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The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 55

Thursday, July 23, 1885

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Thursday, July 23, 1885.

The statement delivered in the House on Tuesday night by the Minister of Education, of which we published a synopsis in our yesterday's issue, marks a new departure in the administration of our national school system. The statement is a very able one. Mr Stout stands on familiar ground, and he grasps the problem of public instruction not only in its bearings as a question of broad public policy, but also in those minute administrative details which we cannot expect the average Minister, placed by political exigencies at the head of this Department, to understand. There is no doubt a danger that a specialist—and the Hon. Mr Stout's early training warrants us in so classing him—might, when endowed with the powers of a Minister, be disposed to experiment with some little "fads" of his own. We can discover nothing of that kind about the measures of reform, or of administrative change, which are advocated in the address delivered on Tuesday night. On the contrary, the changes are not merely judicious, but are so clearly explained that their utility is self-evident, and commends them at once to the common sense of persons who cannot lay claim to any special knowledge of the subject. The proposed treatment of the Standards will materially aid the country teacher in performing his work to his own satisfaction, and so as to comply with the regulations laid down for him by his Board. The measures for gradually introducing drawing, technical instruction, and science into the school curriculum are also entirely in harmony with the bent of public opinion, and are thoroughly practical.

There will be some dissent from Mr Stout's views of secondary and University education, but we confess that they command our hearty approval. The elimination of elementary teaching from the secondary schools—making them entirely supplementary to the primary schools, and part of a uniform and complete system—is a step which has been very frequently advocated in these columns. The proposal should be carried further, so as to apply the endowments of secondary schools almost exclusively to the advancement of clever boys from the primary schools, by means of scholarships, making the sons of the wealthy contribute in fees a sum more nearly approaching the cost of their tuition than is the case at present. The expenditure last year on the Auckland Grammar School represented an average of over £28 per head per annum, and the fees amounted to only £10 10s and £8 8s. The difference of £18 is a large sum to contribute from public endowments towards the education of boys whose parents are well able to afford to educate their sons, or who should otherwise avail themselves of the lower standards of the primary schools. Still it is very difficult to draw the line. Mr Stout points out with convincing force that without liberal endowments secondary and University education could not exist; that the assistance given to these schools is most beneficial to the poorer class of students, who otherwise would be shut out from scholastic advantages which are easily within the reach of the wealthy; and that New Zealand, which is doing so much for the cause of universal education among the people, cannot afford to lag behind other nations in the higher walks of scholarship, nor refrain from giving those bright intellects which will be developed under our national school system the opportunity of ascending to the very pinnacle of scholastic ambition.

The religious question is one of much delicacy, and Mr Stout handled it with a discretion and absence of dogmatism, which has caused a very agreeable feeling of surprise. He states what is strictly true when he declares that the teaching in the public schools is not irreligious nor even secular. In Nelson's series of books there are many page break passages that teach the active and beneficent government of a personal Deity, to whom man is responsible. These are apparently against Mr Stout's convictions of what would constitute a perfect national system of instruction, but we do not hesitate to say it is the knowledge of this fact, and the very excellent moral instruction contained in the books ordinarily used in the schools, which has reconciled a majority of the people to the exclusion of Bible-reading.

Taken as a whole, the Statement is an exceedingly able one—the best on the subject that has ever been published in New Zealand—and we very heartily endorse the wish expressed in the House yesterday, that it should be printed in extenso for general circulation among teachers and other persons who are interested in the work of national education.