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Educating New Zealand


For more than half a century New Zealand has been a political democracy, and her state primary schools have been common schools almost from their foundation. At first these facts were interpreted to imply uniform and universal provision of efficient elementary schooling of the type imported from Britain in the nineteenth century. And the aim was achieved. Few countries did more to even up the educational opportunities of town and country children and to ensure that the instruction given did not fall below a certain minimum level of efficiency. Yet in the nineteenth century itself there was in New Zealand a body of opinion that realised more or less clearly that elementary schooling of the traditional kind did violence to child nature and was ill-adapted to serve the educational needs of a democracy. It might have been expected that a young country would quickly have followed this lead and made radical changes in the whole character and quality of schooling, but in fact educational liberalism has had many defeats and few decisive victories. Is it fanciful to see here the working of the peculiar colonial conservatism discussed in the first chapter? That would seem to be part of the explanation. A good deal of the rest is to be found in the individualist traditions brought from page 107nineteenth-century England. These have led, in New Zealand as elsewhere, to the acceptance by a large part of the community of almost any form of schooling provided only it opens the door to vocational success. Since 1935 the movement to liberalise the primary school has been gaining ground over the forces indifferent or hostile to it, but it would be a mistake to assume that it has achieved a permanent victory, even inside educational circles. Much will depend on the ability of the school itself to demonstrate the virtues of the new dispensation; the fact that the primary school, in spite of all its handicaps, has not been the least resilient of our educational institutions gives ground for hope.