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New Zealand - History & Background

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New Zealand is a European settler democracy in which the indigenous people comprises about 15 percent of the population. The education system is almost entirely English instructed and British derived. By the standards of the colonial civilization the education system has achieved some outstanding results in terms of the general level of education and the attainments of the educated elites who have included Nobel prize winners, innumerable eminent researchers and professors, and notable cultural and scientific savants among their ranks.

As New Zealand enters the postcolonial age in a globalized economy, this rather traditional educational structure has come under both cultural and financial strain. It may require substantial renovation before it can serve the nation into the twenty-first century as well as it did for most of the twentieth.

The territory of New Zealand comprises three major islands—South Island, North Island and Stewart Island in descending size—and a number of smaller islands that stretch across the Southwest Pacific Ocean and 1,600 kilometers from north to south. The land mass is 268,000 square kilometers, which is 10 percent larger than the United Kingdom. It was formed geologically by a part of Gondwanaland breaking off and relocating at the collision fault of the Australian and Pacific tectonic plates. It is temperate, wet, and windy; much of its land is very fertile alluvial washed down from several of its volcanic and mountainous regions.

New Zealand was first settled by Polynesian maritime explorers, now known as Maori, about 1,000 years ago. They created a tribal based society of hunters, farmers, and fishermen. They knew some of the territory as Aotearoa.

Europeans started to visit the islands in the seventeenth century but only established regular contact in the late eighteenth century. By the early nineteenth century, Europeans were scattered throughout the islands as traders, whalers, sealers, miners, missionaries, and escapees from Britain's convict settlements nearby. They came to know the land by the term the Dutch had given it: New Zealand.

Conflict continued between the Europeans and Maori and within each community. It got worse with the rapid spread of European military technology. The British used the resulting threat of "anarchy" to advance their political and imperial control.

In 1840 the colony of New Zealand was established under the British Crown. At first it was briefly administered from Sydney, then it became a colony in its own right. Many of the Maori tribal chiefs acceded to this under the 1840 Treaty of Waitangi, which gave Britain sovereignty in exchange for the protection of certain Maori rights. The meaning of the terms of the Treaty signed in English and European-concocted, written Maori are still in dispute.

After 1840, European colonization, dominated by the British, and Scots among them, proceeded rapidly and a great deal of Maori land was relinquished under circumstances that varied from sale to annexation under force. Maori often resisted and were crushed, occasionally in organized warfare. The Maori population also declined both relatively and absolutely under the impact of disease and dispossession. It fell from perhaps 100,000 people in the early nineteenth century—against 2,000 Europeans—to 30,000 people by the onset of the twentieth century and remained concentrated in traditional marae, or villages.

The Europeans developed a colonial economy based on pastoral industry, particularly wool, and then mining, especially gold in the South Island. In the early twentieth century, European New Zealanders had probably the highest standard of living in the world based on exporting these primary products to Britain, to whom they had a strong political and emotional attachment. They also developed a democratic colonial state, which introduced female suffrage for the first time in the world in 1893. This state was used to regulate industry and develop an egalitarian social system. After 1935, this was extended by the Labor Party government to create the world's first and arguably most extensive welfare state. This included a very extensive system of education.

From the 1920s onwards the Maori moved into the European economy and its urban centers, until by the 1980s more than 80 percent of them were living in urban settlements. During the same time Polynesians from other Pacific countries migrated to New Zealand in increasing numbers. Since the 1980s many Asians have also moved to New Zealand, particularly in the first half of the 1990s, although the numbers have dropped off since then as a result of tighter restrictions and economic recession.

In 1973 the United Kingdom, still easily New Zealand's largest market, joined the European Community and under its common agricultural policy phased out privileged New Zealand access to the British market. The New Zealand economy has been in frequent recession and almost continuous relative decline since then but has tried to adjust to this by deregulating its economy. This philosophy of liberalization has been the main point of political contention during that time and has impacted education policies. In 2000 the GDP was slightly more than NZ$100 billion, or NZ$27,000 (US$13,700) per capita.

The population of New Zealand in 2001 is about 3.8 million people. Of these about 15 percent are classified as Maori, about 5 percent as other Pacific Islanders, and about 5 percent as Asian. Most of the rest are of British descent, with a few Dutch and Croatians. New Zealand has an active immigration policy but also a strong flow of emigration. During recent years about 70,000 people have left the country annually, about half directly to Australia with which New Zealand has agreements that permit a free flow of people. At the end of 2000, some 450,000 New Zealanders lived permanently in Australia. This outflow has been matched in most years by a larger flow of immigrants coming from the United Kingdom, South Africa, and various Asian and Pacific Island countries.

New Zealand - Constitutional Legal Foundations [next]

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