The education act of 1877 has had a lasting impact on New Zealand education. Its underlying features of free; compulsory and secular meant that New Zealander’s got equal opportunities. This essay will analyse the secular clause and its ongoing impact. It is important to understand the intended intentions of the act towards secularism. In doing so, it will examine the two key factors modernism and the Irish question which underpin secularism. Both of these factors will make us understand the notion of ‘choice’ and the ongoing debates on secularism.
In order to understand the significance of the 1877 education act and its impact, it is just as important to view the issues that led to its establishment. So, prior to the 1877 education act, the education system was a fragmented one. The underdeveloped conditions of the time derived New Zealand to focus on the political and economical spheres rather than education. Therefore, most schools established at the time were mainly private or voluntarily run; or by the churches (missionaries), (Stephenson, M. (2009).
The provinces established in the constitution act 1852 provided for education in their own terms. So provinces such as Canterbury, Otago and Christchurch in the south island that were booming in economy due to gold and wool export at the time, were able to accommodate better education, facilities and resources for the children (Stephenson, M. (2009). Hence, such schools were mainly run by the ‘elite’ and the ‘middleclass’. However the provinces in the north island such as Auckland, Hamilton had poor economy, so no proper schooling infrastructure, facilities or resources were provided to children.
Church and some middle classes accommodated for the poor children. Hence, one can make the conclusion that education varied across New Zealand provided that it was based on hierarchies (Stephenson, (2009), differing the type of education children got. Missionary schools of the early 1816 are also an aspect that led to the establishment of 1877 education act. The missionary school’s focused on to assimilate Maori through bible teaching. Once Maori realized what was happening and that they wanted to learn more, form their own schools.
The missionary schools were replaced by the native schools act 1867, where assimilation perspective gradually faded away as schools and communities worked together (Stephenson, M. (2009). The aspect of rural children and the children that roamed the streets due to poverty resulting in criminals was overwhelming for New Zealand. It realised the significance of education for those neglected children by government passing the neglected and criminal children act 1867. (Stephenson, M. 2009) the native schools and the neglected and criminals children act reflect that New Zealand was beginning to embark on a more liberal approach in regards to where education was concerned. New Zealand’s laissez-faire approach led them in establishing the 1887 education act. This focused on a just and egalitarian education system where education would be free; compulsory and secular. The ‘free’ education element already took away the economical or hierarchy differences that effected some children’s education.
By making education ‘compulsory’, the act included the neglected, criminal and even disabled children as it supported an egalitarian system. Due to issues around differing Christianity and religious beliefs among the various settlers and the type of education given to children, it enabled the 1877 education act in making education secular(Rata, 2010). This allowed people the ‘choice’, a common ground to believe or not to believe. The secular clause in the act focused on the factor of modernism – the notion of separation between the state and the church.
Meaning it gave people the ‘choice’ to think for themselves in regards to religion. They could choose to believe or not to believe and that religion did not interfere in regular day to day business as people could meet as common citizens by temporarily leaving their religion behind (Rata, 2010). So their religious believes would not cloud or reinforce their judgments as they did what they had to do. Subsequently, one could choose to believe in whatever he or she wanted to believe in but that would be their private business.
Economically the modernism approach was also reinforced by the act as a new capitalist economic system developed. It helped in breaking the barrier of different religious groups by integrating all three religions: Islam; Christianity; and Jewish. As people begin to develop their liberal views the issue of science versus religion developed. (Rata, 2010) The notion of difference between science and religion; science doubts and analyses things while religion is full of set facts that are morally right. This view of science versus religion is also apparent among other leading aspects such as stem cells research and not just education.
Another factor that gave choice to people through the secular clause in the act was the notion of ‘Irish question. ’ Among the early settlers to New Zealand, there was a huge number of Irish immigrants while many British (English) were coming in as well. The Irish came to New Zealand to get away from the conflicting hostilities between the different forms of Christianity e. g. Protestants and Catholics, in their own country. Moreover, British and Irish settlers were adverse to each other’s perceptions and views.
The act provided a common ground and freedom of ‘choice’ by giving them choices to choose and make their own decisions, hence the notion of ‘Irish question’ (Rata, 2010). Just as everything has positives and negatives, while the 1877 education act constructed the foundation of a common ground between the differing hostile groups, however, it also raised some tensions. In regards to education, schools were beginning to question when the schools are secular and when are they not and these questions can still be seen in today’s debate over school prayers in schools.
Parents and families also became concerned with the type of secular teaching taught at schools as they wanted their children to learn the religious customs associated with their own family tradition (Rata, 2010). The debate of having a school prayer was viewed controversial and still is today as it does not fall under the timed conditions given by the act and the nelson system while it is still a religious factor (Rata, 2010; & Human Rights Commission, 2009).