New Zealand’s first school opens

12 August 1816

Archaeological remains of New Zealand's first school (Angela Middleton)

The new school stood beside missionary Thomas Kendall’s house in the small Church Missionary Society (Anglican) settlement at Hohi (Oihi) in the Bay of Islands which had been founded 18 months earlier.

The simple building measured about 10m x 6m and included an area for Māori students to sleep and a cordoned-off platform for teachers and Pākehā students. It was constructed of kahikatea boards pit-sawn by mission workers. A fireplace with a brick chimney provided for heating and cooking.

Some lessons had been taught earlier in a communal house erected in the first months of the mission. Kendall’s school opened with 33 students aged between seven and 20; eight months later the roll peaked at 70. The curriculum was mainly rote learning of the alphabet and syllables, missionary-constructed Māori grammar and catechisms.

Maintaining discipline among the free-spirited scholars proved impossible. Attendance varied with the supply of food, and after this dwindled in late 1818 the school closed and the building became the mission store. Attempts to educate young Māori were abandoned until after the founding of a mission station at nearby Kerikeri in 1819.

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