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Education: Schooling for All

At the beginning of the twentieth century there were five state primary schools on 'the Flat': Caversham, Forbury, Kensington, Macandrew Road and St Clair. They had a combined roll of just over 2000 students. Classes started at 'Primer One' (Year One) and ended at 'Standard Six' (Year Eight). These schools were strictly run and achieved good pass rates in the national examinations. The pupils seem to have been keen to go to school. Caversham, for instance, had an attendance rate of 95.4% in 1900.

Before 1900 most New Zealand children could not expect to be educated beyond primary school. Secondary schools were for those going to university or into the professions. Secondary education was free only to the small number who won scholarships or could pay the costly attendance fees. However, in 1902 the Liberal Government opened up the secondary schools by funding two years free secondary study for any child who passed the Standard 6 Proficiency exam. This 'free place' initiative opened up a new route to economic and social advancement to the children of the southern Dunedin suburbs.

Certificate of ProficiencyUp to 1902 school was compulsory until the age of 13 or a pass in the Standard 6 Proficiency examination. Boys then went out to work while girls usually worked in their own family home or someone else's. As the average family size fell, an increasing proportion of the girls headed off to work in the factories, shops and offices. After 1902, success in 'Proficiency' enabled both boys and girls to have two free years at secondary school. (Otago Settlers Museum Collection)

School PicThe atmosphere in early twentieth century classrooms was very strict. Class sizes were large and the teachers maintained a tight discipline. Teaching was based on a narrow interpretation of the curriculum and based on examinations, especially 'Proficiency'. Visits from school 'Inspectors' (who were employed by the Otago Education Board) focussed on maintaining 'standards' of teaching and pupil achievement within the province. Inspectors examined pupils each year and only those who passed the Inspector's assessment could progress to the next level at school. From the early 1900s Headmasters could also examine pupils. Students who failed repeated the year. Although primary schools were 'mixed' segregation of boys and girls was practiced. This continued into secondary schools as this article from the King Edward Technical School Jubilee magazine of 1959 outlines. (Hocken Library - Uare Taoka O Hakena, University of Otago)

ChildrenAfter school had finished for the day and homework and household chores completed, the children of South Dunedin were fortunate to have access to open spaces in which to play. Even the most congested areas of 'the Flat' were not far from a field or the ocean. Children only had to walk a few blocks to find somewhere to play. There were plenty of wide-open spaces and everyone was close to the beaches of St Kilda or St Clair. (Otago Settlers Museum Collection)


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