Go to National Library of New Zealand Te Puna Mātauranga o Aotearoa
Volume 28, 1895
This text is also available in PDF
(649 KB) Opens in new window
– 111 –

Art. XIV.—The Training of Teachers for Primary Schools.

[Read before the Auckland Institute, 5th August, 1895.]

In this colony, as in other democratic communities, the State has assumed the responsibility of providing schools for elementary education. It would seem as if the democratic movement was under some necessit to ally with itself popular education. At any rate, the two go together. In England, Germany, France, Switzerland, the United States, and in the colonies of Australasia it has been the special care of the several Legislatures to devise and establish systems of primary instruction. Large sums of money are freely voted and expended annually on education, and the demands on the public purse under this head keep ever growing. Some of the best intellects are busily employed in adapting the various systems of education to the requirements of the people, and, as fresh educational wants make themselves felt, strenuous efforts are made to satisfy them. In view of these facts,

– 112 –

democracy, in its many phases, may claim to be realising the dream and wish of the poet:-

O for the coming of that glorious time
When, prizing knowledge as her noblest wealth
And best protection, this imperial realm,
While she exacts allegiance, shall admit
An obligation, on her part, to teach
Them who are born to serve her and obey.

The foremost countries of the world at the present day are those in which the common school has most widely and deeply rooted itself. Backward and stationary civilisations, if they wish to fall into line and keep step with progressive societies, have to adopt some system of universal and compulsory education. “Education in Japan is plentiful, good, and cheap,” says Sir E. Arnold. A Turkish statesman and patriot, on his death-bed, recently urged his royal master to establish schools throughout Turkey, and thus introduce one of the most potent factors of Western greatness.

Few will question that the State, in thus charging itself with the work of elementary education, is acting well within its rights. The instinct of self-preservation would alone impel the modern democratic State to educate. To avoid relapse into barbarism, to prevent the growth of “a savage horde among the civilised,” the State must make due provision for the enlightenment and moral culture of its citizens.

And, as the State has the right, so it is under the obligation to provide universal education in the interests of healthy and intelligent citizenship. This function and duty cannot be relegated by it to any other organization, or to private enterprise, for the simple reason that the State alone possesses the coercive power required to make a system of popular education effective. While the co-operation of all organizations and individuals is desired and encouraged in the work of national culture, the general conviction is that the control of elementary education must be reserved exclusively for the State. The education thus provided is not a charity. All have a right to it, because all help to pay for it. Hence it is that education, like religion, is now everybody's concern.

Now, the training of teachers for their work is the most essential part of any proper scheme of education. The day has gone by when any one was thought good enough to teach an elementary school. Men who had failed in other occupations had always teaching to fall back upon. “When a man's the sport of heaven, to keep a school the wretch is driven.” People in reduced circumstances thought it right to apologize for earning their living by teaching. All this has been changed. Teaching is now commonly regarded as a serious and honourable occupation or profession—an occupa-

– 113 –

tion demanding knowledge, skill, enthusiasm, and good moral character. The day is at hand, perhaps, when moral worth will be regarded as of even greater value than knowledge and technical attainments.

The careful training of the teacher should, I think, occupy the first place in the national programme of education. Without duly-qualified and self-devoted teachers, fine buildings and costly appliances will be of little worth. Apart from the service which the able and zealous teacher renders to the intellectual and moral life of the nation, his training is of importance as a kind of national investment. From every point of view it is necessary to have capable men in charge of our schools; and the more capable they are the better.

As regards the preparation of teachers for their work, two points are to be distinguished—namely (a) their general knowledge; and (b) their professional training. If their general knowledge is sound and ample they are more able to profit by their technical instruction, and have more time for practice.

Let us see what provision has been made for the training of teachers in one of the old countries of the world. Germany has led the way in the work of popular education, and there from the time of the Reformation the training of the elementary-school master has been steadily kept in view. There we find the training-school and the training-college for teachers in the highest state of efficiency. The whole course of training, usually extending over six years, is divided into two periods—two or three years being spent in the training-school, and the remainder in the training-college. The object of the training-school is thus set forth: “To provide that kind of general training which is calculated to afford a sure foundation for the technical training of the elementary-school teacher.” In other words, the training-school provides such instruction and training as are supplementary to the elementary school and preparatory to the training-college. With respect to the latter institution, “the object of the instruction given there is to confirm the knowledge acquired in the preparatory course and to give it progressive development, to insure familiarity with the principles of the theory of education and instruction, and to give theoretical and practical directions as to the correct treatment of the separate subjects of an elementary school.” The theoretical training comprises four principal subjects: (a) Pedagogy; (b) theory of instruction; (c) psychology; (d) special method. The practical training consists chiefly of lessons given in the practising-school under the supervision of a master of method. These lessons are afterwards criticized both by the master and by fellow-students.

– 114 –

But, good as the German training institutions are, they do not fully satisfy the aspirations of the teachers themselves. It should be noted in passing that all the more important educational reforms in Germany have originated with the teachers. Their suggestions have seldom been at first acceptable to the Government, but, in the end, reasonable changes have been made, and the substantial justice of their demands acknowledged.

The report of the United States Bureau of Education published last year contains a historical review of the German and other systems of training for teachers. In the sixth section of the review a summary is given of the opinions of leading educators on training institutions. The German Teachers' Union, a body sixty thousand strong, had submitted certain inquiries to forty-two of the ablest directors of normal schools. Seventeen of those addressed answered all the questions put to them. The rest declined to answer, chiefly to avoid what appeared to them criticism of the Government.

The first question was as follows: “Is it advisable to organize the normal schools in such a way that they can offer professional—that is, pedagogical—training exclusively, or should they also offer academic instruction and general education, which must be the basis of professional work ?” Thirteen of the seventeen replies were in favour of the separation of general education from purely professional training. Among the reasons given were the following: “The purpose of a teachers' training-school is to prepare its students for their profession; the art it has to teach is the art of teaching; the school can accomplish this task satisfactorily only if the general education of its students has to a certain extent been completed before they are admitted; the mixture of general preparation and professional training now existing is the chief obstacle to progress in the training of teachers, because it necessitates a low degree of requirements for the general education—lower than is desirable in the interest of popular education.”

The second question was, “In what manner, in case the first question be answered in the affirmative, shall the general preparatory education be obtained ? Is it desirable to (a) establish special preparatory schools for teachers, or (b) should the existing normal schools be extended downwards by establishing preparatory courses, or (c) is attendance at secondary schools to be commended ? If so, which one—the classical (gymnasium), or the modern (real gymnasium), or the citizens' high school (without Latin) ?” Six replies were in favour of the existing high schools, and all recommended the citizens' high school as the most suitable.

These are the only questions that concern us in New

– 115 –

Zealand. The section concludes thus: “These opinions, rendered as they are by the foremost normal-school educators of Germany, Austria, and Switzerland, have made a profound sensation among teachers and Government authorities. The educational Press has reproduced them and commented upon them. Even the political Press in Germany has considered them the most authoritative and important contribution to the question of teachers” training of late years, and expressed the hope that the provincial as well as the central Government will base future reforms on the advice of these gentlemen.

“The further fact that this symposium was called for and published by the National Union of Teachers—a union that has nearly sixty thousand members—is most significant, and proves that the teachers themselves are not satisfied with the professional education the State offers them.”

It will seem like an instance of anticlimax when we turn from these high themes to the arrangements made for the training of teachers in New Zealand. We have adopted, probably from motives of convenience and economy, the pupil-teacher system from the Mother-country. This system, which is really formed on the model of apprenticeship in trade, was long ago tried in Germany and abandoned. Even in England it seems to be showing signs of weakness, and is undergoing modification. Her Majesty's Senior Chief Inspector of Schools in the Metropolitan Division, in his report last year, thus wrote: “The training of teachers in the science of teaching still lags far behind the training of teachers in Germany or France. In England we are still dependent for our supply of teachers in elementary schools almost exclusively upon the pupil-teacher system, and it seems that the sources of supply as regards men-teachers are failing…People interested in elementary education look upon this difficulty as one which will at no distant day have to be faced, and the recruiting of elementary teachers from scholars who have enjoyed the advantages of a good secondary education, as in foreign countries, is a matter well worthy of consideration.” So much as regards failure. That the system is being modified will be obvious from the following extract from an article on our voluntary schools which appeared in the Contemporary of February, 1895. The writer (Archdeacon Wilson), himself a highly distinguished schoolmaster, says, “A School Board can not only provide special instruction for its pupil-teachers, but can afford to duplicate its staff of such teachers, and thus give them full leisure for private study.” And in a note the Archdeacon says, “If the Education Department would recognise two pupil-teachers, each working half-time in school and half-time in central classes, as equivalent to one pupil, the

– 116 –

difficulty of properly educating pupil-teachers in voluntary schools would be diminished.”

What, then, is done by the Education Department of New Zealand, and the educational authorities of Auckland in particular, for the training of teachers? The department holds two examinations annually for Classes E and D, and grants certificates of competency to successful candidates; it recognises the University degree by creating for it the three higher grades—C, B, A; it also recognises the matriculation examination and the Junior and Senior Civil Service examinations, and makes certain concessions in favour of those who have passed these tests; it has framed certain regulations concerning the employment and training of pupil-teachers; lastly, it has made regulations respecting normal schools. Subject to the general provisions of the Education Act and to the regulations of the department, the Education Boards have done what they could to keep up the supply of qualified teachers.

A number of young people are taken on year by year; after a brief period of probation and on the favourable report of a head teacher they are indentured as pupil-teachers, appointed to some school, and generally put in charge of standards. They are required to work five hours daily in school, and are entitled to receive, out of school-hours, five hours' instruction per week from head teachers or their deputies. They are examined annually, and are expected to present themselves as soon as possible for examination in Class E or D. This, I think, is all that is done to aid them by the educational powers that be.

The fact that their qualifications, as shown by examination and Inspectors' marks, are rising, only proves capacity and desire for improvement on the part of the teachers themselves. To get through the different grades they must have recourse to outside help.

The objections to a scheme of this kind are obvious and weighty. Young people, from fifteen to seventeen years of age, whose training is avowedly nil or very incomplete, whose stock of knowledge is very meagre, are put to teach—the very work for which they are least fitted. As our schools are staffed and organized it is impossible for head teachers to exercise any adequate and effective supervision over the teaching of their junior subordinates. The system, if such it can be called, is unfair alike to the young teacher and to the scholar. It is indefensible except on the ground of want of means. It has been tried elsewhere under favourable circumstances and deliberately rejected. This being so, it would be surely well for us to take advantage of the experience of others and avoid repeating educational blunders.

With respect to the general education of the teacher, the

– 117 –

best agencies are, in my opinion, the secondary school and the university. It will be greatly to the advantage of teachers to share in general culture with the members of other professions. In advocating the fullest possible use of the university and the secondary school in the preparation of our teachers I am but complying with the spirit of the Education Act and of the regulations of the Education Department. In other countries, too, as we have seen, the secondary schools are likely to be more closely linked to the primary schools in the great work of helping to train the teachers of the latter.

In addition to adequate general knowledge, the student who aspires to be a teacher must also have practical training under the direction of some highly-qualified man. To effect this there must be established, as suggested in the regulations of the department, a practising-school, through which all our young teachers should be required to pass.

Under present conditions we cannot hope for the best results, and our educational system, notwithstanding its many excellencies, is maimed and halting. Some reform is needed; but reform to be real and lasting must be preceded by thorough knowledge of the weaknesses and deficiencies of existing arrangements, of what is needed, and of what is aimed at in other countries which are far ahead of us in educational evolution.