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The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 78

Dunedin Opinions

Dunedin Opinions.

The head-masters of two large primary schools in Dunedin were interviewed on the question of overwork in schools, and some decided views were extracted, not without difficulty.

Said the first, in answer to a general question: Certainly there is a good deal of pressure and tension. The desire to enter the high schools is at the bottom of a good deal of it. From the time children are only seven or eight years of age many parents continually keep this ideal before them. More than that, there are instances—not isolated instances either—where parents are coming to us to be assured that their children are progressing fast enough to pass the test at the required age.

That, I suppose, is at the root of the whole thing—the age test?—It is; and it ought to be abolished by the department at once.

Do you think that the Syllabus is so overloaded that the class work involves an over-great strain on any proportion of pupils?—I do. There are far toe many subjects. My experience has been that something like one-third of every class can hardly be expected to overtake the work prescribed and keep up to the standard required.

Without over-pressure?—Without Injurious pressure. The pressure comes from above—from the department through the Boards, inspectors, and teachers. Finally, it all falls on the children. For the most part the inspectors do what they can. They interpret the Syllabus as broadly as they can; necessarily so, otherwise there would be no chance of attaining anything like the required standard.

And the system is one of cram?—I do not say that. The new Syllabus is admirable in many respects. Learning has been made more a matter of direct observation by the pupil than it ever was before. But the multiplicity of subjects seriously overpresses us, and through us the children.

The second head-master was just as decided in his opinion that the Syllabus is over-weighted and the children over-driven. "Something has to be sacrificed," he said, "lessons or the children; in many cases both. I could quote you many instances where an attempt to keep children up to general standard would result in injury to themselves. Many cases have come under my notice where pupils (especially girls) who were bright, intelligent children in the second standard, are simply impossible in the Fifth Standard. That is a fact, explain it how you will.

Do the girls compete with the boys on equal terms?—Generally speaking, yes. Individual inspectors may make, and, in fact, do make, some sort of allowance where possible, but there is no rule about it.

Can the girls compete readily with the boy6?—Not upwards of, say, the Second Standard.

And a degree of over-driving is necessary to keep even the boys up to the mark?—It is. The teacher has no time to teach the children intelligently. He has to teach them to pass examinations.