The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 55
The Education Statement
The Education Statement
The lucid and comprehensive statement delivered by the Minister for Education on Tuesday evening will be read, we feel sure, with great interest throughout the Colony. The description of the educational machinery is complete, and it is shown exactly what the State has done and is doing for higher, secondary, and primary education. This portion of the Statement forms a compendium of information which has never previously been attainable in a concrete form, and will prove exceedingly useful for reference, the work having been admirably done, possibly with a view to that object. The paper as a whole is most able, and constitutes a valuable addition to educational literature altogether apart from the more immediate application. In the discussion of State education Mr Stout displays sound principle, breadth of view, and a keen realisation of fact and circumstance. He admits that in a possible ideal society there would be no State schools; that in some possible future time parents and guardians will so recognise their duty that State interference will not be necessary. But the practical politician, he rightly avers, has to do with the present, and the pressing question is: Are our children to be brought up in ignorance, or are they to be educated? If this is answered, as it needs must be in the affirmative, "in order to obtain universal education" there must be "a system of public sclsools." Mr Stout gives an apt quotation to the point from a well-known writer on social economics. "The true function of the State is to make "the most of the citizen. This is its only inexhaustible function. And, if anything is to be made of the citizen, he must be educated. These are the grounds of the interference of the State with education; and, as the State must recognise the rights of children as well as the rights of parents, looking oh the individual as the social unit, it must see that the children are protected from the cruelty, the selfishness, and the ignorance of parents."
It is impossible within the limits of an article to attempt to traverse the range of subjects which are included in the Statement; but there are two or three points to which we would desire to direct particular attention. In speaking of the defects in the existing system of education, Mr Stout remarks that there has not been a proper gradation between the primary and secondary schools, and he expresses the hope that in the chief towns of this Colony some effort will at once be made to prevent the attendance of too young children at the high schools and grammar schools, before admission to which, he thinks, the fourth standard in the primary schools should in all cases have been passed. As Minister for Education he can, under present arrangements, do no more than suggest that the secondary schools should fix a Standard entrance which would exclude children imperfectly instructed in the rudiments. The Government have practically no control over these institutions; they cannot prescribe their course of study, nor interfere with their internal management, nor provide that their course of tuition shall stand in a proper relation to that of the primary schools on the one hand or the university on the other Mr Stout asserts that when the Education Act was being passed he doubted the wisdom of divorcing the secondary from the primary schools; and m this view he has been confirmed by experience. There is undoubtedly a great waste of power in the teaching of the mere elements to young children in the secondary schools, and prejudice has on this score been excited against them. We ourselves have consistently advocated that the educational institutions of the Colony should all be built up into one System, of which the first standard classes of the primary schools should be the foundation and the university the apex. The instruction from the very first should graduate upwards, so that every child should have precisely the same opportunities, if qualified, and able and willing to take advantage of them. Mr Stout seems to despair of being able to do anything material in this direction until population has become more dense; and we fear that in constituting so many independent governing bodies of secondary schools a mistake has been made which it will be exceedingly difficult to remedy. Something might, however, be done by the governing bodied themselves if they would properly realise their responsibilities and not look to numbers only as the test of the success of the schools under their management. If the standard of admission were raised a great deal of hard work would be saved to the page break teaching staff, who would thus have more energy and time to devote to their proper function of instruction. A question somewhat analogous suggests itself in this consideration, which is whether it would not be conducive to the efficiency as well as the economy of public education that the maximum school age should be raised from five to six years. Much time is purely wasted in many of the primary schools in looking after mere infants, who, if under instruction at all, should be in a kindergarten, but are sent to the State schools to be out of the way at home and out of mischief. There would be a direct saving of some thousands a year, whilst in regard to school accommodation the room of these little ones would be far better than their company.
We are very glad that Mr Stout expressed himself so decisively in regard to secondary and university education. Many persons, in a sort of perversity of ignorance, affirm that with primary education the duty of the State ceases, which is equivalent to maintaining that no children of poor parents have the right to educate beyond the elements, and are to be debarred the opportunities which higher education affords. We agree with the Minister for Education in scouting such an idea, and in the conviction that no Parliament in New Zealand will ever be found to sanction it. The endowments of the secondary schools have enabled "not dozens or scores, but hundreds of youths" to obtain a high-class education, who would otherwise have been deprived of that advantage.
It is impossible, as Mr Stout says, to accurately gauge the results of an education system in seven years, or even in fourteen or twenty-one years; but lie declares, and, we believe, with full justification for doing so, that the present system, whilst capable of improvement in many ways, is doing excellent work—work that is already manifest in widely extended culture, and in a marked effect in the statistics of crime. In the course of time, especially if men of like mind to Mr Stout in this matter succeed him in his office as Minister for Education, there will assuredly be a raising of the standard of education, as he himself puts it, "all along the line, involving "a development of our manufactures, a development of our trade, commensurate with the high-class education that has been bestowed upon our youth."