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           Home >  Culture  > Education  :

Educators Who Changed The Face Of New Zealand Education
Various Contributors - 21/1/00

Two well-known educators write about three oustanding men in their field.

Dr C. E. Beeby
It isn't difficult to choose the greatest achiever in New Zealand education during the past century. Dr C. E. Beeby stands head and shoulders above the rest for his wide range of achievements, mainly as Director of Education for more than twenty years, but for much more as well.

He arrived as a migrant from Yorkshire at the age of four, was educated in Christchurch where he was strongly influenced by the progressivist Professor of Education, James Shelley, before returning to Britain to advance his studies in Psychometrics and gain his Ph.D. from the University of Manchester.

His professional advancement back in New Zealand was rapid, from responsibility for the Psychology Laboratory at Canterbury, to the new post of Director of the New Zealand Council of Educational Research and then to the Department of Education where he was appointed director at the very young age of 38 in 1940.

With characteristic energy and from a scholarly base, Beeby set about reforming the sterile, formal, examination-ridden New Zealand education system. Under his guidance schools became more pupil centred and the curriculum geared to the broad needs of the community and not just the favoured few. Teachers became better educated and more able to stimulate the critical faculties and creative potential of pupils.

After Beeby retired from the New Zealand Education Department, he remained remarkably productive almost up to the time of his death at the age of 96 in 1998. He became Deputy Director of UNESCO, Visiting Professor at the University of London and New Zealand Ambassador to France. He pioneered work on education in developing countries, he wrote extensively and was a witty and persuasive speaker.

As one of this country's great achievers, he was also a friendly, approachable and kindly man who gave great encouragement to others in his field.


  1. Beeby, C.E (1992) The Biography of an Idea. Wellington: NZCER
  2. Carter, I (1993). Gadfly . Auckland: University of Auckland Press
  3. Beeby, C.E (1996). The Quality of Education in Developing Countries . Cambridge: Harvard University Press
  4. Alcorn, N (1999). To the Fullest Extent of his Powers. Wellington: Victoria University Press
  5. McKenzie, D (1999). Review of Alcorn, N (see 4 above). Dunedin

Recommended by Jim Lovett, Retired Principal, Palmerston North Teachers College, New Zealand

Bill Renwick
William Leslie Renwick (b 1929) was also Director General of Education (1975-1988). In the introduction to Renwick's book, "Moving Targets: Six Essays on Educational Policy" 1986, Beeby writes "He is, in the first place, a scholar, but a scholar with administrative experience at the highest level, equally at home in academia and in the office of the senior bureaucrat. He has had experience in the no-man's land between academia and bureaucracy where advisory commissions and committees sit and search for links between the two worlds."

In "Targets" 1986 Renwick suggests that there were three distinct periods in the history of New Zealand education over the past fifty or sixty years.

Pre-War - when education was thought of as schooling to benefit individuals.
Post-War - when the education system was seen as an instrument of social policy, and equality of educational opportunity was the watchword.
Post-May 1968 (the student revolution) - when people gradually realised that "education is not a neutral value-free activity" and school systems were subject to keen criticism.

In all of these periods Renwick was involved in the education system, receiving his own primary education in the pre-war period, his secondary education during the war, his teacher training and teaching service in the post-war period, and working for the Department of Education during the third period.

In 1964 Bill Renwick, George Parkyn and I worked together on an influential paper - a blueprint for standardised tests for New Zealand primary schools - the forerunner of the Progressive Achievement Tests used in the seventies and early eighties.

Working with Bill you couldn't help admiring his ability. He had a tremendous capacity for hard work, but still found time for recreational interests, especially music. He was one of the founders of the National Youth Choir of New Zealand. Although he carried such a heavy workload he and his wife were very sociable and hospitable and the house was always full of music.

Like Beeby and Parkyn, Renwick had talents that were recognised outside New Zealand. He was a member of the New Zealand National Commission for UNESCO from 1971to 1990 and served as chairman from 1983 to 1989. He was also on the UNESCO Advisory Committee on Education for the Asia-Pacific Region 1980 -1987 and the Council of the University of the South Pacific 1971-1988.

His work was acknowledged in a number of awards, and in 1988 he was awarded a CBE and the ANZAAS Mackie Medal for distinguished work in education in Australasia.

Renwick's best known publications are:

  • Moving Targets: Six Essays on Educational Policy . Wellington NZCER 1986
  • The Treaty Now . GP Books 1990

George Parkyn
George Parkyn was another outstanding educator. He was born in 1910, educated at Pleasant Point District High School, and trained as a teacher at the Christchurch Teachers College. During his first ten years teaching in primary and secondary schools he completed his M.A. in English and French at Canterbury University College in 1933, and a second M.A. in Edcuation at Otago University College in 1937.

With this rich background of practical experience and academic qualifications he moved into lecturing in education at Otago University from 1939 to 1947. Awarded a Carnegie Fellowship he studied in Britain and Europe and returned to New Zealand to work as a research officer and then as Director of the New Zealand Council for Educational Research.

Like Beeby and Renwick his work took him overseas to conferences and for work for UNESCO. The varied projects for which he undertook research included an international thesaurus of educational keywords for data retrieval and background papers for the 1970 International Conference on Educational Wastage.

In 1968 the University of Canterbury awarded him a Litt.D. for his published research.

From 1969 to 1971 he was a visiting Professor at Stanford University and from 1972 till his retirement in 1977 he was Professor and Head of the Department of Comparative Education, Institute of Education, University of London.

He returned to New Zealand on his retirement and remained actively involved in education lecturing and in researching giftedness in children and aesthetic theory until motor neurone disease finally restricted his activities in 1991 and caused his death in 1993.

His published papers covered many aspects of education including measuring intelligence, the education of isolated children in New Zealand, correspondence education, the schooling of Maori children, and lifelong education.

As a person he was warm, cooperative and interested in people. One could not help but feel one was in the presence of a man of remarkable ability.

The books of which he is sole author are:

  • Children of high intelligence: A New Zealand study : Wellington: NZCER 1948, 2nd impression 1953
  • The consolidation of rural schools . Wellington: NZCER,1952
  • Success and failure at the university, Vol. I, Academic performance and the entrance standard. Wellington: NZCER, 1959, and Vol II, The problem of failure. Wellington: NZCER, 1967

Recommended by Raymond Harrison
Ray Harrison retired as Assistant Director, Extension Studies, University of Canterbury after a lifetime of teaching at all levels of the education sector from new entrants to tertiary and adult education.

Beeby, Renwick and Parkyn - these three leaders in the field of education extended the scope of educational research in New Zealand, forged links with researchers and educational institutions overseas, brought about many changes in New Zealand schools and changed the attitudes to education of many New Zealanders.

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