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Book & Print in New Zealand : A Guide to Print Culture in Aotearoa

Education Act 1877

Education Act 1877

The Education Act 1877 provided for free, compulsory and secular education and began the standardisation of reading systems and readers, which are comprehensively discussed up to 1900 in Price (1987). The curriculum stressed reading and writing and graded children into six standards with corresponding readers. Reading was taught by the alphabetic method: exercises in letters and letter combinations, progressing from texts written in one and two-letter words to three-letter word texts, until whole paragraphs in small typeface were achieved. The reading texts were mostly moral tales written for British council schools and maintained class values and divisions. Most readers imply reading skills should be directed towards civic and moral duty such as H.O. Arnold-Forster's The Citizen Reader (1907), which set out to describe institutions and administration to New Zealand children in language they could understand. Approved Readers for the Catholic Schools of Australasia (1908) mixed approved excerpts from literary writers and clerics, and New Zealand Graphic Readers (Collins School Series) offered extracts from 'classic' writers such as Shakespeare and Addison together with Cook's journals and short descriptive pieces on New Zealand topics.

Department of Education Inspectors' reports published from 1880 on-wards in AJHR (H.1-I, 1880; E.1-B, 1881-1908) open a 'window on Victorian classrooms', especially the methods and most frequent problems and complaints encountered in teaching reading, one of which was the scarcity of reading books (Price, 1987, p.187). W.C. Hodgson's Inspector's report for the Marlborough Education Board (1888) puts the proportion of books to pupils in a class in Picton at 6:17.

The first mainstream reading books published in New Zealand were Whitcombe & Tombs's Southern Cross Readers (1886-87), followed by the Imperial Readers (1899) and the Pacific Readers series which began in 1911 and aimed 'to assist in fostering the growth of national and patriotic sentiments'. From 1911 to 1949 nearly all New Zealand children learned to read from locally written and published reading books— Live Readers for the Modern Child (1922) and Progressive Readers (1928), not replaced until 1949 by the Janet and John series which was based on an American original. Whitcombe & Tombs were the major publishers of reading materials for children, with one series after another. There was no comparable publisher in Australia and Whitcombe & Tombs's readers were also widely used there, with copies produced for each Australian state. Whitcombe & Tombs also produced Whitcombe's Story Books, a series which began in 1904 and included about 450 titles at its height in the late 1930s and early 1940s, by which time it was the biggest series of children's books in the world. Ian McLaren's bibliography Whitcombe's Story Books (1984) and its supplement (1987) is a comprehensive listing of the series which included many reprints of 'classic' texts. Before 1949 parents bought reading books directly, but with the advent of Janet and John came school sets, and a change in focus, shifting to descriptive tales of children's experience.

Basil Carryer's School in New Zealand in the Twenties (1991) gives an account of the reading methods and history of education in the 1920s, including school timetables, the date of the new syllabus and the opening of the Correspondence School in 1928.