They Can Be Taught_1

They Can be Taught! Part One – the Background of New Zealand Education

Bear in mind, this from my experiences teaching and lecturing in New Zealand, which has seen changes in the education system since I began school in 1956. Yes, I’m an “oldie”, but after thirty-odd years (also could be read as thirty odd years) of teaching, working with near-on fifteen hundred pupils and students and some remedial clients, on this topic – I’m a goodie.

Before I get started on children being taught, I’ll just mention the changes our wonderful government department has foisted on schools and teachers over the years – did you spot a sarcasm in there? Good, you’re intelligent too.

Government funded education is provided to learners from age five up to about age seventeen, when they finish the last year of secondary school. Compulsory education, however,  runs from age six to age fifteen. Most (New Zealand) mothers push their babies off to school at five – as quick as they can – whether they’ve been prepared by a pre-school facility or not.

In some countries, children are enrolled in one or two specific “intakes”, giving the new entrant teacher a whole class of terrified babies to adjust to school protocols etc. Children in NZ are enrolled on or soon after their fifth birthday, which means there is a constant arrival of a single New Entrant for the Junior teacher to initiate to the classroom running.
I feel we have it right, here.

Principal teachers who turn away a five-year-old who is obviously unable to cope are rare – a near extinct species. In all the Primary schools I taught at, I only met one – the child in this case had not been toilet trained, had never before been separated from his mother, and knew only about eight words – his name, “I want” with pointing, “No”, “Cuddle?”,“Gimme!”, “Hate you!” with hitting. That child needed another year to become school-ready – whether via the mother or a preschool, it wasn’t the school’s say. And at six, there’d be no turning a child away, no matter how poorly prepared for school life he/she may be.

In the ‘50s and up to the ‘80s, classes were as follows:
Junior Primary, comprising Primers One to Four, each of a half year, for children aged five and six. Sometimes Primer One would be extended for a pupil, to have Primer Four completed conveniently at the end of our school year, in December.
Middle Primary, comprising Standard One to Standard Six, for children aged about seven to twelve.
In about the late ‘60s or early ‘70s, Standards Five and Six were separated away into the new Intermediate level, and renamed as Form One and Form Two, for children aged eleven and twelve.

Secondary Schooling begins at Form Three (it’s puzzling how it was always Form Three even back in the day before Standards 5 & 6 were renamed Forms 1 & 2), at about age thirteen, and continues to the end of Form Five for Compulsory Education (at age fifteen) then onward to Form Seven (about age seventeen).

In the mid-80s, classes were all renamed  as Years. Year One at age five, Year Thirteen at age seventeen. Most Years 7 & 8 pupils attended separate Intermediate schools, as before. Those of this stage who lived ‘way out in the country would have been the Senior Primary pupils at a country Full Primary school, or been bussed into town to either an Intermediate, or enrolled as Junior School pupils at a Secondary School. Which, by the way, and for the sake of readers in the US, we call Colleges.

At the same time, the department of Education became a Ministry of Education, which changed many aspects of education: funding, governance, and curriculum. The MoE removed the schools’ existing curriculum which had been presented as subject-specific teaching Syllabii – a Syllabus was a prescriptive document for each subject, prescribing exactly what a pupil had to be able to accomplish if they were to be adjudged as having reached the Standard of their class.

The new, replacement, teaching documents became descriptive Curriculum Statements. One for each subject, but now describing activities which a teacher could provide pupils with as learning experiences. Two class levels made up one Curriculum Level at Primary and Intermediate classes, and at no point was there any guide of what we as teachers were to have as the pupil’s achievement aims.

As an example:
In the now defunct Syllabus, the wording in the Standard Four Arithmetic syllabus (age ten) was something like…
“The child will have reached this Standard when he/she can perform a division of a five-digit number by a two-digit number, using this form and method:


The Curriculum Statement for Mathematics puts it something like this…
“The pupil will have experienced practical activities relating to demonstrating the properties of division.”
And, suggests such activities as…
“Given a set of small objects, the child will be asked to form them into groups, of the same count in each group, and tell how many groups of that count there are.”

And that is for Curriculum Level Three – Years 6 & 7 (ages ten and eleven)!

The new Ministry also let go control of schools by creating each school as a self governing body, which would be Managed by the Principal teacher and Governed by an elected Board of Trustees. The B O T would comprise representatives of the local (parent) community, with one teacher representative and the Principal.

The Min of Ed also created an Educational Review Office, to periodically inspect schools and ensure compliance with their rules and guidelines. Or to act in an advisory capacity to schools whose communities were beyond their depth in the role of school trustees, and to (sometimes) offer support to teaching staff whose communities tried tp impose personal agenda on the running of a particular classroom (often that in which the trustee’s own child is enrolled).

And it All went Downhill from there…


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