The Savings-Bank in the School.
An Economic Experiment at Ghent, Adapted to New Zealand
Harrison and Sons, St. Martin's Lane, London: Printers in Ordinary to her Majesty.1875
The Savings-Bank in the School.
Prudential warnings against thrift lessness and waste have become so trite, and devices for encouraging the practice of saving are now so familiar to most of us, that a little diffidence may well be felt by one who ventures to again expatiate on this well-worn subject. Not only in the chief cities of the colony, but in remote townships and far "up country"—be that north or south, or east or west—New Zealand is far from behind in having its Savings-Banks, Building Societies, and numerous other provident associations, and few even of the very out-lying districts remain long unvisited by the Government lecturer on the advantages of life assurance; but the extent to which any or all of these influence the habits of people as a whole is comparatively insignificant. The proportion of earnings drawn from immediate consumption and reserved as part of the capital of the future is very small, and the number of persons who habitually save is relatively still smaller. The constantly recurring instances of pecuniary demands upon us for the support of families suddenly plunged into the depths of poverty by the death, or temporary suspension from work by accident or illness, of the bread-winner of the household, furnish ready proof of this. It would seem as if all the economic truisms about the sin of improvidence and the duty of saving were spoken to the winds or written on the sands of the sea-shore, so insufficiently are they in practice recognized. Mr. J. G. Fitch, one of Her Majesty's Inspectors of Schools, and who contributed this paper as it originally appeared in "Macmillan's Magazine," on a recent visit to Ghent made himself acquainted with the details of a remarkable experiment now being carried out in connection with the Primary Schools of that town. It furnishes a forcible and striking example of the triumphant results of practice, during a period of six or seven years, over many times that number in endeavouring by precept merely to bring about similar results. It is, in fact, a bright and happy illustration of the favourite motto—"Deeds, not Words."
It will be understood that Mr. Fitch is the narrator, the language being altered only when occasion requires it to suit the circumstances of the colony. Mr. Fitch proceeds to say that Ghent is a thriving town of about 121,000 souls; it contains a Free (i.e., a non-clerical) University and many Primary Schools, which are said to be very efficient, and are under the supervision of a Communal Council. This Council, though it sustains the schools and periodically inspects them, does not dispense with voluntary aid, and two important page 4 societies—the Société Collier and the Cercle pour Encouragement de l'Instruction Primaire—co-operate with the Council, by the offer of prizes in the schools and by varions forms of stimulus and help to the teachers. Some seven years ago, it occurred to M. Laurent, the Professor of Civil Law in the University, that much might be done through the agency of the Primary Schools to familiarize the people while young with habits of economy and forethought. Accordingly he called the teachers of the Ghent Public Schools together, explained to them his plans, and having inspired them with some of his own enthusiasm on the subject, proceeded, with their full concurrence, to visit the schools one by one, in order to give simple economic lessons to the children. He went from class to class enforcing and illustrating the advantages of saving and showing how it might be practized. A plan was devised by which the teacher of each division undertook to receive the little savings of the children from day to day, even a single centime (about the tenth part of a penny) at a time. As soon as the deposits of a pupil amount to I franc (10d.) he receives a Savings-Bank book, and a deposit account is opened in his name with the State Savings-Bank, which gives interest at the rate of 3 per cent. Each school also opens at the Savings-Bank its own separate account, in which all the smaller deposits are placed from day to day, the pupil's deposit being transferred under an arrangement with the bank into his or her own name as soon as it amounts to a franc. Simple books and cards of account are provided by the administration of the bank, and the children receive duplicates to be carried home from time to time for the information of their parents, but generally to be preserved at the school. The signature of a parent or guardian is required whenever any money is to be withdrawn.
By these simple arrangements the opportunity of making little savings was brought closely within reach of every child of the Ghent Schools, and the moral influences of gentle and kind persuasion were brought to bear by Professor Laurent and the teachers with singular success. The response made by the children and the parents to his appeals has been marked during the last six years by an emphasis and a steady persistence which are well deserving the attention of all who have the future well-being of the young people of New Zealand at heart.
The public schools of the city of Ghent fall into four classes : those most numerously attended are the Free Primary Schools, maintained in great part at the expense of the Communal Council. In these there are 4,315 boys and 3,674 girls, in all 7,989. Then there are the Écoles Payantes, primary schools of the same educational character, but not gratuitous, and designed for children of a higher social rank. In these there are 1,079 scholars. In the Écoles Gardiennes, or Free Infant Schools, there are 3,039 children, and in the Adult Schools, which are held in the evening or on the Sunday, there are 3,285 men and women under regular instruction. Out of this total of 15,392 pupils, no less than 13,032 are this year in possession of accounts in the Savings-Bank. The uniformity and steadiness with which the system has taken root in the schools may be estimated from these figures.page 5
Thus the average sum now standing to the credit of each depositor is about 3 5 francs. It will be seen that, relatively to the numbers, the largest success has been attained in the schools of the first class, the scholars in the ordinary juvenile schools being necessarily more amenable to influences of this kind than those of the second class, older and more thoughtful than those of the third, and with habits of extravagance which, if acquired at all, are less, confirmed than those of the fourth. The work has been done without Government authority or pressure of any kind, but simply through the energetic initiation of one earnest man, aided by the sympathy of the teachers and local managers. The reports show that there is also a steady growth in the interest with which the parents regard the experiment. At first the act of economy was mainly that of the child, who was induced to put by the halfpence he would otherwise have spent to indulge his appetite. But besides this, children are often intrusted by their parents with small sums expressly for the purpose of being added to their store. And the general result, that in a single town of moderate size upwards of 10,000 children have opened separate accounts in the Savings-Bank, and that nearly 15,000l are deposited in their names, is one which is full of encouragement to the thoughtful philanthropists who devised the plan, and which has already produced a very marked effect on the social and moral life of the working classes of Ghent. The experiment has created great interest throughout Belgium. In Antwerp, in Bruges, and in the rural districts, successful efforts have been made to secure the adoption of the same plan, and last year a new association for the special encouragement of saving has been formed under distinguished auspices, with its head quarters at Brussels, and designed page 6 to operate on all the Communal and State Schools of the country in a systematic manner.
Belgium abounds with associations for promoting healthy recreation and amusement, as elements which tend to foster a sound moral tone among the labouring classes. Many of these societies seek to attain their object by means of rewards and scholarships, designed to encourage children to remain longer at school; others aim at the formation of workmen's clubs for historic readings and discussions, for simple theatrical exhibitions and fetes, and for organized visits to famous factories, museums, and monuments. But in all of them the plan of explaining and recommending the use of the Savings-Bank, and bringing that institution close to the pupils in the school or the evening class, is now becoming recognized as one of the chief engines of usefulness. For example, there is an active society at Brussels especially designed to improve the education of girls and young women, and the object is attained to a considerable extent by means of prizes to meritorious pupils, and to those governesses whose efforts to raise the standard of instruction have been most successful. But the prizes and bursaries thus distributed always consist, in whole or in part, of a Savings-Bank book, inscribed with the pupil's name, and crediting her with a small sum of money, which is not to be withdrawn till after a given time.
It is surely unnecessary to dwell on the significance of these humble but useful efforts in their bearing on our own social and industrial life in the colony. Our labouring classes are better paid than those of any other country, but they are not richer, perhaps with one exception—the ploughman or yearly agricultural servant—and they do not as a rule economise their resources, and a very small proportion of them make provision for the future. The same remarks may apply to numbers of tradespeople, and many others who regard their social standing as above that of either the tradesman or artisan. Reckless spending is the rule. Compared with Great Britain or the Continent of Europe, money is a plentiful commodity with everyone, but by very many never realized or capitalized in any of those permanent forms by which the dignity of family life is established and sustained. But until a man begins to care about this and some of the many substantial comforts and blessings which accumulated savings can alone procure, he has no motive to put forth his best energies to become a first-rate workman, a respected tradesman, or a confidential and trustworthy clerk, but every temptation to degenerate into a drunkard or a gambler. The degree with which, a man cares about such things forms, in fact, the measure of his prosperity, and his self-respect is the surest guarantee for his future industry and happiness. With those who receive their income in the form of weekly wages, economy and thrift may be somewhat difficult, but they are also more necessary when the horizon of a man's resources and of his expenditure is narrowed by the inevitable circumstances of his life; and a man is enriched and ennobled in just the proportion in which this horizon is enlarged, and in which he learns to see the actions and the sacrifices of to-day in their relation to to-morrow. Dr. Johnson's famous sentence, "Whatever makes the past, the distant, or the future predominate page 7 "over the present, advances us in the dignity of thinking beings," expresses with characteristic solemnity an indisputable truth. The difficulty, however, is to convert a truism like this into a practical maxim for the conduct of daily life.
It is not in the natural order of things for employers, even when they see the need of frugality and temperance, to take measures for urging the duty upon those they employ. In this direction, in the home country, many and various efforts have been made, some employers going so far as to offer a bonus of so much per cent, over that allowed by the banks upon all sums deposited, but nowhere has the experiment succeeded. Motives, it is supposed, were misinterpreted, and the deposits that had been made on first impressions were generally withdrawn. Perhaps, however, the true cause of failure might be attributed to the fact that, when first yielding to the proposals, the workmen acted under persuasion, not conviction—teaching had begun with them too late in life.
* At a recent public meeting at Iokomairiro, Otago, the Rev. Mr. Coffey, in speaking of the vice of intemperance, recommended the practice of saving, as tending to lessen it. He said, "the joining of a benefit society would, he thought, "encourage thrift, and to encourage thrift was to discourage vice. A benefit society "by inculcating habits of saving, encouraged habits of self-control." The Rev. Mr. Stanford, in introducing resolutions for the discouraging of intemperance, at the meeting of the Anglican Synod, in Dunedin, in September last, used remarks to a similar effect.
† Messrs. Reith and Wilkie, Booksellers, Prince's Street, Dunedin, Otago, have kindly agreed to procure a supply of these hooks.
It may seem like special pleading to identify very high qualities too closely with so worldly a matter as the management of money; yet in truth there is no one problem or duty of life that calls into exercise so many moral attributes, or connects itself in so many subtle ways with the growth of the whole character. He who said "that a right habit of getting, of saving, and of spending money "argued a perfect man," was scarcely guilty of exaggeration. From the very beginning of responsible life the inclination to spend the whole of what we possess, becomes a potent temptation to spend or to enjoy a little more than we possess. And the records of our law courts and our police courts show that impecuniosity and extravagance are the parents not merely of much of the crime of the world, but of shiftiness, of evasion, of falsehood, and of the sins which enfeeble and degrade men most. The best remedy for this evil is to train children very early in the habits of distinguishing between real and unreal wants. "Artificial wants," says M. Laurent in his pamphlet, "which are at once the sore and the curse of riches, are "not unknown among the humbler classes." Everyone who can refuse to satisfy one of these, however slight, or who puts aside any portion, however small, of the resources of to-day to make part of his supply for future use or enjoyment, is, in a sense, a capitalist; and in this sense not only every man and woman, but every boy and girl who has the command of a single luxury, should be encouraged to become a capitalist.
It may be argued that it is cruel and unwise to interfere with the joyousness of childhood by prematurely burdening the mind with thoughts of the future; but I do not believe that the objection, however natural on a first view, would long be seriously maintained by any careful thinker. The penurious spirit, the calculating, hard, and grasping habit of mind, has doubtless its dangers; but it is not the fault to which colonists are at all prone, nor against which it is needful to take any elaborate precautions. The tendencies of colonial page 9 life are unquestionably in the opposite direction Our dangers are of another kind; and, in truth, we are not encouraging a hurtful egotism and suppressing generous instincts when we invite children to set aside the pence with which they would otherwise satisfy a craving of the appetite. To spend money for such a purpose is in no sense more generous or unselfish than to reserve it for some future gratification in the choice of which thought and judgment shall be exercised. Both are self-regarding actions; but the one has elements of sacrifice and of wisdom in it, the other is a mere act of careless and short-sighted indulgence.
To translate is but to weaken the vigorous sentences of M. Laurent's allocution to the schoolmasters and schoolmistresses who deal with the objection; nevertheless, here it is. "It is believed," he says, "that children are by nature generous, whilst the truth is they are egotistical and selfish. Look at that child. It is a holiday, and his parents, who are very poor, give him some small coin for pocket-money. He rushes off and buys some little dainty. Does he think of sharing it with his parents or his playmates? Not he. He gobbles it all up himself, and it never occurs to him that his father and mother have denied themselves a pleasure in order that he might have one. Supplies of pocket-money to children for present gratification serve little other purpose than to teach and cherish selfishness. To counsel a child to put by the trifling sums he receives seems at first as if teaching him to think only of himself; but in reality it is giving him practical lessons in self-denial and self-conquest—qualities which form a part of all that is good and noble in the human being."
* In a recent article, the "Otago Daily Times" recommended it to the attention of the Schoolmasters of the Province.
Dr. Hodgson deplores that in schools the subject should be almost ignored. He says that in the few where it is taught there experience goes to prove that no other subject has more interest for the pupils, or is more easily taught without loss, nay even with gain, to other ones. The need of such teaching appears on every hand to all whose eyes are not blinded that they cannot see. Has not, as Carlyle's Professor would say, has not custom hoodwinked us in New Zealand, and has not prejudice been our lawgiver? There page 11 are honourable exceptions, but we cannot find that generally the science of economics forms any part of the programme of studies in the public schools of the colony.
But to return to the subject proper of this paper, and to keep more to Mr, Fitch's remarks. Some may say that there are Post-office Savings-Banks everywhere, or at least, that they increase in number as townships and schools make way in outlying districts. This is doubtless true, but it must be remembered that these banks themselves, however numerous, can never be brought close enough to the children while the habits of their life are in process of forma-tion. Nor is it possible that the banks should ever receive sums so small as those by which the habit of saving must be formed. When the child grows up he is already familiar with these truly useful institutions, and this is a great step, indeed more than half the battle gained.
The last report of the Postmaster-General shows that Savings-Banks were established in Now Zealand on the 1st of February, 1867, and on the 31st of December of that year there were 2,156 depositors, with an average of 33l.-5d. to the credit of each; in 1870 the number had risen to 8,317, with an average of 35l. 10s. 3d. to the credit of each; while in 1873 there were 17,132 depositors, or 1 in 17 of the population, with an average of 38l. 16s. 1d. to the credit of each. This will compare favourably with the published report of the Victorian Savings-Banks, in which, in 1874, the number of depositors was 1 in 30 of the population, with an average amount of 37l. 7s. 10d. to the credit of each. In Massachusetts the depositors amount to one-fifth of the population; in Switzerland the proportion is 1 in 12, and in Ireland it is only 1 in 50. But in New Zealand the full development of the Post-office Savings-Bank system is hindered by several causes; there are many districts in which no bank is yet attached to the Post-office, and the rule which limits each deposit to a minimum of 1s., and forbids the receipt of sixpences even when tendered with larger amounts, and which is most noticeable in the case of half-crowns, acts unfavourably in encouraging the practice of the smaller economics; and the fact that the banks are closed in the evenings, especially on the Saturday evenings, when working men generally receive their wages, is also very unfavourable for the timid and irresolute. Suggestions for reform and improvement in these matters of minor detail have, however, seldom had a better chance of being favourably regarded than at the present moment. The position of Postmaster-General is held by the Hon. Mr. Vogel, whose career has been characterized by so much administrative capacity, and whose readiness to adjust means and measures to suit the circumstances of every class of colonists is proved by the admirable provisions recently made for encouraging life insurance. Mr. Vogel is also honourably distinguished by his insight into other social problems, and by the earnestness with which he has helped to solve them, and it is far from likely that he regards the department of the Post-office Savings-Bank as nothing more than a mere source of revenue or an instrument of public convenience. It is not too much to believe that the present movement will have in him a deep and active sympathizer, and by his help and wise administra- page 12 tion the Post-office Savings-Bank of New Zealand may be made a potent teacher and an unfailing aid in the grand and glorious work of true education.
That great results can be accomplished with the aid of the teachers, even with the resources at the command of the scholars in the district schools, is manifest from the fact that upwards of 10,000 children in a single town, where the earnings of the parents are far below those of the colony, have saved sums averaging 30s. each. It is probable that very little, if any, of this money would have found its way to the bank but for the agency of the school. The work is one the success of which will much depend on the spontaneous efforts of the teachers, combined with those of the school committee, and the influence brought to-bear upon children individually by benevolent and thoughtful people. Each province can now boast of a well organized system of public instruction, but even with that there is still much room for the exercise of that personal zeal and that affectionate interest in the welfare of the scholars which have always characterized both the parochial and the voluntary systems in the old country, and for the exercise of such exertions, here is one field in which the harvest truly may be great. In proportion as our schools increase in number, and the advantages of education become better understood, so will school attendance be prolonged and the number be greater; in like ratio a larger proportion of children become amenable to such simple reasonings and influences as have proved so efficacious at Ghent. And those who will take the trouble to associate themselves with the teachers in bringing the Savings-Banks into the school, and making the simple arrangements by which the business part of the matter may be done smoothly and in proper order, may fulfil a most useful function. They will aid the work of true education in an effectual way, not only by thus giving practical and experimental lessons in economic science to the scholars, but also by enlarging their comprehensions and increasing their power of self-control. It is, however, not a panacea. If adopted ever so earnestly and successfully, it will leave much improvidence unremedied; but in its daily practice as part of the discipline of life, it may, with the Divine blessing, prove one instrument for establishing such a basis of character in the rising youth of New Zealand as shall elevate the whole of their social and moral life.
Harrison and Sons, Printers in Ordinary to Hrr Majesty, St. Martln's Lane.