As the debate about the effectiveness of New Zealand’s public schooling rages, it is worthwhile looking at contrasting courses by two different people through the primary and secondary school education systems.
My brother and I both attended Waimairi Primary School. I started in 1985 and he started in 1987. Waimairi was a school that dealt with the full range of children from various socio-economic backgrounds – ones from foster families or state owned housing; the middle class living on modest privately owned or rented properties, and the children of the wealthy. As one born with significant hand eye co-ordination and later on, severe hypertension it was crucial for me to be schooled in an environment where I was respected. The school was very co-operative in terms of helping me deal with my issues especially after being admitted to hospital with severe hypertension in 1989. With the exception of one rotten apple for a teacher, all of the ones I had were good. I think my brother, 17 months younger than me had a similar experience with his teachers.
Cobham Intermediate and my time there in Years 7-8 is something I generally prefer to keep quiet about. The school did its resolute best to help me through a period when a combination of bullying and complete indifference to learning were driving my parents nuts. More often than not I was kept in late to do work I had not done. Most of my friends went to Heaton Intermediate, and those that did go to Cobham were in higher classes than I.
I went to Burnside High School from 1994-1999. It is a school that had a role when I was there of about 2200 students and about 180 staff. Like Waimairi and Cobham before it, I found that the school catered for the full range of socio-economic statuses. It also caters for a significant number of students from Asia, whose parents decided that schooling in their native country was not an option. My marks were modest, but that was not a mark of the education I got so much as my then attitude to exam study. My final year at Burnside, granted despite the Principal’s concern that I would not gain academically from doing it, turned out to be my best year in the entire pre-University period of my life socially. It was also my best year academically, passing everything I sat for the first time.
My brother got a half scholarship and then a full one that gave him access to St. Andrews College, one of the most prestigious schools in Christchurch for his Years 7-13. He excelled, made a great bunch of friends, and was well regarded across the school as an outstanding – albeit somewhat talkative – student who contributed to a number of activities such as Stage Challenge, various school plays. It might account for the significantly larger number of parties he got invited to and the larger number of friends he made than I did.
My fees at Burnside High largely paid for tuition and stationery. Whilst there I did very little in the way of cultural activity that required funding, other than join the rifle club. I am not aware of an Amnesty International chapter existing whilst I was at Burnside High, and I had not really started thinking about social activism as I do now. My brothers on the other hand were significant. Part of it was due to being a private school and needing to be able to fund his scholarship.
I look back at my years in the public education system with only one regret that cannot be blamed on the system, and that was that I did not make better use of the opportunities that were available at the time. I would probably be in a better position than I currently am. So, it comes as a complete mystery to me why people think public education is private schools poor sibling. But it also mystifies me why politicians who want us to all have jobs and be off the benefit are the same ones who want to deprive us of the necessary education to GET those jobs.