The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 55
A remarkably able and exhaustive statement, recently addressed to the New Zealand House of Representatives by the Hon. Robert Stout as Minister of Public Instruction, on the position of primary, secondary and higher education in that colony, has been published under Government authority. The document is interesting, not only as conveying a lucid idea of the machinery of the Education Act in the sister colony and of the actual results of the State system, but as suggesting marked differences between legislation as affecting public instruction in Victoria as compared with New Zealand. We are bound to say that with all its drawbacks,—and no one could be more candid in avowing them than Mr. Stout—it would be difficult to find an educational system anywhere more closely approaching the ideal graphically described by Professor Huxley. The national scheme of instruction advocated by that eminent authority has always been represented by him as a ladder with the lowest rung in the gutter and the highest reaching up to the University; so that the poorest boy or girl of talent should be able, without obstruction, to ascend from the abode of poverty to the highest seat of' learning. Nothing could be more simple or economical than the mechanism of the Central Education department in New Zealand. The staff consists only of the secretary to the Education department, the Inspector-General of Schools, three clerks and three cadets. By these officials is furnished all the aid available to the Minister in the distribution of the large sums of money at the disposal of the department, and in dealing with University, secondary and primary education, together with native and industrial schools. The inference of course is that a large share of responsibility, as regards details of administration, falls upon local management, and it is right that it should be so. As in Victoria, so in New Zealand, the State has hardly any voice in the management of the University. The two bodies on which devolve the chief burden of control in respect to that institution are the Senate and the Convocation. The great safeguard against abuse of power on the part of these two courts, however, is the right of veto by the Governor-in-Council; every election to the Senate being subject to his approval. The statutes and regulations must receive his official sanction, and should they prove, in any case, unacceptable to him, the Government grant may be suspended. So that while there is a complete absence of in-terference by the Education department with the internal arrangements of the University, a very substantial guarantee exists for the good behavior of the University authorities.
In contrast with the corresponding institution in Victoria, the University of New Zealand performs exclusively the function of examination for matriculation and degrees. In this respect it is a fae simile of the London University, which up to the present has been restricted by its constitution to the work of examination of candidates for membership and graduation, although we learn that quite recently a movement has been started to make the latter institution also a teaching centre. Hitherto, in London and New Zealand alike, the youth of both sexes have been able to qualify for matriculation or degrees either by private tuition or at affiliated schools and colleges. In England most of these establishments are voluntary and self-supporting; in New Zealand many of them are subsidised directly or indirectly by the State. In Victoria the University as a teaching body comes into competition with private colleges, and to sustain the competing institution, about the utility of which as a teaching centre many competent to judge have grave doubts, students going up for degrees are subject to the oppression and injustice of paying heavy fees for lectures which they have never attended—the consequence being that not a few young men and women who have undergone the requisite literary preparation are debarred from taking page break degrees. Is the University of Victoria worth maintaining on its present footing, at so serious a cost to many promising young colonists of limited means, verging on adult life? After recent disclosures we take leave to doubt it. The meetings of the council too often present the appearance of a bear garden. The personal reputations of certain professors have more than once been the subject of scandal. In not a few instances the lectures delivered have been pronounced worthless, and the disgraceful manner is which the last public examinations were conducted, especially in the department of chemistry, cannot but tend for a long time to come to shake the confidence of the community in the value of Victorian degrees, and in the general standing of the University. When high class education was almost limited to the Universities, as was the case for hundreds of years in the leading countries of Europe, the combining of teaching and examination for degrees in a University became an absolute necessity. But no colonial institution, of that kind at least, can claim, as Oxford and Cambridge still can, the prerogative of being centres of culture in a sense superior to any other surrounding and well appointed seats of learning. Indeed, we do not hesitate to say that the double function assumed by the Melbourne University is much less in harmony with the genius of a nascent democratic State than the system which prevails at the University of New Zealand.
Another feature in which the sister colony differs from us concerns the relation of the Government to secondary education. Such institutions for advanced training, and which are affiliated with the University of New Zealand, as the Otago University, the Canterbury College, the Auckland University, Nelson College and kindred establishments are partly maintained by revenues from Government reserves and endowments. In Victoria and in the parent country the view commonly entertained is that when primary instruction has been imparted within a given age period, and up to a fixed standard, the State has discharged its duty to the population in placing intellectual tools for future use in their hands, and giving them an impulse towards self-improvement. New Zealand advances a step further, and renders it possible for every young person whose faculties promise to yield a liberal return for higher training to be carried up by the aid of scholarships to the higher seminaries. That the system as a whole works well is demonstrated by the numerous instances adduced by Mr. Stout, not only of distinguished success attained by pupils in the colony, but also by men who have proceeded to degrees and honors at the English and Scotch Universities. For the Government of Victoria to undertake to provide by land grants for the erection and partial maintenance of secondary schools at the present advanced stage of colonial development, when so large a proportion of our limited territory has been alienated, is no easy matter. But it appears to us that until provision is made from some source by the State here, as in New Zealand, for the advantages of the high school and the University being freely brought within reach of the most impecunious family, the responsibility of Government to the people is not fully discharged. Upon thirteen boards devolves the supreme management of education in the several school districts of New Zealand. Subordinate duties within the same areas are entrusted to school committees. The latter are elected by householders and the parents of the children, and by the committees the boards are chosen. Although the boards have the appointment and dismissal of head masters and assistant teachers, they page break usually secure the co-operation of the committees by consulting them on these delicate questions. In addition to the pupil teacher system, it has been wisely arranged that normal schools should be expressly provided by the State for the systematic discipline of teachers in the minute technicalities of their work. But it is only fair to mention the three aspects in which the Minister of Public Instruction considers the New Zealand system defective:—"There has not been a proper gradation between the primary and secondary schools; there has been more attention paid to the literary part of education than to scientific, and technical instruction has been almost entirely ignored." Still, the result of the seven years' trial of the Education Act in the colony may be regarded as eminently satisfactory. I believe," says Mr. Stout, "that we show as many real University students for our population as any country in the world; and though our primary school system is not equal to that of some other countries, it is gradually improving, and with some alterations that I propose to make it will still further improve." The presence of children in the industrial schools he mainly attributes to the fault of drunken and criminal parents. Many statistics, had we space to quote them, would be found extremely suggestive of the general intellectual development of the rising generation in New Zealand. But enough has been said to indicate that we have as a neighbor not a hostile competitor, but a friendly rival in those undertakings which contribute at once to the material and moral welfare of the community.