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Mr Moleskine and Me

I had been in Samoa in 2008 and, business finished, we were waiting at the Market in Savai’i for the ferry to take us back to Upolo when my phone rang. It was a one of the private secretaries for Rt Hon Helen Clark. He advised me that in a week’s time she would be announcing that the government was making a grant of $1,000,000 for the development of the Tertiary High School. 

“OK” I thought, it looks as if it is all going ahead for an exciting development. I had better start keeping good notes. I resolved that I would buy a Moleskine Notebook when I got back home. Well, 27 Moleskine notebooks and 23 years later I cleaned out the cupboard and lined them up in order. Of course, you start thumbing through them and being distracted from the reason I had gone to the cupboard in the first place.

The first entry that in the first notebook was a set of notes for what looks like at talk to be given to a 3UA meeting on the state of technical education. I started by claiming, and remember this was 2008, that we had lost a quarter of a century of opportunity and the futures of young people had been hit hard by the lost sense of responsibility that business once had for their involvement in the training and education of young people into the trades. Yes, some of it had been informal – “Yes lad, go and sit over there with TED and he will show you the ropes!” But the inducting of young people was often taken more seriously and was an effective transition into more formal education and training. Night school was also key component in this but as polytechnics opened the schools tended to drop industrial arts and night schools became recreational – important as that was the impact of technical education migrating to the daylight meant that quite a number especially of young people and older people looking to change jobs were denied the opportunity to both earn and learn.

It all comes back to me now as I write, this was a talk to the Remuera Branch of the University of the Third Age. I recall that I was into a riff on unintended consequences. By the mid-seventies the David Lange’s government was dismantling the government institutions that happened to contribute strongly to technical and vocational areas – NZ Railways, the Post Office, the Ministry of Works, the Power Boards, – at that point in the meeting, Hon. Bob Tizard interrupted me to claim that 80% of the apprenticeships were lost in that political process. And he reminded me that the Māori Trades Training which had been so successful was also had been disappearing.

Back in the 1980’s I was teaching trainees to teach and part of my responsibility was to teach 30 woodwork teachers and 30 metalwork teachers – yes, it seems that engagement with learners at a lower level had a demand still in the schools and I can vouch that the polytechnics were teaching general courses. I taught an AAVA a compulsory course in which everyone has to produces a report on the “rip-snorter saw”. Streams of secondary students heading into technical and vocational pathways had got a great start to their apprenticeship! 

These were halcyon for entry into trades. I taught at Papatoetoe near the Otahuhu Railway Workshops. In the 1970’s they would each year be recruiting 60 apprentices from the two local secondary schools.

Now another new future is about to emerge as Pukenga picks up the reigns of responsibility for Technical and Vocational Training in a coordinated national framework, in a spirit of collaboration rather than competition, in harmony with the industries that polytechnic education serves and the communities it owes its living to. If this doesn’t come to pass, the back-up for change is the deadline for providers to improve outcomes for Māori and Pasifika – ten years and, I must say, it is a jolly generous timeframe. Go Now and Go Hard, I wish I could remember who it was that said this!

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