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The Perverse Divide

I don’t think I hold a grudge, it happened a long time ago. It was 1958 and my brother and I were due to go to high school from intermediate school and had been enrolled at Hamilton Technical College – the sort of high school that ITPs replaced. My mother had been there in 1928, our brothers had been students in the 1950s. There was no reason why our going to “Tech” was not the obvious pathway.

That was until the Intermediate School Principal intervened and asked to meet with our mother. We were perplexed. But the meeting took place and she was told that “the boys shouldn’t be going to Tech.” When asked why he replied “Because they are academic.?”

We had no idea what that meant and the Principal was asked “Well what school should they be going to?” He answered “Hamilton Boys High School.” “They are not going there, they are too little!” was the reply.

So we went to a new secondary school which had all the courses and discovered that being academic meant that you got to do feast of French and Latin. Our results were poor largely because we were out of our depth, had few academic skills and were quite new to the idea that one “studied”. But we survived by the skin of our teeth.

The classic mistake had been made. The teacher knew best. Trade courses were not for us  for we were “better” than that.

The perverse divide still continues. Academics being directed one way and the rest take the other way remains an almost automatic response. I am thinking about these things largely because we have been having a new kitchen installed leading to a stream of qualified trades people through the place. They each have exhibited high level skills, followed complex plans and navigated current routes for water pipes and electrical cords. These Hi-Vis-clad experts each had wonderful person skills, a sense of humour and a capability that was obvious  and, of course, rewarded well.

Charge out rates for these experts were very high indeed. No wonder that a New Zealand survey a little while ago showed that five years after graduation the top earners were graduates of MIT above all other tertiary institutions including universities. I did not begrudge the tradies one little bit when I considered the assets that they dealt with. All of this added up to my seeing them as applied activity academics. That survey result  would have been comprised of qualified academic trade graduates along with other academics who brought skills in business, digital technology, nursing, and probably with a smattering of chefs, professional engineers and others.

It is a good thing that so many will benefit from the Government’s policy of fees free to learn a trade. The timing is right, the targeted nature of the policy is right and many people will go on to work well and to earn well.

All of this no surprise. When it comes to learning, if the hands are involved the head really gets going. And it works not only for the younger ones in the trades academies but also for the graduate level student. It is sad that too many learners fail for no reason other than that half the skills they have are unable to be utilised as they are march across what is for them a barren academic landscape. The track that we took through school did us no harm thankfully. And I confess that the study of Latin was not wasted : In rivo imperfectum manet dum confectum erit as I often say.

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