11 November 2008

Ask Sarah v5.0
It has been so interesting reading about your adventures in New Zealand--especially when your mom came to visit! As an educator I am interested in the schools in New Zealand. I have the opportunity to work with a VIF (visiting international faculty teacher from New Zealand for three years at NC elementary school. She has said that the New Zealand schools have strong literacy programs is this true? What can you tell me about the New Zealand school system.

Kim Cooke
Marvin Ridge High School

Amazingly Insightful Answer 5:
Kia Ora Kim. Glad you got to get to know a kiwi...not too many of them pass through the Southern heartlands, so consider yourself lucky! As far as the school systems go, unfortunately my experience with anything other than the University level is pretty limited. The most I can tell you is that all the "school" kids (as the term school refers only to grades k-12, which are actually called "forms" rather than grades...confused yet?) have to wear really horrible blazer-kilt-clod hopper shoe uniforms, and get out much earlier than any school I ever went to or was familiar with. That being said, I have heard from time to time that NZers do invest a lot in literacy...if a child is struggling with reading they will provide tutors or additional instruction free of cost to the parents. Other than that, that's about all I can tell you, I'm afraid.

There are a number of interesting differences at the University level that I noticed, so just to beef up this posting a bit, I'll share those. Firstly, Uni admin is much more deeply involved in the planning of it's students degrees. At the University of South Carolina, where I received my undergrad, it was basically up to you to pick your courses, make your schedule, etc. As long as you paid your money, the University really couldn't care less whether you were taking the appropriate course or on track for a timely graduation.

At the University of Otago, however, they are in there every step of the way, almost to the point of frustration. They have an entire week of "course approval" where you must visit professors from each department which you want to take a class in, where they either approve or don't approve your attendance; then after you've got signatures for each class you have to go to another advisor who makes sure you are taking what you need for your degree, puts it in a computer system and makes sure there are no schedule clashes, and then may or may not sign off on your schedule. If you wish to make any changes to it once that's all done, you have to go through the entire process AGAIN...it was actually quite irritating, for someone who was used to getting online at an assigned time and switching their schedule and enrollment as often and whenever I wanted. I suppose it's a good thing though, as it shows the university actually values the students' educational journey and not just their bank accounts.

Also, just an interesting note to close out with...when grading work--which they actually call "marking"--rather than starting at 100 % and taking off points for incorrect answers, everything starts from zero and you accumulate points. Probably some outgrowth of the obsessive political correctness influencing NZ social policy and politics, something like it is "better" to reward good work by adding points then punishing bad work by taking points away. But who knows, now I'm just philosophically digging. Sorry I couldn't be more detailed about the school system as a whole; if I get the chance I'll definitely do some research and post again with more info. Ciao for now!

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