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Browse the 1966 Encyclopaedia of New Zealand
Graphic: An Encyclopaedia of New Zealand 1966.


This information was published in 1966 in An Encyclopaedia of New Zealand, edited by A. H. McLintock. It has not been corrected and will not be updated.

Up-to-date information can be found elsewhere in Te Ara.



Educational Advantages

The ideal of an equalitarian society has had its effect on the shaping of national institutions, manners, customs, and way of life in general. Its influence is readily apparent, for instance, in the educational system. Primary education was made free, secular, and compulsory in 1877. The free-place system in secondary schools, instituted early in this century, was thereafter steadily expanded until, on the eve of the Second World War, less than 1 per cent of the pupils in post-primary schools was paying tuition fees. In 1936 the proficiency examination, which primary pupils were required to pass in order to obtain free education at secondary schools, was abolished, and since then the system of social promotion, or the moving of pupils into a higher class automatically, regardless of their progress, has been adopted. Free university education is now available to any student who has passed a University Entrance Examination, in which the standard required is not very high. There has, indeed, been a practical adoption of the declared principle that “Every person, whatever his level of academic ability, whether he be rich or poor, whether he lives in town or country, has the right as a citizen to free education of the kind for which he is best suited, and to the fullest extent of his powers”. Most New Zealanders would endorse the broad intention expressed above, but complaints are sometimes heard that adoption of the principle of equality of opportunity for all means that, in consequence of extraordinary care being taken over the teaching of backward or average children, the brilliant or exceptional child receives less than his due measure of attention. Critics also allege that the qualifications required for entry to a university are not high enough, and that many students attend universities who are insufficiently advanced or gifted to benefit by doing so. On this whole question there are two schools of thought – one of which holds that no attendant disadvantage should prevent the door to higher education being kept wide open, while the other remains apprehensive lest worship of equality should become equated with tolerance of mediocrity.