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No. 55 (June 1966)
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Wellington Polytechnic is one of the six technical institutes in New Zealand catering for vocational and professional training of people who have left secondary school and who are either doing full time training for some skills, who are actively engaged in industry, commerce, or working in Government departments.

Last January, 60 teenage Maori boys and girls arrived in Wellington to pioneer a project aimed at helping young Maoris adjust to city life.

They had all just left secondary schools, their average age was 16, hardly any had School Certificate, and all needed jobs. Most of them came from relatively small country areas as far away as Hokianga Harbour and Ruatoria.

Few had clear ideas of the five-week course ahead of them at the Wellington Polytechnic, or of precisely what was going to happen to them at the end of it. All they knew for certain was that it was called a pre-employment course, it was being run in conjunction with the Department of Maori Affairs, and they were going to be helped to find jobs.

The course was, in fact, the result of discussions between the Polytechnic and the Department during the preceding two years. Equally conscious of the problems facing young country boys and girls coming to the cities for work, the Polytechnic and the Department designed the course to ease this transition as much as possible and so give the youngsters a better start in their new life.

Hostel accommodation was provided for 34 boys at Trentham and for 26 girls in Thorndon, Wellington, at Pikimai Hostel.

Two welfare workers were assigned to the groups by the Maori Affairs Department, and during the course they lived at the hostels with the students. When the course finished the students were given permission to stay on in their hostels for the remainder of the year.

Because it was the first of its type, the course was run on a distinctly experimental basis. While there was general understanding of the main difficulties involved, there were no guides to show teachers and Department officers just how much could be done in a short five-week period, or to give any idea of how fast the young people would assimilate their new experiences.

The course was divided into two parts. Each morning, for three hours, the groups were split into small classes of about 12 and were given a specially-arranged programme of English, Mathematics and Civics. Afternoon visits were organised to various places of possible employment, to the Town Hall, the public library and the courts.

Speakers from the Health Department, the Police Force, from sporting and social bodies were invited, and physical recreation periods were held with the help of the Physical Education Branch of the Education Department.

Vocational Guidance officers gave specialised tests to the groups, and then personally interviewed each student. Results of these tests and interviews were discussed with Polytechnic teachers and Maori Affairs Department officers, to aid job placement.

The formal subjects—English, Mathematics and Civics—were not taken in formal secondary school manner. The basic idea of the course was to give the young people material which was directly related to the problems they were soon going to meet. Therefore, class topics covered such practical points as letter-writing, hire purchase agreements, trade unions and industrial awards, decimals and dollar currency, health and hygiene.

Most of the eight teachers involved had previously worked in Maori schools, or with Maori pupils, and also had experience of jobs other than teaching. They therefore under-

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stood the problems facing the youngsters and knew the demands and opportunities of the commercial and industrial world.

During the last week of the course, in mid-February, virtually all the students were placed in jobs which gave chances of training in specialised skills, and which allowed for promotion and advancement. Most boys were apprenticed as motor mechanics, carpenters, panel-beaters, plasterers, painters and decorators and fitters and turners. Most girls found office jobs, either as clerks or shorthand typists.

Of the 34 boys, only one returned to his home town. He found on arrival in Wellington that he had passed School Certificate, and so at the end of the course went back to school to try for University Entrance with the idea of taking up teaching as a career. Of the 26 girls, five either returned home or found jobs in other centres such as Hamilton or Auckland.

The course was undoubtedly successful, as the boys and girls gained from it knowledge of how to cope with many problems. There is no comparison between the boy who has completed the course and moved into his first job, and a youngster just getting off the train, arriving in Wellington for the first time … not knowing where to get accommodation, the range of jobs available, and whether or not there is an over-supply of labour for one particular trade or skill. Even the geography of Wellington would be baffling for a start.

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Members of the course with their teachers

And just what does such a person feel on arrival? The students on the course answered this question, on paper, just a few days after it began. Here are some of their impressions:

“When I first got off the train, and stepped onto the Wellington railway platform, the things that impressed me were the amount of people walking past, and the amount of noise. Also the different coloured clothing, and people of different races passing by. But the thing I was most worried about was my suitcase…”

“To me, and I think to some of the other country boys too, all this hurrying by the Wellingtonians seemed stupid. This was mainly due to the type of life we had previously led, that is, slow and easygoing. Although soon we too became members of the rat race that takes place in a city…”

“The first question I asked was, ‘Please show me the main street,’ and to my amazement there was more than one…”

“Other things that impressed me were the buildings. As you walk along the street and look up it feels as though you are a dwarf walking down the Grand Canyon. The buildings are huge and tower way above the pedestrians. Some people never seem to see these monstrous buildings because they haven't time to stop and look around…”

“This is the first time I've been to this place and it's eighty times bigger than the

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place I come from … Seems to me I'm in a New World which I've never seen anything like before…”

“The screeching of tyres, the buzzing of the stop and go lights and the smell of rubber with the fast traffic, makes the country boy think twice before stepping off the footpath. The drivers and their vehicles do not give way to pedestrians, just to traffic officers sometimes …”

Students were also asked for their impressions at the end of the course. Some still complained of speed, of rude shop assistants, of pressure to be on time, of hostel rules (such as no smoking in bed), murderous traffic, and of the wind.

But almost all said they were beginning to enjoy city life, because of their chances of a good job, the people they were meeting, the variety of activities, and the excitement.

One girl put it this way:

“I like the way time flies in the city. There is so much to do I can't do it all in one day, so my activities are spread and varied. I also like the kind way people treat us when we are shown around, and when we pay visits and receive visits. I hate all the boys around town who have grown their hair long just to be ‘with it’. They are as irritating as the continuous stream of cars passing the hostel at all hours of the night, and the gale that blows at about 100 miles an hour.”

One boy was much more terse:

“I intend to stay here,” he wrote, “because there is no work for me at home. When I've finished learning a trade I want to move to a smaller city.”

One of the most striking features of the course was its reception by business people. Employers were genuinely interested in the students, and though job placement took many hours, most firms approached were sympathetic, helpful and encouraging. One girl who was placed in a good position in an insurance office went home the weekend before she was to start. Instead of being resentful, the manager assured the Polytechnic teacher who had made the arrangements that his firm was still interested and virtually promised that a job would be available for a student from next year's course.

Though the course was a success, some mistakes were made. Too much was attempted and students were completely exhausted at the end of the first week. Too many new experiences all coming at once left them with the feeling they were seeing the world through blurred glasses made for somebody else.

They found it hard to absorb all the information being fed to them, even though it was related to practical problems. The adjustment to hostel life, to new ways of doing things, to the hardness of the pavements, the slope of the streets, the constant nagging of people about “being on time”—all tended to lead to confusion and tiredness.

This pilot scheme was held to discover whether such a course is feasible and valuable. It is. Now the Department of Maori Affairs is faced with the question of whether it can be extended to other cities. One of the reasons for holding it in Wellington was the interest taken by the Polytechnic, but there is an equal need for the same type of course in Auckland and Christchurch. Christchurch, in particular, could be an excellent centre. Distance from home towns is not of major importance (and may even be an advantage), accommodation is easier, chances of employment are good, and there is a steadily growing Maori population.

No one has argued that such courses are the complete answer to the problems of integration of Maoris into city life, but they certainly help with some of the most pressing difficulties. At present, country education does not match that given in the cities, and the Maori boy or girl is at a marked disadvantage in competition for jobs. In the meantime, until rural education improves, the Polytechnic's course is both necessary and valuable.

Royal Soloists

Two pupils of Sister Mary Leo, of Auckland, took part in the Royal Youth Concert in Wellington last April. They were Donna Awatere and Laurette Gibb.

The girls were soloists in the Maori Suite by New Zealand composer, Ashley Heenan. The suite was commissioned especially for the Queen Mother's visit.

Donna Awatere is still a student at St Mary's College and is the daughter of Mr Peter Awatere, formerly commander of the Maori Battalion and now an Auckland city councillor.

Laurette Gibb has a grant from the Maori Education Foundation Fund to aid her training.