Trying to keep the baby in the bathwater having thrown out the bath!

A friend was cleaning out the cupboard the other day and came across a little publication from the Department of Education in Auckland dated 1967.  It was a school by school listing of the courses that they offered.  Apparently in those old days it was considered to be in the interests of parents and their children to have this information impartial and undiluted by the “marketing madness” that would get its grip on such a publication now.

It highlighted several things.

By and large secondary school back then offered far more choice to students than they do now (albeit that this is changing in some schools).  A reason for this was that students could chose from Year 11 to focus their schooling and they could even match this with a selection of options that got them onto the pathway.

Now, before people take to twitter to point out to me that this was in the BAD old days when students were STREAMED!  Well, let’s use the more neutral term “tracked”, no, let’s get right up to date and call them pathways, for that is what they were.  Students could see a pathway to skills, to employment (for there were jobs for all), to a family sustaining wage and if the schooling system was to do its work it should have been able to do so in the 10 years students spend up to the age of 15 (then) or 16 years.

We then faced the death of choice as the system became more and more devoted to the notion of the comprehensive high school.  This was a bizarre way of coping with difference by having all students do the same programme.  Another Department of Education publication puts it like this:

“The secondary schools, no longer selective, must now cater for students of widely differing skills, abilities and interests. The range is little narrower than in the adolescent population as a whole.  Much remains to be done before it can be said that the schools have completely adjusted their curricula and methods to the facts of this situation.”

This extract is from the Thomas Report, the work of the Committee established by the Minister of Education in 1942.  The style changes but not the basic issues.  The Thomas Report went on to reshape School Certificate that, in tune with the time internationally, was believed would be the school leaving qualification for most.

What strikes me is that the approved list of optional subjects for School Certificate included such subjects as:

Animal Husbandry

Applied Mechanics

Bookkeeping

Commercial Practice

Dairying

Engineering shop work

Field Husbandry

Heat engines

Horticulture

Shorthand Typewriting

Technical Drawing

Technical Electricity

Woodwork

In short there was then, and it persisted into the late sixties and early seventies, a wide selection of what can be described as “vocational education and training.” 

The committee actually noted that it was “not exalting ‘general’ education at the expense of ‘vocational’ education and that it is now recognized that the antithesis is largely a false one.” 63 years ago they saw it but still the split between “academic” and “vocational” persists.

Percy Nunn got it right when he said….

To train someone in the tradition of these ancient occupations is to ensure … that they will throw themselves into their work with spirit, and with a zeal for mastery that teachers usually look for in the elect….a student’s whole intellectual vitality may be heightened, their sense of spiritual values quickened. In short, the vocational training may become in the strictest sense liberal.

He goes on to say….

To ignore this truth, to overlook the desire of the healthy adolescent to get to grips with reality, would be fatal. Indeed, the ‘general’ education of many students would have much greater significance to them if it was brought into a closer relationship with their strictly “vocational” studies.

The liberalisation of the school curriculum through multiple pathways, trades academies, options for vocational education and training at age 16 years and suchlike activity has a long history. The tragedy has been that it has taken close to seventy years for us to substantiate it.

One comment

  1. Alicia says:

    What an interesting read! It’s no surprise that there are different strokes for different folks, and a tragedy to think of the number of disenchanted students that have fallen by the wayside over the last 70 years.

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