The very low birth rates centred around 1935 meant that there was a smaller contingent of primary school children to be educated during the war years, and so relieved the strain on one portion of the economy. Except for the depression years 1932 to 1935, when the five-year-olds had not been admitted,1 the numbers at public primary schools in the war years 1939 to 1943 were the lowest since 1920.2 There were increases in 1944 and 1945, but the number in the latter year was still lower than the average attendance in the decade before the war.
The numbers of secondary school pupils fell in 1940 and 1941, but then increased steadily.
Soon after the outbreak of war, single men teachers began enlisting in the Services. In the early stages, most were released for armed service, but appeals were made for postponement of the calling up of some of the men in district high schools. By 1941 a high proportion of male teachers was on active service, and many schools were feeling the strain of depleted staffs. Teaching was declared an essential industry in October 1942, but in the following year it was estimated that 70 per cent of male primary teachers and 36 per cent of male post-primary teachers were on active service.3 Many retired and married teachers returned to help out, but considerable staffing difficulties remained.
1 In New Zealand, education is compulsory from the age of 7, but children are permitted to attend from the age of 5 and most do. Except in private schools, primary and post-primary education is free.
2 Over 70 per cent of all scholars and students were in public primary schools.
3 Parliamentary Paper E–1, Report of the Minister of Education, 1943, p. 1.
4 Especially those taking mathematics and physics.
A certain amount of experimental war work was done in universities, especially in chemistry, engineering and physics departments. For example, development work for special types of radar equipment was undertaken in Canterbury University College, in conjunction with the Department of Scientific and Industrial Research.
Technical colleges also assisted with war work, and lent equipment for military training and maintenance work.
When the manpower shortage became most difficult, university vacations were altered to enable students to assist more effectively with harvesting and other seasonal work. Subject to suitable precautions, a limited number of post-primary school children who volunteered were made available in December and February for harvesting and other seasonal work. The services of male teachers were also used in the vacations to relieve labour shortages in seasonal work. Those who did not make arrangements to work, or to supervise the welfare of boys placed on farms, were liable to be directed (if single or married without children) to freezing works, wool stores and canneries.1
1 School holidays in New Zealand normally extend from mid-December to the beginning of February, this being the most popular holiday period. University examinations are in October and November, with vacations then extending to the beginning of March. See also footnote on p. 487 regarding seasonal peaks.