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The New Zealand Railways Magazine, Volume 4, Issue 3 (July 1, 1929)

Adult Education — New World Conditions

page 22

Adult Education
New World Conditions

Professor T. A. Hunter, who, for a quarter of a century, has laboured enthusiastically in promoting the growth of liberal education throughout New Zealand, is one of our most distinguished educationists. In the following article, specially written for the New Zealand Railways Magazine, he discusses the Adult Education Movement and the fundamental principles which apply to education intended to develop true citizenship and social service.

Lindbergh has flown the Atlantic; Kingsford Smith has hopped the Pacific; the barriers that separate man from man from man are breaking down—have broken down. Time and Space are being eliminated; the millions of our own people, the tens of millions of the races of mankind are finding themselves cheek by jowl on a planet in which, until within the briefest span of the immediate past, the distances seemed so vast that one people appeared eternally separated from many others. The world is rapidly growing smaller; news that came to our pioneers in three or four months now flashes to their descendants in a few brief seconds. Steam and electricity, the aeroplane and the wireless, the factory, the cultivator and the newspaper have bound the world together; the age of invention has meant a new world, and man must perforce adjust himself to the new environment and the new ideas, or perish.

Better Understanding Needed.

If these inventions are not to make slaves of the mass of mankind we must understand them and their social consequences; we must understand something of our own nature and development, something of our own history and of the history of other peoples, something of the delicacy of civilization, something of the brainy thought, the blood and tears, that have given us our social heritage.

In the widest sense of the term, then, education covers this process of adjustment of man to his environment, physical and social. As each generation begins with the accumulated wisdom and prejudice of its forerunners, the problem of equipping the next generation with the means of facing and solving its problems is becoming ever more difficult, and ever more urgent. “The citizen,” writes Professor Laski, “must be able to find his way about in the great world or else he ceases, in any real sense, to be a citizen. He must be able to form judgments upon issues so complex that their very statement is incompatible with simplicity.”

Plans for Adult Education.

It is because of the increasing complexity of social relations, national and international, that adult education is beginning to loom large in the future plans of the progressive nations of the world. The Committee on Reconstruction in England tells us that “the Adult Education movement is inextricably interwoven with the whole organised life of the community. Whilst on the one hand it originates in a desire among individuals for adequate opportunities for self-expression and the cultivation of their personal powers and interests, it is, on the other hand, rooted in the social aspirations of the democratic movements of the country. In other words, it rests upon the twin principles of personal development and social service. It aims at satisfying the needs of the individual and at the attainment of new standards of citizenship and a better social order…. The creative use of leisure is of central importance to the modern state if democratic government is to be made effective…. The Adult Education movement means that whatever there is of a creative character in the national genius—its songs, its folk-tales, its history, its love of the artistic crafts—will be used for the training of a people able to utilize its powers.”

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The National System.

It is only sixty-five years ago that Foster's Education Act was passed in England and half a century since the foundation of our own wisely-planned system of National Education for children. That the State undertakes this great task is recognition of the importance of education for civic life. Since that time we have concentrated our attention on the education of the youth of the community; and rightly so — first things first. But though our educational system, notwithstanding its errors and defects, has brought great benefits in its train, it has had one very unfortunate, and, I believe, unforeseen consequence: it has accustomed our peoples to associate education with the school, whether primary, secondary, or university, and to imagine that whoever has passed through any or all of these institutions has been educated.

Modern coaling plant. The up-to-date coaling plant recently installed at Elmer Lane Depot, Greymouth, South Island.

Modern coaling plant.
The up-to-date coaling plant recently installed at Elmer Lane Depot, Greymouth, South Island.

Education is Continuous.

How often do we hear people say that their education is completed? But if education means the harmonious adjustment of the individual to the progressive changes in the organization and ideals of his community, it is clear that education is life-long: death or a fixed set of habits and prejudices can alone bring the process to an end. The function of the school—primary, secondary or university—is not to educate in this wide sense of the term, indeed it cannot. Education must take place in the actual process of living; the education of a doctor involves practice in the medical art, of a lawyer that of the legal profession, of a citizen that of citizenship. We can learn only by doing; a doctor, lawyer, or citizen only by the practice of their respective arts.

What, then, can the schools do for us? They may make us familiar with our social heritage and equip us with the tools by the use of which we may learn to carry on our life-duties effectively. The value of any system of education, therefore, can be fairly judged only in terms of the character of the citizens it turns out, and their capacity to handle the problems of their social relations.

It is the realisation of these two facts—the increasing complexity of society, and the need of greater insight and wider sympathies among citizens if they are to solve their social problems — that has developed interest in adult education. The young have occupied the centre of the educational stage during the past fifty years. In the half century that lies in front of us the adult will come into this position. The change does not mean that less will be done for the child, for we now realise that the education of the child is beginning to mark time till the education of the adult comes into line. It is now the limited vision of the adult that is the most serious hindrance to the development of fuller educational facilities for the child. We have been too ready to imagine that we may relieve ourselves of civic responsibility by handing over our children to teachers. But adults form perhaps the most important part of the environment of children, and however much we may desire that they shall do what we tell them to do, and not what we do, we shall find that human nature is not built on that plan. If we wish our children to be just, we must be just; page 24 if we wish them to be truthful, we must be truthful; if we wish them to be courageous and earnest we must have done with unworthy fears and slackness.

Denmark's Example.

The importance of the education of grownups is now recognised. The Bulletins of the World Association for Adult Education clearly show that all progressive nations are developing this side of their educational systems in ways suited to their special circumstances and needs. The striking example of Denmark has had the widest influence.

Conveying city workers to their homes (Photo, W. W. Stewart.) A suburban train steaming out of Auckland Station.

Conveying city workers to their homes
(Photo, W. W. Stewart.)
A suburban train steaming out of Auckland Station.

New Zealand knows of Denmark as a leader in the dairy industry and as a our principal competitor in the English market. But not so many are aware of the romance that lies behind Denmark's march into the front rank of this industry. Everyone knows that it was due to co-operation, but not so many realise that this co-operation was made possible by the deeper insight into social and economic problems, the wider sympathies and outlook that were developed through a remarkable system of education among the adults of the rural population. By this means the Danes have been enabled to obtain a greater amount of a better product.

But this, after all, is but a minor advantage, great as it is, for through their Folk High Schools the Danish people have widened their interests and sympathies and obtained a much greater satisfaction in life. And after all, vital living is what we are here to achieve. What Denmark has done New Zealand can do; the means lie to our hands, provided we are prepared to put aside our prejudices and to throw ourselves as citizens into this effort—not of reforming other people but ourselves, a task which (as Carlyle pointed out) is much more difficult.

History of Workers' Educational Associations.

Just twenty-five years ago the W.E.A. was founded in England to carry on the work of Adult Education; the conservative University of Oxford and the radical Trade Union Movement put aside their prejudices and combined to carry the benefits of higher education to all those citizens who were prepared to make the effort to widen their knowledge and their sympathy.

In 1914 the movement was introduced into New Zealand by the late Professor Meredith Atkinson and Mr. Stewart. It has since brought within the scope of its educational efforts thousands of our citizens, urban and rural.

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In 1915 there were 17 classes with 352 students.

In 1928 there were 182 classes with 6,692 students.

The greatest possible freedom is allowed to each class, which selects its own subject of study and times of meeting. Tutors are appointed by the University Councils. The class meets once a week for two hours, the first of which is devoted to the lecture by the tutor and the second to question and discussion by members. Every effort is made to enable students to develop their own thought. Special classes have been formed for railway workers whose hours of work prevent them from attending at the usual hours. By other methods such as the “Box Scheme,” and “Correspondence Groups” endeavours are being made to meet the needs of smaller groups in more remote parts, where it is impossible to provide a tutor.

The classes have been most catholic in their choice of subjects: Literature, Drama, Economics, Psychology, History, Sociology, Public Health, Appreciation of Music, Science, International Relations have all been selected. No one is excluded because the subject of his interest is barred. No men or women can study these subjects without developing their personalities and without developing new interests in life, and without, therefore, increasing their power to direct their own lives aright and to contribute more effectively to the control of social forces.

“Waters, rolling from their mountain-springs….” —Wordsworth. (Photo, G. S. Desgrand, Brisbane.) The famous Dart River, as seen from Paradise (head of Lake Wakatipu), South Island, New Zealand.

“Waters, rolling from their mountain-springs….”

(Photo, G. S. Desgrand, Brisbane.)
The famous Dart River, as seen from Paradise (head of Lake Wakatipu), South Island, New Zealand.

Adult Education in New Zealand.

The funds for the prosecution of this work come from grants by the Government, the University and public bodies, and from donations. Those who control these sources have been far-seeing enough to realise the benefits that flow from this kind of civic service.

Lord Bryce—one of the wisest investigators of democracy—said: “The prospect of improving the relations of states and peoples to one another depends ultimately upon the possibility of improving human nature itself…. Can it be raised to and sustained at a higher level than it has yet attained?” That is the great question. The answer to that question lies in great part with the development of a wider system of education for adults.