What should be the direction and the emphases in the education
we enter the new millennium?
Government policy on education at present is giving heavy emphasis to
developing a knowledge based economy as the solution to all our
But what use is knowledge if we don't know how to use it wisely?
Photo source George Ridley
Formative influences in my life
A background of teaching, including principal of a city high school
also a rural high school has given me an interest in people and how
relate to each other. It has also helped to give me an insight into
things that are needed for a good quality of life. Unfortunately, as
happens with many people in responsible positions, there was little
for reading to find out what other people thought about world
It was only after retirement that I had the opportunity to do
reading, some on religious matters and some on economic systems. I
expecially interested to follow through the rise of the so-called "New
Right" economic agenda and the activities of the group of economists
School of Economics in Chicago, who set up the Mt. Pelerin Society in
to promote a global economic revolution. Henry Korten in his book,
When Corporations Rule the World, gives a telling account of the long term
disastrous effects of these policies.
My wife, Pat, and I have also been privileged to work in "third World"
countries, sometimes at times of crisis - Somalia, Nigeria, India,
We found that all round the world ordinary families are not really any
different from our own family. They care for each other, they belong
groups like ours, and they have the same ideas about how they want to
They can be envious of what they see in the "western world", but in
of our privileged position they still accepted us as friends.
The trouble in many of these countries seems to be with those in
For example in Uganda a poorly paid or unpaid army at the time preyed
the populace. There is often poor distribution of what limited
they have. These experiences have given us a picture of what the
world is like and what sorts of groups are causing trouble and why.
So what changes are need to allow the ordinary people in the less
countries to have access to a share of of the earth's resources and a
reasonable quality of life?
Desirable changes in education
Increasing pupils' awareness of the fragility of life on planet
Few citizens have an appreciation of the fragility of life on planet
Changes in education should above all be directed towards addressing
Every child should grow up knowing that the air is a part of our
that it is fragile and we are more fragile.
Our job is to infuse into all education, all news, all discussions of
environment and all plans for future development a live consciousness
how our part in world ecology has changed. We took a small part until
centuries ago. At that time we began the destructive and consuming
to the present day.
From time immemorial mankind has used tools in the struggle to
However, in the past two hundred years technology has raced ahead
exponentially. We now have the power to destroy life on earth,
ourselves, either suddenly with a nuclear holocaust, or insidiously by
chemical poisoning, by practices which change the composition of the
atmosphere or by the establishment of monocultures which diminish
biodiversity. We have been obsessed with the immediate and personal
advantages of each new technology and given minimal attention to long
Cooperation as important as competition
The success of species in the struggle for survival depends as much on
cooperation as on competition and this should be reflected in our
The future is unpredictable so our education system must equip people
cope with new situations with confidence.
Both scepticism and wonder should be encouraged. In schools the
value should be placed on:
- the urge to enquire
- concern for others
- the desire for self respect.
Schools should no longer be places where children are selected and
for the labour market. I believe that the development of satisfactory
attitudes to other humans, to the whole ecosystem, and to one's self,
more important than the acquisition of skills for competition in the
Approaches to curriculum changes
Environmental education needs to be on a par with other subjects in
secondary schools and integrated into programmes at all levels.
I would like to see encouragement of holistic approaches in teaching,
as themes which could involve English, maths, science, social studies,
geography, history, art and music.
Although the brain continues to develop and modify patterns throughout
of life, at least 50% of the development occurs in the first four
another 30% in the next ten years. Most vital pathways and patterns
set in those early years. The older one gets the harder it is to
those patterns. It is much more efficient to set up desirable
patterns as early as possible, rather than to change them later. In
of this being common knowledge, no country spends more than 5% of its
education budget on early childhood education.
Pre-school education should be available to all. Parent participation
should be encouraged and education for parents should be included
In the first few years of life children learn by trial and error and
copying - finding out for themselves what works. We never lose that
approach, but later we are able to hear, see and read about what
have found to be successful. However, we still, in general, retain
those bits of knowledge which we find useful for ourselves.
Teachers as role models
Many of the things that teachers are asked to include in the
today, are learned from peers and role models. These include
such things as smoking, drugs, traffic laws, sexual habits, caring for
others, respect for authority, fidelity, simplicity, ethics, racism,
other discrimination. It is little use trying to teach about these
if role models, their peers and their families are acting differently.
It is very important that the teacher be a good role model. Teachers
training should be selected more on their ability to act as good role
models than on academic ability.
Changes in structure
The present horizontal structure of our schools - especially at
intermediate and secondary level - is not conducive to establishing
standards in these matters. Intermediate schools should be phased out
they are only satisfactory for pupils from better home backgrounds
the home influence is paramount. Disadvantaged pupils tend to
together and pick up or reinforce each others' bad habits. There are
senior pupils to act as role models and no juniors for whom they can
to be responsible.
Secondary school changes
Secondary schools should be encouraged to adopt a vertical arrangement
forms for many activities. Competition between the forms should be
norm and interschool rivalry should be reduced. A huge range of
and classes can be held in these all-age groups giving every child a
The move for technical institutions to merge with universities or give
their own degrees detracts from their vital role as providing an
firmly based on practice with only the minimum of theory required.
type of education is vitally important to support industry and
jobs for people whose skills are practical rather than academic.
The trend in universities towards increasing business courses and
emphasising financial subjects may appeal to the public as increasing
chances of employment, but as a society we need to be able to offer
based education to tertiary students of all ages. I would like to see
emphasis on academic education.
The future of education
The development of our education system in the new millennium is a
deserving the serious consideration of all New Zealanders. We need an
education system which will heighten pupils' awareness of
issues. teach them the importance of cooperation, and equip them to
with new situations with confidence.