Comparative Education 2011: New Zealand

Eileen Schroeder, Ph.D and Anne Zarinnia, Ph.D. Education Foundations
University of Wisconsin Whitewater

This year's trip was an adventure for everyone. After leading groups of professional teachers and librarians to Scotland, we took over the reins of the New Zealand program from the able hands of Barbara and George Mischio and Tony Truog, who led the program for many years. With their advice, we contacted the liaisons in New Zealand, made the arrangements for student placements, set up the seminars with local experts, and learned about a country and an education system new to both of us. With the welcoming personality and attention to student needs of Terry Behlke, our Program Assistant, her wonderful organizational skills and extensive knowledge and insights from coordinating the experiences over many years, we recruited and registered participants. By the time we arrived in New Zealand in early June 2012, we were ready to gather the group, meet new colleagues and explore and learn ourselves.

Our liaisons provided invaluable help and insights. First, we met with Whetu Cormick in Dunedin, who has been a liaison for the New Zealand visits for many years. After his own experience visiting tribal areas in Wisconsin, he has strong insights and an enthusiasm for the sustained connection. While we didn't have any participants choosing the South Island this year, we found Dunedin a fascinating city with its Scottish influence, striking location at the head of an estuary, a jumping off point for the Antarctic, hilly streets, Cadbury chocolate factory, great museums and welcoming people. In addition to visiting Whetu's school, we went to an inspiring small primary school outside the city at Outram, whose principal had presented at a conference in the US. We also explored the wonders of the area from the albatross chicks, penguins and fur seal colonies of the Otago Pennisula to the Moeraki Boulders.

Left to Right:  New Zealand Fur Seals, Royal Albatross Chick, Eileen and Anne, Moeraki Boulders, Peggy Stedman at the Allen Centre(Outram), Otago Map, Allen Centre Skull Display
Fur Seals   albatross

Anne and Eileen

Eileen Schroeder and Anne Zarinnia


moeraki boulders
Outram skulls
View Larger Map

Exploring the geography of South Island on our way to Auckland, we took a train ride from Dunedin through the Taieri Gorge, with its Tea Tree covered slopes, and, at the end of the line, continued by mini bus across the wilds of the South Island (including a one lane bridge that was used by both road and rail traffic) to Queenstown. There, we boarded a bus to Milford Sound and went through deep valleys with jagged snow-covered peaks, long and low white rolls of cloud and lovely rivers. We enjoyed a beautiful sunny day to sail down Milford Sound (a fjord) into the Tasman Sea. Our plane from Queenstown up to Auckland flew very low due to the ash cloud from a volcano in Chile, so we could see the snowcapped mountains on one side of the plane and the sea on the other.

Aoteoroa - "The land of the long white cloud"

In the Auckland Airport, we met four of the eight expected participants, who came on Air New Zealand. The others who flew on Quantas had been delayed by the ash cloud's disruption of air traffic in Australia and New Zealand. After a hectic few days of many changed flights, we finally got everyone to New Zealand and into the school placements. We moved out from Auckland to Russell to visit the schools in Paihia and Russell. William Fuller and David Rogers, principals at the two schools, made our students welcome and involved them in school activities. We were struck by the happy environments, interdisciplinary learning, student independence and close connections to the community that were evident in both schools. In our spare time, we had a chance to explore the history of Russell, the first permanent European settlement and sea port and now a vacation spot for sailors and fishermen; Waitangi, the site of the signing of the Treaty of Waitangi between the Maori and the British; and Cape Reinga where the Pacific meets the Tasman Sea and where, with happy coincidence, we met several of the students. Then it was down to Ngunguru Primary School to meet with Principal Rick Sayer and our two teachers in Ngunguru. Built right along the estuary, this school incorporates the world around it into student learning – even ringing the bell for the whole school to jump into the sea with the dolphins when they arrive. This is a different world, with tsunami evacuation routes posted in the school's entrance. Then, it was back to Auckland with a brief detour to the west coast to see the giant Kauri trees and visit the Kauri Museum.

Te Whare Runanga, Maori Meeting House in Waitangi Treaty Grounds


TePuia(Rotorua): National Weaving and Carving Scools and the Agrodome
weave carve

In Auckland, Jennie Stewart, principal of Sunnybrae Normal School, made us feel welcome at her school, invited us for dinner and joined us as a speaker for the seminar. As a group, we traveled to Rotorua, a community in the middle of a caldera with steaming, bubbling pools, to experience a Maori hongi and performance, tour the national weaving and carving schools, observe a geyser erupting, and visit the Agrodome. There we were introduced to a wide range of sheep and learned about the country's sheep industry. Our time together ended back in Auckland, where Anna Sullivan from Cognition Education shared her work on Maori learners. Her presentation and argument that what is good for the Maori minority is also good for all students was a useful and thought provoking review of the research on the performance of minority students.

Jennie Stewart

Jennie Stewart, Principal
Sunnybrae Normal School


Auckland Harbour from the Sky Tower, with Rangitoto island in the distance


Anne Sullivan, Cognition Inc.

After the final seminar, the participants scattered all over New Zealand and Australia, again having to work around travel delays due to the ash cloud which was making its second trip around the globe. We headed south to Wellington by train to visit several more schools as potential sites in Wellington for future visits.. Our last few days were spent enjoying the capital city, the national museum, the Weta Cave, where many of the special effects for the Lord of the Rings were created, and the Executive and Parliament buildings with their earthquake proof construction in the basement.

Wellington Cable car, High School Library, Original Cathedral, Wellington Bay
cable car High School Old cathedral
Wellington Bay

Our whirlwind month in New Zealand drew to an end, and we immediately started dreaming about the next time we could visit this fascinating country, make the acquaintance of more kiwis, learn more about its schools, and explore its many natural wonders. It was a month that left us wondering at the landscapes and wildlife, the merging of cultures, and the strong sense of elementary schools with happy, active children, shorter days, longer years and world quality performance.

Finally, to everyone's disbelief, we actually saw a real Kiwi at night on a back country road near Russell!

Anne Zarinnia and Eileen Schroeder, 2012
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Dept Education Foundations, University of Wisconsin Whitewater