Monday, March 14, 2011

On education

In 1965 a march of students to Parliament secured more adequate bursary allowances and forced the government to pay more attention to student accommodation. These facts alone indicate that a system of free education and equal opportunity did not operate at the university level, and probably also that the lower income groups had not made the subject a political issue. In 1966 a much higher proportion of the children of the professional classes and of the affluent were at the universities than of lower income groups. This fact partly explains why the university is a much more conservative body than the New Zealand average and perhaps why New Zealand is usually so moribund in the areas where professional expertise and social imagination are required. [276]

There is a fissure in New Zealand society. There are children of the well-to-do who go through the primary and secondary private schools and do not mix at school with the children from other classes*, and are diminished thereby, for in associating with their kind at the university and later in commercial, professional, or sheep farming life, they are deprived of some of the moral qualities New Zealand's egalitarian society offers. They are not an elite; they do not provide imagination nor much leadership, though they are often in positions requiring economic and social judgments. But, in setting social patterns, they do have more money than the average. They get tax exemption to help pay for [279] their youngsters to have smaller classes at private schools and they are, as a group, not very interested in improving state education by, for example, reducing the size of classes by paying more taxes. If they were, radical improvement in education might have been of urgent importance to the National Party; New Zealand might have had a higher school-leaving age, a much longer period of training for its teachers, more specialist tertiary institutions, a better secondary curriculum, and much smaller classes. [278]

W.B. Sutch. The Quest for Security in New Zealand, 1940 to 1966. Wellington: Oxford University Press, 1966.

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