The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 30
Report of Committee appointed to inquire into and report to the Board as to what is best as to the amount of instruction and number of subjects to be prescribed for Common Education, especially as affecting health and healthful culture of mind, with a view to preparation for the duties of mature life.
We have in all 53 returns—viz., 11 from educational authorities in Otago and New Zealand, 7 from individuals who have been requested to answer the circular, and 35 from School Committees in all the regions of Otago as corresponding, for example, to the Branches of the Educational Institute. Returns are still coming in, but those received suffice as a foundation for an interim report.
The returns indicate a widespread interest in the subject and widespread feeling of its importance. They exhibit a very remarkable harmony of thought and feeling in relation to the matter, both as to the principle upon which we ought to proceed in determining the amount of prescribed work, and as to the outcome of the actual syllabus now in use. The principle pervading the returns is that this and all other matters ought to be determined with a controlling reference to the condition and capacity of children at school and their preparation for the life that is before them; and from this point of view the testimonies combine with remarkable fulness in decisive condemnation of the existing syllabus, especially as involving an amount of prescribed task-work, and a quality of prescribed taskwork, that is fitted to repress the individuality of the teacher, and to overstrain the minds of pupils with toil that is fitted rather to retard than to forward the healthful growth of the mind, and that can hardly fail to be detrimental to the vigorous growth of the body. Detailed criticisms of the syllabus are generally in the direction thus suggested. The amount and kind of prescribed knowledge of geography and history are generally given as the sample of misapprehension, practically absurd, of what is reasonably to be desired and expected in a school. The positive suggestions are mainly in the direction of a very simple outline of prescribed work, leaving large room for filling up according to specialties of the teacher and the pupils. The testimony thus coming to us from experience of real educational work in Otago is strikingly corroborated by the volume of Mr. Sonnenschein on Foreign Educational Codes, which is a digest of the syllabuses of Continental European nations. From that work it appears that New Zealand, in so far as it has a larger amount of prescribed work than England, is not in the van but in the rear of civilization. England, with its large page 5 amount of prescription of task-work, followed only by Italy, is distinctively among European communities thus far the educational barbarian. The civilized European States in general proceed upon the view, with clear consciousness of proceeding upon the view, that the right thing is to have in the syllabus the smallest amount compatible with keeping the mind of the pupil in exercise according to its capacity, and in the form best fitted to lay hold of the mind and even the affections, and exercise and interest 'them at the stage which they have reached, and unfold them easily from that stage.
There are valuable suggestions as to what should be done toward having the syllabus put on a right footing: for example, that a small number of experienced teachers should be requested to draw up a syllabus that might be fit for use universally in the schools, upon which there might be variations corresponding to the specialties of the various types of common school. But that goes beyond the Committee's instructions, and indeed beyond the power of this Board.
James Macgbegor, D.D.