knowledge and skill: its basic industries of farming and mining were often conducted with great inefficiency, and the same was true of many of the skilled trades. An education board complained that 'the almost universal abolition of apprenticeship' had 'left a void which imperatively demands attention from the Government. . . .' Such technical instruction as there was owed much to the University, which established page 116first a school of mines (in 1878) and later schools of agriculture and engineering; John Nicol, the historian of the New Zealand technical schools, remarks that the university authorities and teachers in some special fields were technically-minded long before those in control of secondary and primary schools showed any marked interest in vocational training.* In 1885 Stout, who was then both Premier and Minister of Education, tried to persuade the secondary schools to introduce practical courses, pointing out firmly that institutions dependent on public funds were in duty bound to supply the needs of all social classes. But with an odd exception or two, the appeal was rejected or simply ignored. For some years previously, however, public and semi-public bodies in different parts of the colony had been running with varying degrees of success part-time classes in art and technical subjects, and after 1893 they received a little assistance from government funds. In this way there grew up small technical schools that catered for apprentices and others through evening classes.
* Where the curriculum was concerned their conservatism was reinforced by the doctrine of formal discipline which, in the nineteenth century, reigned supreme almost everywhere. If you believed, as many teachers did, that gerund-grinding invariably gave a good mental training there was no conflict between your professional conscience and your professional interest in the perpetuation of gerund-grinding.
* Op cit., p. 214.
How stubborn all these influences were was shown not only in the opposition of some of the schools to the entry of free-place pupils but even more in their response to Hogben's appeals for reform. He was not, it is worth repeating, a revolutionary—his basic values were those of any number of liberal-minded men of his time—and he was not doctrinaire. Yet the schools scarcely budged. In the case of the secondary schools Hogben offered grants for manual work, science, and agriculture, hoping thereby to induce them to break away from their formalism. They took the grants and developed instruction in physics and chemistry, but it soon became clear that the teaching of these subjects, even when it was linked with some experimental work, could become as lifeless and examination-ridden as any others. There was, however, still a chance with the district high schools which had begun to spread rapidly through the country—they increased five-fold between 1898 and 1914. Hogben had a vision of them as community-centred rural page 120high schools with a realistic curriculum intimately related to country needs and conditions. It was a momentary vision. With one voice the country districts demanded—and got—matriculation courses, and the schools, with over-worked staffs of only one, two, or three teachers in the secondary departments, could do little to provide alternatives. The district high schools have always been—to some extent it must be confessed rightly and inevitably—a channel through which country boys and girls have flowed into the towns and cities to take up clerical jobs or get training for business and professional careers.
Meanwhile the Manual and Technical Instruction Acts nf 1000 and 1905 had opened up a new and hopeful prospect for technical classes; they had in fact done a great deal more, for they had made it possible for the Education Department to give grants to day schools in which 'technical instruction' as ordinarily understood was but a part of the curriculum. Hogben, perhaps, had seen the need of furnishing himself with an insurance policy in the event of his failure to convert the secondary and district high schools. At all events when, after 1904, they were still showing no signs of repentance he did nothing to discourage the technical schools in the four main centres from developing full-time day classes to do at least some of the work the other schools declined to handle. For some years, however, Hogben refused to sanction the creation of technical day schools page 121outside the four main centres, hoping even yet that the existing secondary schools would make adequate provision for their short-course pupils and for others for whom the matriculation syllabus was unsuitable. He was again disappointed and in 1912 had authority given for the establishment of further technical day schools. Such was the roundabout way in which New Zealand got a type of educational institution which not only proved exceedingly popular but is in some respects unique.
Hogben's mounting desperation is easily understood. The free place system established the principle that post-primary education should be available not merely to the able few but to all children who could at the end of Standard VI pass a test of no more than moderate difficulty. Further, the number of children actually claiming free places increased from year to year much more rapidly than he or anyone else had expected. The corollary was obvious. So long as secondary education remained the privilege of wealth or of exceptional capacity it could continue to follow traditional lines with some show of justification, but the more it tended to become the right of all, the more imperative was the need for change. If the schools were not to fail dismally they had to cater for the needs of large numbers of boys and girls destined not to a life of cultivated idleness nor to an assured position as members of a ruling class, not even, in many cases, to professional and business page 122careers, but to earn their living and use their leisure as members or" the rank-and-file. The argument is, of course, even stronger to-day when all children who finish a Standard VI course may, irrespective of their attainments, go on to a post-primary school, and when more than three-fifths of them actually do so. And it will be stronger still if the school-leaving age is raised to fifteen. The gradual relaxation J and ultimate abandonment of the selective principle, which is still basic to English and Scottish educational policy, is, perhaps, the most important single fact in the history of post-primary education in New Zealand. It means that some of the problems that most plague British teachers and administrators simply do not arise in this country, for example the very difficult problem of finding a method of selecting children for post-primary education that does not, like the old type of examination, put the primary schools in an educational strait-jacket, and that is at the same time reasonably reliable, not unduly cumbersome in operation, and acceptable to the public. But it means also that New Zealand has had to face long before Britain the problem of devising a suitable form of post-primary education for children without academic interests. Broadly speaking, the day technical high school is New Zealand's answer to that problem.
The New Zealand technical high school is sui generis: it is, in effect, a secondary school strongly biased towards industry and commerce but much page 123less specifically vocational than the term 'technical' ordinarily implies. Its present form has been determined both by the facts of the New Zealand economic situation and by deliberate educational policy. In other countries a technical school is typically a trade school serving the needs of a single industry or a group of allied industries. New Zealand conditions have always been hostile to the development of this sort of institution. Manufacturing has been much less important than agriculture, and there has never been any large concentration of allied industries at any one centre; on the contrary the general picture is of a wide range of industrial processes carried on in small plants and businesses scattered throughout the length and breadth of the country. Hence an institution that undertook full responsibility for trade training would find itself asked to provide a great variety of courses for relatively few learners, which even if it were practicable would be extremely costly. Technical education, if it were to develop at all widely, had therefore to take on a more or less generalised form. And in the case of most entrants to industry it could be argued that a change of this sort was actually desirable. In New Zealand as elsewhere mechanisation had split up many of the highly-skilled crafts into a number of routine and semi-routine operations that could be learned quickly and easily; and apprenticeship, though it still existed in a number of trades, had everywhere lost much of its old significance and page 124was in extreme instances completely meaningless except as a method of indenturing cheap labour. Thus it could be said that many boys entering industry did not need specific trade training but rather a realistic education of a more general nature that was designed, so far as it looked to the vocational future, to produce adaptability and handiness and to give some insight into scientific principles. Such an education could be conceived in part as a substitute for the old craft-culture and in part as a pre-vocational training suitable for those intending to enter, if not any branch of industry, any one of a large group of trades, such for example, as the building trades. This, in somewhat over-simplified terms, was the theory developed in detail by W. S. La Trobe, who was director of the first technical day school (which opened in Wellington in 1905) and then for a long period (from 1918–38) Superintendent of Technical Education.
As early as 1904 when La Trobe drew up plans for his new day school, he had in mind an institution largely pre-vocational, a bridge between the primary school on one side and apprenticeship, the advanced evening classes and technological institutions of university rank on the other. The outline of a new kind of school was already taking shape. It is, however, important to emphasise that the day school was not conceived as something complete in itself. La Trobe saw that the industrial changes which had page 125undermined the apprenticeship system and split up some skilled trades into a number of more or less routine jobs had at the same time created a need for highly-trained technicians. In later years it was a disappointment to him that as the result of the apathy of industry itself comparatively little advanced work was done in technical school evening classes; and so far as he could help it he never allowed evening classes to be regarded as a mere appendage to the day school.
A year or so after the Wellington school was established another influence was at work in the person of John Howell, who arrived in New Zealand in 1906 to take charge of the Christchurch Technical School. The achievement of Howell's first eight years has been summarised by Nicol: 'Beginning from bedrock, he had overcome prejudice in influential quarters, secured land to the extent of thirteen acres, erected adequate classrooms, workshops and laboratories, an assembly hall and a residential girls' training hostel, built up a well-organized evening school attended by 1000 students and developed a vigorous, ably-staffed and disciplined day school of over 400 pupils. . . . His school became a missionary centre, and by no mere accident did it come about that six out of the country's eight largest technical schools were for long periods controlled either by Howell himself or by men whom he had trained.' The quality of Howell's influence was no less remarkable than its vigour. To quote Nicol again, 'in the technical day school, and page 126as far as possible in evening classes, he sought to develop an urbanity of manners and catholicity of spirit which New Zealand had not yet dreamed of associating with the vocational or pre-vocational training of clerks, domestic workers and apprentices.' Even less, one may add, had Britain dreamed of anything of the kind. Music and drama, literature and art, games and social activities, all had an essential place in his scheme. Unlike most of his secondary school colleagues, moreover, he approved of coeducation, detested corporal punishment, and saw no reason why all boys should be compelled to play the same games. And because of his capacity for turning visions into realities many of his ideas and practices became in the way Nicol describes accepted technical school traditions. He gave technical education humanistic aims of much wider scope than even La Trobe, whose outlook was always decidedly liberal, had at first conceived, and in so doing pushed the schools still farther away from current English trade school ideas.
In the long run, however, La Trobe's influence was certainly not less far-reaching. As Superintendent of Technical Education he worked to build up the schools, to improve their conditions, and to keep them true to what he considered their proper line of development, and it was all done so quietly and with so light a touch on the administrative controls, that many who should have known better were scarcely page 127aware of what he was achieving. He had a profound concern for the short course pupils who formed the bulk of the technical day school population, especially for those about to enter industry, and for the young people already at work who came to evening classes for specialised training, and he believed that the first and essential duty of the schools was to cater for their needs. The historical accident that left the technical schools free to teach almost anything they chose made it possible for them to expand their functions until they overlapped those of the secondary schools themselves; and whether from misplaced ambitions or from mistaken ideas of what was of real cultural value to their students they were prone to the very disease of bookishness and formalism that they had been intended to cure. La Trobe was well aware of this danger and did his utmost to make the pre-vocational day school genuinely realistic in its outlook and methods and to build up the more or less advanced technical work of the evening classes. He was therefore not merely the administrative architect of the system but also a vital and independent force in the strictly educational sphere.
Given the peculiar circumstances of its birth and infancy it was very probable that the technical day school would take something like its present form and grow fairly vigorously; it is obviously a response to local needs and conditions and as such represents page 128in a general way what we have called the geographical principle. Yet there was nothing inevitable about the spectacular growth in technical day school roll numbers, or about the speed with which the schools achieved substantial parity with the secondary schools in such matters as buildings, staffing, and equipment or about their strong emphasis on cultural and social activities and their early divergence from traditional nineteenth-century attitudes towards co-education and school discipline. La Trobe and Howell were not the only men responsible for these developments. But the part they played in them was quite extraordinary. No other part of the education system bears so unmistakably the impress of individual personalities.
There are to-day twenty-one technical high schools in New Zealand and seven combined secondary and technical schools as compared with thirty-nine state secondary schools and ninety-five district high schools. If we leave aside the Elam and Canterbury College Schools of Art the technical day schools fall into two broad groups: those in the four main cities and the larger provincial centres where secondary schools also are available; and a somewhat smaller number which have to meet—or are expected to meet—all the post-primary needs of their districts. As one would imagine the schools in the first group are much more 'technical' (in the usual sense of the word) than those in the second. Of the day-boys enrolled in them three-quarters take an industrial course (building or engin-page 129eering) and of the girls well over half a commercial course and another quarter a 'home life' course. A small proportion of the pupils takes a general course with one foreign language (invariably French) and French is included in the courses of other pupils who want the university entrance examination as a preliminary to professional work in engineering or commerce. Nearly everyone now agrees that French has little relevance to the present or future needs of most of the technical school boys and girls who attempt to acquire it and that the time it consumes could from any point of view be much better spent. But even the schools which feel this most keenly have had to some extent to bow to examination requirements. Many of the technical schools in the smaller centres are indistinguishable from rural secondary schools that have developed an agricultural or industrial side to their curriculum. One, the Feilding Agricultural High School which owns and runs its own farm, has become, under the directorship of L. J. Wild, a rural post-primary school of the kind Hogben used to advocate. At the other extreme there are a few schools that are in many ways more academic than some of the smaller secondary schools—which is a warning against over-emphasising the distinctiveness of technical school theory and practice and forgetting how much they have in common with those of other types of school.
The technical high school proper is, nevertheless, page 130one of New Zealand's very few original contributions to education. A very well-qualified English observer recently wrote of it: 'My general verdict . . . is that New Zealand has evolved a type of school having some inevitable and some removable disadvantages but offering nevertheless a preparation for life which takes reasonable account of the probable future career of the great majority of its pupils on the economic side, but not exclusively on that side. After all, there are not many states of which this could be written, and although we in England have some excellencies which I do not find in New Zealand, I am by no means confident that we solve, or partially solve, the problem of pre-vocational training for anything like so high a proportion of our youth.'* The same writer has said that something very like the New Zealand type of school could well be established in certain areas in Britain. It would be an interesting climax to a movement that began as a protest against the traditional secondary school imported from Britain herself!