Starting at Secondary School
Summer is ending and the children are back at school. For most, the time for settling down in new classes is over and the year's work is well started; others have had to make a bigger change, that of starting at Secondary School.
For you parents the biggest thing has been paying out a lot of money for uniforms, for the children there has been the scary experience of going to new schools, of becoming small fry again, of starting on new subjects and meeting new demands.
The Secondary School
Before we go on let's look at secondary schools for a moment. When you were young the last year at primary school may have meant passing Proficiency, gaining a scholarship and going to one of the famous Maori secondary schools. For many others, both Pakeha and Maori, it meant leaving school in Standard Six and going to work.
Today this has changed. The Proficiency Exam has gone, thank goodness, and the way into the secondary schools has been made easier.
Just why is this?
Schooling and Education
The most important reason, I suppose, is that everybody now realises that to live in the modern world a person must be able to do more than read and write. Unskilled labour is beginning to disappear, or at least, to become a false name—every job requires some sort of skill. However, there's another reason for the change—one, I think, that we New Zealanders are not too clear about. It is this, that to understand what happens in the world, to make wise choices, to think critically about science, art, religion, politics, a person must have an education, and to gain this he must have a longer period of schooling.
Let's be clear about it, though; schooling is not education. A middle-aged Maori lady whose wisdom I thoroughly respect never passed Standard Three, yet she is an educated person. Her school was living, and that, in the long run, is the one where we learn most.
Different courses suit different children; because Rangi's sister took Commercial that's no reason why she should too. Children seldom know for sure what it is they will want to do when they leave school. Take notice of what they say but also talk it over with the teacher or headmaster before the year is out. If you are still not satisfied get in touch with your local Vocational Guidance Office; this is a branch of the Education Department whose officers are specially trained to help with this kind of problem.
The secondary school day doesn't stop at three o'clock; some of the work has to be done at home. A child in Form Three will probably have about an hour and a half's homework to do. This means that the child must have at least that much time in the evening without interruption.
The best thing of course is a bedroom with a small table, a reading lamp and a bookcase, and NO, repeat NO interruptions. Work simply cannot be done if the radio is on, other children are playing about, grown ups are talking, or there is one eye on the TV set.
If you have dinner early, say before six o'clock, there will be time for homework to be got out of the way and time over for reading, talking, radio listening and TV watching, all important activities for growing boys and girls. While I think about it, why not consider excusing the high-schoolers from some of the household chores, washing the dishes for instance, if that time is spent on doing homework. If you think children should do the dishes then let them off something else, peeling the potatoes perhaps. Tell the younger children that they have to help out because so-and-so goes to high school now, and has other important things to do.
You might, at this point, be thinking that all this is impossible in your household, but there are other possibilities. In one district, I know of a retired teacher who has the children in to work in her spare room in exchange for lawnmowing and hedge cutting; in another the headmaster opens up one of the classrooms for a couple of hours at night. There is always something that can be done if you are keen enough.