A conversation about New Zealand’s past

Over the last several days, my understanding of New Zealand’s history of British colonialism has been severely tested by events that have unfolded in New Zealand, and which may be linked to the recent unrest in the United States. With the rioting having subsided, massive protests pushing for a racial reconciliation have been breaking out.

In New Zealand the events in the United States have brought a necessary focus on our own race relations. How do we teach colonial history in schools? Are we teaching the right history? Is that history being taught without bias? Clearly we have an issue when in a matter of days, we can go from not even thinking about doing so, to toppling a statue of a person whose history am going to guess most New Zealanders knew nothing about.

When I think about my knowledge of the New Zealand Land Wars, following the Treaty of Waitangi and the Musket Wars prior to the treaty signing, I find quite significant gaps in my basic knowledge about the events, the timeline over which they happened and who was involved. These are very significant events in understanding the relationship between settlers and Maori, and the Musket Wars for example cost many more lives than I was aware of – I thought they had cost a couple of thousand lives and not the estimated 20,000-40,000, with perhaps as many as 30,000 more made to emigrate.

I did not even know what John Hamilton’s first name was prior to Thursday, when the first rumblings that the statue of him in Hamilton was going to be removed began to surface. I certainly knew nothing of his past, that the statue stood on the spot where Cook’s crew killed nine Maori.
At the same time I feel like my knowledge of Captain Cook has failed me. I knew nothing about the incident involving H.M.S. Adventure crew members, or that 8 Maori were killed by crew when Cook first anchored in New Zealand waters. I feel like my schooling has failed me. As Graeme Lay notes in a column for The Listener in 2019, some interactions were very cordial and productive, whilst others ended in violence.

But I am not the only one. My parents said that they were taught none of this either. My mother who grew up on a farm near Pukekawa in rural Waikato for example says that her school learnings were about the invasion of Waikato by the British in 1863, following the refusal of Maori to take an oath of allegiance to Queen Victoria. This was one of the major conflicts of the New Zealand land wars and easily the deadliest. Both Maori and the British invested significant forces and resources in this. The British called up 10,000 troops for the campaign. The Maori built more than 22 kilometres of fencing which had about 1,500 troops manning it.

So, it is for these reasons I totally support the compulsory teaching of these events as basic New Zealand history. Improving our understanding of the events that happened and how they came to happen will go some way towards a sort of reconciliation between non Maori and the tangata whenua. Given the  12,000km² confiscated in Waikato following the 1863 invasion are now worth billions of dollars, the $171 million that was paid to Tainui in 1995 is barely 1% of its current value.

The best thing we as New Zealanders can do is learn from our colonial past. The best thing the education system can do is make sure that that history gets taught in schools.

N.Z. in lock down: DAY 23

Yesterday was DAY 23 of New Zealand in lock down as we try to fight the COVID19 pandemic.

Thus far in the unprecedented situation New Zealand has found itself, the country has performed brilliantly in terms of compliance with shut down regulations. On Monday the country will make a choice about whether to stay at LEVEL 4 or go to LEVEL 3.

LEVEL 3 as far as I can tell is basically LEVEL 4 lite or LEVEL 3.5:

  • No hair dressers will open
  • Most retail shops will stay shut
  • Tradies will be able to go back to work
  • Public playgrounds will still be off limits
  • Early childhood can reopen

For me there are no concessions made at LEVEL 3. I will still have no work. In terms of things I do outside of work, I will not be able to do any except go for walks.

But I feel sorry for those who have had deaths in their family and were hoping that LEVEL 3 would be kind enough to let them have a funeral/tangi – with a limit of 10 people, I cannot imagine the final opportunity to hold a service for a loved one will be taken up by any families in that time. One or two weddings might go ahead, with less formal celebrations for the 90% of guests who had to be cut out held later, but I suspect just because the wedding is supposed to be the happiest day of a person’s life and most will want their best friends and family there, a 10 person limit will almost be a disincentive.

I doubt very much early childhood education centres will want to reopen. Tots put things in their mouths by default, drop things like drinks and food on the floor. The only COVID19 proof way of ensuring they are safe is probably to simply not open since they will not be able to play.

The same article in The Press, briefly outlined what LEVEL 2 would look like, and it is basically a LEVEL 3 lite, like a LEVEL 2.5. A person working in the hospitality sector must be thinking that their industry will be the last taxi off the rank. For a number of my friends, this will hurt a lot. I suspect at least some of them will be jobless before their employers can fully reopen.

I give New Zealand 6 weeks all up before non-compliance with lock down starts to become a major issue. After that some basic, hard tests are going seriously challenge the authorities in the coming weeks, namely:

  • How long will people continue to observe social distancing – at the moment whilst cases and deaths are still happening it is understandable, but when we get to the point where the last new case was several days ago and the number of recovered patients is rapidly closing on the total cases, surely significant easing will happen
  • The number of people wanting to go to check on secondary properties will increase steadily the longer it takes to get to LEVEL 2 and there will be an associated surge in people who are prepared to run the risk
  • There will be a surge in people who are prepared to go out and partake in activities that are not permitted – those who are on farms with significant bush nearby will be wanting to go bush; cyclists will start cycling in groups again

This is the sad reality of the world that we live in. It is made worse by the fact that if we are the first to eliminate COVID19, we will still have to keep the border fully closed for probably the rest of 2020, whilst we wait for other nations who did not go in hard and early to catch up.

I admire the work of this Government thus far. They have done a fantastic job with no blue print on how to govern a country in a pandemic. There has been a few idiots deliberately challenging the authorities and a few naysayers with dollar signs for eye pupils, but the very vast majority of New Zealanders have complied. If there is a steady, progressive winding down of the restrictions that will be a massive achievement. But if we drag it out too far, the real trouble is still over the horizon.

N.Z. in lock down: DAY 12

Yesterday was DAY 12 of New Zealand in lock down as we try to fight the COVID19 pandemic.

A rather short post today. I spent much of yesterday attending my university block course, which is being delivered on line. It replaces a block segment that was meant to be delivered at Massey University in person but was cancelled when COVID19 escalated in mid March.

We were able to hear from a respected New Zealand economist named Shamubeel Eaqub, who talked to us about an economists, perspective on urban planning. A lady working for Kainga Ora discussed how the organization which is a combination of three housing agencies that merged was trying to deliver the government agenda on affordable housing. Then we heard from the C.E.O. of Community Housing Aotearoa about social housing, the use of financial and legal instruments to enable affordable housing. Another gentleman working for Harrison Grierson who are one of New Zealand’s leading engineering consultancy firms showed a case study that examined housing growth in the rapidly urbanizing south Auckland/Waikato area.

It was great to hear a range of different perspectives on how New Zealand should move forward in terms of urban planning. Several of them mentioned that affordable housing should not take up more than 30% of disposable income in a household. Also noted was a glut of big houses with 4+ bedrooms being built when the market is screaming for smaller dwellings.

With more teaching content to be delivered today and tomorrow, it also admittedly makes it easier for me to decide what my next blog article will be about.



The geography of medicine

Yesterday, looking at comments on an article on Facebook about the intensifying fight between supporters of vaccinations and foes. I saw that there were some who seemed to honestly not understand how the dispersal of these diseases works. And I wondered if a lesson in how epidemiology was founded, coupled with a brief foray into medical geography would assist.

I am reminded of a lesson in medical geography that I took when I was at University of Canterbury. Medical geography looks at the temporal and spatial distribution of illness, the environment that causes that distribution and ways of addressing it. The lesson looked at an example from 1850’s England when there was a cholera outbreak. It was a very localized outbreak. English physician John Snow, who had conducted research into the disease became interested. He looked at the distribution of instances by talking to local residents and ascertaining which wells they were using. Once it was established that rates were particularly bad in an area around Broad Street, he looked at where the water was being sourced from and noted that it was being drawn from a polluted section of the Thames River. He established that the deaths from the cholera outbreak were concentrated around a particular well, and employed a dot map to show this.

In a modern society with vehicles and aircraft able to give people a local mobility that simply did not exist 100 years ago when the Influenza pandemic that was spread by soldiers returning from World War 1, only one person needs to be infected to establish an outbreak in a new location. Soldiers living in absolute squalor in the front line trenches where hygiene was effectively non-existent became incubators for a particularly virulent variation that would go on to affect 500 million people world wide; kill nearly 100 million people and devastate families and communities alike. With an aircraft flight able to cover reach any major New Zealand town within two hours a case that originated in Auckland may have infected someone living in Dunedin before the day is out.

In African countries Ebola is a disease that was discovered in 1976 and is thought to be hosted by fruit bats. Currently afflicting western African nations, Ebola has an average mortality rate of about 50%, though this can vary anywhere between 25% and 90% in individual outbreaks. It spreads from contact with fruit bats, chimpanzees, gorillas, antelope, porcupines and monkeys found dead in the forest.

The virus is spreading in Africa because of a chronic underfunding of health care and education. Basic hygiene levels are very poor, which means humans who have had contact with patients are becoming potential incubators of it themselves. The symptoms start to show between 48 hours and 3 weeks after the contact with the body or body fluids of a person who has died.

But New Zealand is not like Africa. Aside from much better education, medical care and planning for such diseases, our authorities are much more transparent in terms of what information they hold and how they use it. Yet we have an escalating problem with vaccination caused by people who are either wilfully ignorant or not educated to understand that the science behind vaccinations is well grounded and with the best intentions. Thus decades of hard work trying to eradicate Measles Mumps and Rubella from our fair land is being undermined.

As far as I know there is no geographical field that can understand the the temporal and spatial dispersal of wilful ignorance.

Scrap National Certificate of Educational Achievement

I have never been a fan of National Certificate of Educational Achievement. Whilst it was intended to replace a system that did not work for many students I think that there are remedies that with a bit of tweaking would adequately fill in the short comings that existed.

The major short comings in N.C.E.A. are:

  1. That some of the courses, such as Year 11 English and Mathematics were 100% assessed on the last exam. Despite having numerous assessments throughout the year, they did not account for anything, and were only used in the event that a student could not sit the School Certificate examination (which I think should simply be called Year 11 Maths.
  2. Unit Standards were intermixed with more conventional assessment methods on traditional courses like history, which I believe were better assessed using conventional methods – my experience on this is based on consecutive years failing Year 12 history in part because of the emphasis on Unit Standards in a subject I honestly did not believe was suited to that.
  3. A Unit Standard has an overly simplistic marking regime – one can FAIL/PASS or be NOT YET COMPETENT. This was perhaps my biggest gripe as that tells me nothing about my overall performance. Did I do really well and get the equivalent of 90% or something like that? Did I get a bare minimum 51% or was it a total catastrophe in the order of 30% or less?

My solution is not new. But it will provide a robust assessment regime for all students and give those who might not be so strong at exam time an opportunity to show their ability through assignment work and tests.

I recommend going back to to the old framework which will be renamed Year 11, 12 and University Certificate. All courses will have a 1/2 internal assessment component that will test their ability to through practical and theoretical tests as well as examinations. The old scaling system will be removed. What you score is what you get. The only cross marking that will happen will be to make sure all students get subject to the same rigour of assessment.

The option for six subjects will be available to the most able students in Years 11 and 12 if a parent/teachers meeting recommends it. There will be partial scholarships (half annual fees) available to students who get a B average or better (325/500 (5 courses) or 400/600 points (six courses))and full scholarships (full annual fees) for those who achieve an A average or better (400/500 (five courses) or 480/600 points (six courses)).

Perhaps alongside this for those who want to go through a private system, those schools able to afford it might offer their students the opportunity to sit Cambridge or Oxford examinations for high performing students. The Cambridge International Examinations programme is offered at a range of schools in New Zealand by the Association of Cambridge Schools in New Zealand Inc.

Most important to me though would be ensuring that all students in this system or N.C.E.A. are able to participate and not held back by the financial situation of their family.