George Hogben


George Hogben was head of the Department of Education from 1899 until 1915. He helped bring New Zealand's education system into line with the most advanced educational theory and practice of the time. He also became New Zealand's foremost authority on seismology and in 1899 became honorary Government Seismologist. But it was in educational reform that he made his greatest mark.

During his time as a teacher of mathematics, science, English and French at Christchurch Boys' High School and Rector of Timaru Boys' High School, Hogben emphasised ‘natural’ teaching methods. These methods encouraged ‘learning by doing’.

As Inspector-General of Schools and Secretary for Education from 1899, Hogben introduced free secondary education despite opposition from many of the more exclusive schools. District high schools were introduced to ensure country children had better access to post-primary schooling. Bursaries and scholarships increased access to universities.

In 1904 Hogben introduced a revolutionary new primary school syllabus. Practical teaching was stressed at the expense of grammar and arithmetic. Health instruction, physical and moral teaching also became mandatory. Through effective means of communication with inspectors, education boards and teachers he was able to achieve widespread support for his reforms. The teaching profession was also placed on a stronger footing with the introduction of a qualification gained from a training college in one of the four main centres.

By 1904 Hogben’s health was suffering through overwork. In 1907 he returned from  a study tour of Europe and North America and set about consolidating the reforms he had introduced. Further reforms were stymied by the outbreak of the First World War in 1914.

In January 1915 he was appointed New Zealand's first Director of Education and his services were recognised with a knighthood. But a few months later he announced his retirement from the public service. The war took a severe personal toll with two of his sons killed in service.

In retirement Hogben devoted himself mainly to his scientific and mathematical hobbies. His standing in the scientific community was recognised when he was chosen as one of the 20 original fellows of the New Zealand Institute (now the Royal Society of New Zealand) in November 1919.

George Hogben died in April 1920 at his home in Khandallah, Wellington. He was survived by his wife and two of his six sons.

Adapted from the DNZB biography by Herbert Roth

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