#aWaterStory: The Artist in Residence Project Begins

…but more importantly, I became another person to them when I used their language. I stepped through the veil to be closer to them.


For the first time in a while, I didn’t feel like I was on my own striving to make something happen. I’d become pretty down – probably lacking energy and faith, which periodically happens.

A group of teachers had met with me to be informed about the Artist in Residence and multi media/lingual project I will be spearheading at the school next week. We ran the meeting in Spanish which was fun because a number fo the teachers had never heard me speak their language (we usually ran our classes in English as that’s the langauge we’re working on). They were impressed with my level, which was nice, but more importantly, I became another person to them when I used their language. I stepped through the veil to be closer to them.

I found myself watching as the idea I had proposed was being taken on. I was looking for the first time at companions and co-makers. What made it easier was tht I was presenting a story and a project of investigation about themselves – a great flood that had covered most of the city and ruined part of it in 1961.

I watched as the group began to discuss their recollections and knowledge, one whatsapped her mother to see what she knew and was feeding us with information. We discovered that an elderly nun of the college was here at the time and the school itself was flooded with a metre of water. The history teacher was getting enthused at the prospect of oral history collecting and the cultural value of the exercise.

I insisted too that the project is about the process – I will be documenting as much as I can, so that teachers can reflect on how it goes, where learning happened, where it didn’t, how they teach, how langauge is dealt with, how learners are supported, or not. As an artist I’ll be reflecting on how we communicate, how we connect with community, the content itself adn our responses in video and in my own visual work.

Identity Series Part IV: I am a Disconnect

Identity Series Part IV: I am a Disconnect: The verbous and eloquent person that I might be at the dinner table in my own community has become a less talkative one, well practiced at nodding, ohhing and ahhing in agreement with conversations, so deftly covering up the fact that I haven’t actually understood 100% of it, I hardly notice. My habit of filling in the gaps with soft gauze is refined, as an illiterate person is at hiding their disability. Defaulting into the state of disconnect .

Image: “The Disconnect” mixed media on linen, by Emma Louise Pratt. Reuse by permission of the artist.

A few days ago I watched a short video on a news feed of women in the UK reacting to David Cameron’s insistance that immigrants should “learn English or leave”.

I particularly liked one reaction of an immigrant, which was to state that the English had never made much effort to learn the languages of the countries they had colonised. It was my default reaction to “like” this, given my New Zealand experience of what colonisation does.

In the late nineteenth century, Māori children were told to leave their language at the door of the classroom and only speak in English at school. It was reinforced with admonishments and corporal punishment in some schools. Parents wanted them to have the economic and social advantages of being educated in and through English. It came with a cultural price.

As a language teacher, we still insist that learners try only to use the language they are learning in the classroom and not fall back on their mother tongues – luckily for most, corporal punishment is a thing of the past!

Learning the language of the host country, the invaders or the economically dominant

Being forced or coerced into learning the language of the host country, the invaders or the economically dominant is nothing new. Two thousand years ago, Romans who could, were having their children educated in Greek. It gave their children access to superior education and the economic benefits that trading with the Greeks and any greek influenced area afforded.

My own Great Great Grandfather learnt his lessons in another language -French. He would have spoken his indigenous Jèrriais tongue in everyday life on the island of Jersey outside the classroom. Jèrriais*** is an ancient form of Norman language which falls under the umbrella of Romance Languages. He also studied German, and was at home in Hebrew and Ancient Greek. As his father was English, he could speak English fluently too which wasn’t so common. Lucky for him though, as he was going to need it. Native Gaelic speakers of the Hebrides even into the 1970s were instructed in English as the vehicular language. Children were expected to know English by the time they started school.

After eleven years spent in a country where the main language spoken is not my mother tongue, speaking from my personal experience, failing to try to learn that dominant language, politics aside, only leads to cultural and social isolation. And very importantly, it severely restricts your liberties.

I am an immigrant. Living on the edges of a society at times it seems. When local friends ask me about how I get on, I liken not being fluent, to living with a level of hearing loss. I am lucky to have reached a sufficient level to manage daily life without trouble now. It’s taken time, and I can see that the edges of this host community where I live, ebb and flow like a tide. Sometimes I feel fully integrated, other days like a complete outsider.

Not fully understanding a language limits how you can function in a new community. It makes dealing with a bank, the tax department, buying a home, a car, getting a licence, studying, all harder. Here, I’m more likely to be cheated. And imagine not knowing your rights? Your rights and those of your children to health care, to safety? Often, because you can’t engage, other people end up doing things for you. Your personal sovereignty is handed over.

You become so accustomed to the loss, you stop noticing it.

This daily helplessness with dealing with a world outside your own community grows and takes you over. Even after all these years, and with a good command of the language, I still cannot function at the level of my native tongue in terms of wit and quickness, nuance and shades of meaning. The verbous and eloquent person that I might be at the dinner table in my own native language has become a less talkative one, well practiced at nodding, ohhing and ahhing in agreement with conversations, so deftly covering up the fact that I haven’t actually understood 100% of it, I hardly notice. My habit of filling in the gaps with soft gauze is refined, as an illiterate person is at hiding their disability. Defaulting into the state of disconnect .

A much loved mentor of mine once said, and I often remind myself of it, that a body of water that is fed by no stream and goes nowhere, becomes stagnant.

How can I reach out and know another world or point of view if I haven’t got the language skills to engage? We may find the language to be the language of the occupiers, but if it is the only vehicle to freedom, what choice have we?

The problem, when I see people being forced into learning a language, is that they won’t learn it well, and certainly won’t love it. I’ve experienced it as a teacher first hand. It’s heart-breaking. Language is a taonga**. I side with immigrant woman against David Cameron in this. How many languages do you speak David?

In Spain, young children, my four year old daughter’s age, are attending English language classes after school. Much like their ancestors of the Roman Empire, parents hope to give their children an advantage in the competitive job market, and it’s obligatory to have an upper intermediate level of a foreign language to be able to graduate from university in the European Union. The wheels of history turn.

My Great Great Grandfather left his island at age fifteen to go to the Australian gold fields with his parents. He continued to study languages and became a teacher, moving to New Zealand. The final language he became fluent in and loved was Te  Reo Māori*. He died in 1913.


*A national census undertaken in 2013 suggests there were approximately 125,000 speakers of Māori (around 21 % of all Māori and around 3 % of all people living in NZ). However, the survery Te Kupenga undertaken by Statistics NZ in 2013 suggests there were approximately 50,000 (11 %) Māori adults who could speak Māori well or very well. Many of the very fluent speakers of Māori were likely to be over 65 years old.

Moriori, an earlier indigenous language is now extinct and has not had any native speakers since the 1930s (though the language has been recorded reasonably extensively in written form).


**taonga – treasure

***The latest figures come from the Jersey Annual Social Survey issued on 5 December 2012.- 18% of the population could speak some Jèrriais words and phrases with more than 7% of those over 65 being fluent or able to speak a lot of Jèrriais. Two-thirds of adults said that they could not understand spoken Jèrriais, but more than a quarter are able to understand some, and 5% more can usually or fully understand someone speaking Jèrriais. 4% of people said that they could write some Jèrriais, although under 1% could write fluently. Just under a third (32%) said that they could understand something written in Jèrriais.




Clara and the homework: A conversation among friends.

Clara and the Homework: I put the call out on Facebook, linked a couple of friends I could think of to get the ball rolling and this is the conversation we had in our international community about learning and homework. People I know based in various parts of the world replied. Most were New Zealanders, many with partners from different cultures, either the local culture where we lived, or, in the case of the Middle East folk, both were immigrant/ex-pats of different cultures.

“E nga tangata huri noa ki Aotearoa me te ao, whakarongo mai. Por favor. I know many of you are getting your PJs on and heading for the bed, but I have a question for anyone with a 6 year old in your life. What homework are they expected to do? What concepts in mathematics are they expected to know at this age? Is it too easy? Too hard? Just right? (I know one size doesn’t fit all) I’m seeing my daughter Clara’s teacher today about the quantities of homework she’s getting and I would like your perspective.”

I put the call out on Facebook, linked a couple of friends I could think of to get the ball rolling and this is the conversation we had in our international community about learning and homework. People I know based in various parts of the world replied. Most were New Zealanders, many with partners from different cultures, either the local culture where we lived, or, in the case of the Middle East folk, both were immigrant/ex-pats of different cultures.

First to answer, because she was probably already in her PJs with her cocoa was Leanne…

Leanne (Hutt Valley, New Zealand)  My thoughts are that a 5/6 year old shouldn’t have any homework except book reading. A day at school is enough for them to deal with. My parents teachers for over 25 years would agree. Next year a little maths as well but that’s all…
Hame (Palmerston North I, New Zealand) My kids get pushed to do a little more, but DJ(7) loved doing well and doing extra so that was easy, Bri (6) on the other hand… Also kids do extra maths, reading and writing on top of what school gives them. Not onerous, but have seen the positive results…
Fi (Wellington, New Zealand) E get’s a homework sheet per week which has reading, basic maths revision, and some literacy exercises. They also do Mathletics which is a fun computer programme to support learning. The kids enjoy it though. I’m with Leanne, that I don’t think homework very young is that helpful. It was always much more stress creating for J and A. I tried to have a chilled out hands off approach – basically they have to learn to be self motivated to do it. That has now paid off I think.
E’s also really conscientious – likes to get it done quickly and yip – she likes the challenge too.

ELP (New Zealander in Seville, Spain) Good point Fiona, kids here are spoon fed (I feel) – they have their parents on top of them from day one because parents feel this pressure to get good grades! The thing is it spirals – the kids all compare – if we don’t keep up, Clara will no do so well which won’t look good among her peers.

Ar (Palmerston North, New Zealand) Hi Em, T 6 and N 8 have reading every night, and every now and then a maths problem for the family to work on. T also has his poetry book- more reading and an activity sheet that comes home daily but is completed at school. Studies support that reading at home is beneficial, maths not so much in these early years. We extend our kids learning through play, drawing, activity books. Some kids love homework I guess..I imagine Clara will want to be and do the same as her peers though..perhaps check the curriculum. Best of luck discussing Clara’s needs with her teacher.

ELP Thanks A, I agree with the reading -story time is gold – and Clara has even started reading English out of her own desire to try – and reading well with amazing intuition – I’m so surprised, but the problem is I don’t think the curriculum is on my side. We’ll see how we can take the middle road somewhere.

(New Zealander based in Germany) In Germany they don’t even start school until they’re 6 or 7, and Kindergarten is reserved strictly for play-based learning (there are some relevant milestones they pay attention to there, like being able to count, quantify relative amounts of e.g. blocks etc. and so on, but this seems to be done in a relaxed way with the awareness that kids reach these milestones at different paces).

When they start school, however, it’s a completely different story – they are thrown straight into the deep end. A big shift in culture, from being encouraged to play independently to suddenly having to sit still and do what the teacher tells you, and a very tightly packed curriculum involving a steep learning curve in the areas of literacy and numeracy which require considerable amounts of homework and parental involvement (those who fall behind have to repeat the year – this applies from the 1st class).

The only alternative to keeping up with the system is to step sideways into something like Waldorf / Steiner / Montessori. The pressure on kids and teachers to get through the curriculum is increasingly regarded as problematic, especially since the system clearly privileges families where at least one parent is a native speaker of German and has considerable time, energy and patience to dedicate to getting through several hours of homework a week (on top of “Ganztag” (full) school days from 8:00am to 16:15pm).

My (limited) experience of Latin learning environments (in Brazil) is that they start the three Rs much earlier (with 4 years or so), meaning that they lose those years of play-based learning, and that they police the milestones quite rigidly from the beginning.

ELP You got it, they start earlier. I didn’t expect there to be so many parallels between Germany and Spain in terms of pressure cooking. And you’re right too that bi and multi lingual families have to fit that extra aspect in. We are one of three families in the entire school (infants through to secondary) where one of the parents isn’t a native Spanish speaker.

(New Zealander based in Germany) In T’s class at the beginning there were at least 6 families where one or both parents weren’t native speakers – and 3 of those kids had to repeat the first year…. It’s now a big topic too because of refugees – there are currently 6,750 refugees living in Dusseldorf (pop. 600,000), and all the kids have to be integrated somehow into this very competitive school system….

ELP That’s the big one for you guys, a long term issue. The refugees are now German residents. We need to remember that.

Some outside sources came in :

(Bay of Plenty, New Zealand)
John Buell (2004) puts it: ‘… for a practice as solidly entrenched as homework, the scholarly case on its behalf is surprisingly weak and even contradictory.’




(Australian based in Seville, Spain)
O has loads of homework too. She’s even doing long addition and subtraction. The worst part is the shitloads of colouring in on top of it. It isn’t even creative or free. I write a note if she doesn’t do it all saying she couldn’t finish it because she was busy playing with plasticine or kicking a football in the park.


Heather (based in Wellington, New Zealand)  T’s six now. She started at a Montessori in California and had a lot of homework, often taking 1-2 hours but she learnt reading, writing and maths in about 6 months. Now we’re back in NZ, it’s pretty chilled, just reading easy books/poems.
Hame There are other, intangible benefits to doing homework, like learning to sit down quietly and work at something independently, reading for reading sake.. Its like a sport or activity you enjoy… if you didn’t work at it (shooting hoops, playing hockey, doing forms in martial arts) then you can’t get any better. .. Overloading at a young age is an issue, I agree, but having no homework is a little too far the other way.

(Australian based in Seville, Spain) I think it’s up to us as parents to decide when too much is too much…when it becomes a battle to do it maybe it’s time to do some other activity. They are too little or tired sometimes to do it all on top of full school day.

(New Zealander based in Germany)…also in defence of homework (just to play devil’s advocate!): the general quality of education in Germany is high in a way that translates for instance into a critical and varied media environment (including prime-time debates on complex and highly politicised issues like legalising prostitution and investor-state dispute resolution where people who disagree actually go point-for-point through each other’s arguments instead of just insulting each other, unlike in other places I’ve lived!) I guess this doesn’t have nothing to do with kids having to tackle a demanding curriculum under a certain amount of pressure….

Re the talk with the teacher: they might also be under externally imposed pressure to cover a certain number of topics during the school year – could this be what’s behind the large amount of homework (as it seems to be in my son’s case)? If so, your best bet may be to get hold of the textbook(s) they’re following and figure out either how to make the homework that is given out more fun and interesting, or come up with your own alternatives so she gets the same learning outcomes under her belt in a way that better suits you both ...I mean I reckon you’ll be better off trying to work with her than by pointing out failures in the system that she’s probably only too aware of herself;)


(Teacher in a UK Curriculum School in Jerez, Spain) Does the school have homework policies? Good place to start! The problem we have is that parents push for homework.


(New Zealanders in Abu Dhabi) Maya & Sammy go to an IB school here, Sammy’s in grade 1 (6 years old) and it’s been fairly manageable so far, mainly just a book at his level to read each night, plus he’s had one biggish project to do which was a bit of research about a typical kid from his home country. Plus 5 minutes of Arabic homework every week, which is basically copy these words onto the page. Very mind-numbing. Maya, phew, grade 2, they really step it up, and as well as reading a book every night, there’s the 5 mins of Arabic like Sammy, plus three biggish tasks each week, one Maths, one related to their current unit of inquiry, and one related to language. It gets a bit stressful, to be honest. Maya’s super diligent and tries her hardest to get everything done, but she complains about feeling stressed out about it!! Aaargh. Sammy would be totally lost, so luckily for him, we’ll be in NZ next year and here’s hoping it’s a bit less intense.

Oh… and… as Yvonne mentions, it’s the parents that seem to push for it, and interestingly, often some of the Spanish-speaking parents. One who took her kids out of the IB school into a more traditional set-up, as she felt that they weren’t getting enough homework!! Whaaa??? I’ve heard other complaints along the lines of: why are our KG1s (4 years old) not getting books and maths homework to do? Tricky for the teachers to deal with.


(New Zealander in Australia) Alexander (6) just has his reading books each night, a Mathletics task to do for the week (10 mins worth), some spelling & a little bit of literacy either via Reading Eggs or an assignment. That sounds like lots but it’s not. We do one homework night a week, prob takes 30 mins max & leave the rest of the week free for just the reading book & play time. I repeat only the spelling words he doesn’t know through the week. Mathletics and Reading Eggs are online Educational tools for Maths, Reading and literacy. Reading Eggs is Australian, created by the Australian Broadcasting Company and Mathletics may be international.


(New Zealand teacher in Australia) I agree, any homework should be an exception not a rule!


(Northland, New Zealand) We just took the school up on the option to opt our 7 year old & 9 year old out of homework on the basis they had too many other activities (karate, gymnastics) after school.


(Wellington, New Zealand) And more generally homework at that age is really too much on top of a full school day. My two cents !


Pauline (Wellington, New Zealand) For our family and at that age we did the homework when it suited us (which was hardly ever). I wasn’t worried about the academics because they were practicing in everyday-life – stories at bedtime, going to the supermarket, baking a cake, posting a letter, talking about stuff, asking questions, going places and seeing & doing things…..

Finishing a worksheet in class time (or before the end of the week) is about speed and quantity and we found first-hand that that can cause problems down the track – perhaps Clara isn’t speedy because she’s being accurate or neat or double-triple checking (or daydreaming) and perhaps children are finishing quickly but with poor ‘quality’ – you just have to finish to get a green sticker, right?

If the homework habit is important to you then moderate it – you need to do some sums but only 5 more, not all of them – we will work on one spelling word each day, and then use the heck out of it, spell it front ways, back ways, use it in sentences, make a pun, think of all the words that sounds the same or mean the same – do it verbally.

The comparing between students is another issue and should be considered under peer pressure strategies. Another student’s work is no one else’s business. What are ways to build confidence for her to not engage with comparisons? Tell kids to mind their own business or to be up front about “in our family we do homework this way” – and for you to be confident in that too. You’re a multicultural family.


(CHCH, New Zealand) We are encouraged to do reading with our 6 year old. She brings school books home and we tick off when she reads 20 minutes as a guideline. She can read out loud with us or quietly by herself.

The kids also do a maths program on the iPad which makes it fun. And writing practice is something we do less frequently than we ought to. The limiting factor is parental time to supervise. There is no pressure from school. Sophie more often does at work on her own.


(Cambridge, New Zealand) Hi, H and P are 6 now and we just get a reading book each night which we make sure we read. We don’t get maths homework yet. There are work books which we can get from school if parents want their children to do extra homework. I got some but the girls didn’t want to do them so I didn’t push it.

I think at this age if children want to do it then that’s great but if they don’t that’s fine too. There have been a few documentaries on TV which suggest there is no evidence that doing homework has much effect at this age. Other people instead of homework think cooking a meal or baking or planting in the garden, activities like this are more beneficial.


A Side Step into Cultural Isolation Experiences of Ex-Pats

ELP A, I think as you might have said yourself, it’s possibly even more upsetting at a deeper level if the issue forms part of this “other” culture you live in, I think here also of immigrants anywhere, Aotearoa NZ, you and me navigating our particular circumstances, AC, your experience as a child going into our school. Speaking for myself, it’s upsetting because I can’t help but compare with what I know and it add to my sense of isolation.

(New Zealander based in Germany) Yes you are so right Emma, these kinds of issues (which seem to come up a lot around children!) can be the “make or break” of our love affairs with the places we live in. I could never have stayed in South America because, while there are many lovely and brilliant things about the people and cultures there, the ways of mothering I encountered were different to what I know and idealise to the point that I felt like an alien in the very places that would normally be main points of entry into local society (in front of the school gates, at kid’s birthday parties, etc.).

Whereas in Germany, while there are some quite big differences in terms of family life, schooling etc., I feel much more easily able to relate to the other school and kindergarten mums (despite my still-clumsy German and persistent inability to dress my kids appropriately for forecast weather!).

Attitude has something to do with it I guess: there are some basic values and habits that ya just gotta embrace or your frustration with them will eat you up!

ELP  Got to find ways to make it work positively or you’ll cut yourself off and make yourself miserable. I find that if I meet with other non-Andaluz/Spanish parents, we all sit around and complain, and that doesn’t get us anywhere -so I tend to avoid that.

But I have to be careful not to complain to local parents, because they’ll just think, bloody winging foreigner, if she doesn’t like it, she knows where the airport is!

I had a very productive talk with the teacher. The homework isn’t obligatory and the bi-weekly “exams” as the parents call them, are set because the parents have requested them in the past.


Why the Focus on Exams?

This is because the parents have been raised in an exam obsessed culture. An example of this deeply rooted exam culture is that the best, i.e. most secure (for life, no transparency, no questions asked) and coveted jobs in the country are gained by passing a state exam, not by proving you’re going to be any good in the job itself. Once you have that job, you have it for life. If you ask any teenager around here what they want to do, more that half will say they want to be a Funcionario – civil servant.

Clara’s teacher reassured me that these “tests” are taken very lightly as they don’t prove much to her about the effectiveness of her teaching and the children’s learning in the class. She knows that some parents are sitting there re-teaching at home to get the best marks. It all proves squat and she knows it. My confidence in her has risen. Feeling much better – for this year anyway.

(New Zealander based in Germany) A posted a news article that has been doing the rounds in the Euro village over the last week:
(Spain, this is embarrassing and why we need a BIG change.)

Well, you can see why these jobs are much-coveted! I guess the whole exam thing makes more sense in countries with populations the size of Germany and Spain, where you’ve got to have some shortcuts to sort out the chalk from the chaff. (Exams are probably also some sort of attempt to cut through nepotism, though no doubt not always successful).

Also the recent history – and present, in Spain – of mass unemployment of course makes people take finding jobs (and keeping them) very seriously. NZ’s comparatively laissez-faire education system and flexible employment market may reflect the fact that it is a tiny and currently very rich little economy that has been able to afford to rest on its laurels for a good few years…

ELP Having been outside of NZ for eleven years, I don’t know what kind of NZ I would be going back to. At the moment, I doubt we could even afford to go back. It seems to be a wealthy country for a few. As for employment, maybe a 24 year old could tell me about job prospects. But this is a whole other conversation.

But you are right, the competition is out there in a higher population – and in our region of Spain, with the highest unemployment rate, the pressure is on.

I need to gear my kids up to be ready for a bigger scenario than the local. I don’t know what our future is. We may all end up training to be farmers with my dad, and studying permaculture to be self-sustaining food growers in the deep south of New Zealand. Anyone with me?


Back to Homework

(New Zealander in Dubai) Right now I’m sitting in a coffee shop with Monika doing her homework. She gets it assigned once a week on a Thursday (last day of school/work) to be done by next Wednesday. We do it on the weekend over coffee and a fluffy for some daddy daughter bonding. It’s a good system as she’s always excited to do it. Some schools here have every evening homework and some have decided to have no homework. But I like doing some together each week.

Interesting to see the variations across countries and schools. Since it’s private here the amount of homework featured in our decision on which school. We wanted balance not hard core academia.

ELP If the kids want to do it, that’s the point, making it positive, interesting, motivating. Not against homework, not even against tricky stuff, as long as the kids are positively motivated to do it. Just checking, is this an IB (International Baccalaureate) school in Dubai?

(New Zealander in Dubai) UK curriculum. Agreed, need the right balance to keep them interested and give a sense of achievement when completed.

(New Zealander in Japan) Hi . Our children (7 and 10) get homework everynight. A few maths drills which for our oldest ranges from about 5 to 15mins. They then have to read a set text out loud to us which can take anywhere from 1 to about 10mins. If they have a test, then there is prep for that. Our youngest gets a few drills for his addition, some reading out loud and sometimes some character writing practice.

Homework can be completed in about 10 to 30mins, leaving time for playing outside, doing things they want to do like crafts of reading or rip-sticking with the locals.

We also try to instill some English skills in there, but are not really pushing that so much. The result is their English isn’t strong compared to others, but they are fairly communicative and I know that considering the time we put in, their results are not bad at all.

I agree with Hame, homework can have it’s place in child development, so long as it is balanced and not over bearing. For me, I think 30mins a night for a 10year old and 10mins a night for 7 year old is fine. More than that and I’d be cautious.

(Auckland, New Zealand) Ah homework, such a relevant topic this week. Our 8 year old (year 5) has weekly homework issued on a Friday due the following Thursday. There are some math equations at 2-3 levels, and he is required to try at the level he knows he can do. He needs to read for 20mins each night, record and write a brief comment in his reading log about the book. He then needs to choose 2 “can do” options from the four choices given. This week that involved writing a minimum of two paragraphs describing himself to a visiting alien, then he had to research an experiment to do at home, conduct it, write it up including the results. It doesn’t sound a lot but we find it challenging in between before school sports practices and after school sport and activities. We try to do almost all of it (bar nightly reading) on a Sunday knowing if we don’t it’s going to end in tired cross tears of frustration by Wednesday night. I am starting to sense the expectation for him to get it done is causing him to worry about it and not sleep well. Which worries us and we are monitoring closely.

Thank you to everyone who put your valued two cents worth in.

I think it’s interesting to consider that we are influenced by the different cultures within our families and partnerships and these influences inform our approaches to learning, where our children are concerned. Our Japanese or Spanish  may partners have a different take on “achievement” that we have to work in with. Either that or totally convince them how utterly misguided their culture is 😉

The culture and/or bubbles where we find ourselves or choose to be also mix it up. I don’t mean bubble in a negative sense. Ex-pats/immigrants, and I now certainly know, form these bubbles as a survival mechanism or as a comfort zone to retreat back to, after time at the front.

Identity Series Part III: La Nuera

I am a daughter-in-law (nuera). I popped in to my in-laws to pick up some medicine on my way home. They live across the road in another block of apartments.

Only a few years before my newly-wed parents went to enjoy the highlights of the small farming town of Taihape, New Zealand, my newly-wed parents-in-law went to live in the village of Monesterio in the hill country of southern Extremadura.  My father-in-law was opening a pharmacy, while my mother-in-law was going to her first teaching position in the newly opened, and first ever secondary school of the village. For the first time, local children who couldn’t afford to go to other towns to study, were going to receive higher education. She had many adult students in her classes.

In the nineteenth century  it was estimated that illiteracy in Spain was between 80% and 63%. Some site higher numbers. The early part of the twentieth century saw a lot of work done to turn this around. By the 1950’s, it had improved by about 15%. Statistics of school numbers, teacher training and resources are too depressing to even mention. Suffice to say, the political elite of the nineteenth century did not consider education of the masses to be important. Spain was a country of cultural poverty.

I like to sit with Pilar and Antonio, my parents-in-law, and hear their stories of life in the village. The village she describes sounds like something from the nineteenth century or worse. There was almost no street lighting, or running water or electricity. There were open sewerage drains.

The years of living here in Spain, and especially in the South, have taught me to appreciate the legacy of an education system. As early as the 1930s, pre-school, créche and kindergarten were being introduced in New Zealand. New Zealanders were enjoying high literacy rates and free education.

‘Every person, whatever his level of academic ability, whether he be rich or poor, whether he live in town or country, has a right, as a citizen, to a free education of the kind for which he is best fitted, and to the fullest extent of his powers’.

Acting Prime Minister Peter Fraser in 1939

My generation reaped the benefit of these policies, as did my parents and my grandparents.  When I huff and bristle about the antiquated Spanish education system that my children are currently learning in (it literally makes me cry), and wonder at the lack of resources and professional development of the teachers, I have to remind myself that when Peter Fraser was making this speech, Spain was in the depths of a civil war. Any advances that had been made in education were being undone.

Following the war, under the dictatorship, large parts of the population were plunged into poverty once again, if they had ever left it behind in the first place. I was talking about the state of villages and poverty during the dictatorship with my daughters’ teacher during the summer. We had coincided in the same small village to escape the heat of Seville. She is my age and her family, like the majority of Spanish families today, have their roots in a village somewhere. She told me that her mother, my mother’s age had she been alive, had died young as a result of the complications brought on by infant malnutrition.

Spain had also suffered another form of malnutrition: the mass-exodus of great minds and teachers, seeking political exile. Thousands of teachers were sanctioned, transferred and 6,000 were banned from teaching altogether. Into the vacuum stepped Franco.

While the majority of post-war New Zealanders were enjoying the cushion of wealth, trade and security, the efforts to improve ordinary folks’ opportunities and health in Spain, had been suspended or even reversed.

But not for everyone. Franco’s new state education, policies aside, did at least create opportunities for some and my father-in-law is a result of it. His brothers and he were among the first of his family to go to high school having earned scholarships and backed by a very canny and hard working dad. His grandmother had sold shoes and carried them in baskets on a donkey. Her grandchildren were to become surgeons, heart specialists and pharmacists.

That Spain has turned so much around in forty or more years has to be acknowledged. It currently has a literacy rate of 97% and New Zealand 99%. Yes, there is much work to be done to change people’s ideas of what learning is all about, but however flawed, I take my hat off to Spain and I challenge myself to be a contributor, a quiet activist for change in small ways that I can. I do this so that the legacy of learning that has been the springboard for everything that I have ever achieved is passed on.




Head image:

Arbor Day at Rata School New Zealand 1894

Making Learning in a Binary Landscape

“Arbor Day at Rata School 1st August 1894” Original image held in archives at

I rather like this photo, a small rural school community planting trees to commemorate Arbor Day in a vast deforested landscape. Today Rata is a busy New Zealand farming community. All the kids that attend that school will have access to tablets, the school will have WIFI, a great library, interactive white boards, projectors, google classroom, google earth, and links to other classrooms on the other side of the world. The community in general has more information at their fingertips in a week than the children in this photo possibly had in their lifetime. But has the process of effective learning vastly changed? Can we learn a few things from the past to apply to the present and orientate our decision making for the future?

The creation of an elearning project

When my colleague and I decided to collaborate to create an online teacher training course, the best tool I found in my toolbox to combat this scenario wasn’t technological. It was the old learning.

This Saturday at the Digital ELT Conference in Dublin, I am excited to be presenting a talk about learning and building an online course.


  1. A cultural context of learning: looking briefly at Aotearoa New Zealand Māori concepts and the need for agile learning among European settlers.
  2. Hearing from my family about our farming community in Aotearoa New Zealand and how it learns.
  3. A comparison with then and the sociology of community today and the impact of mobility and new community on learning.
  4. Our experience so far of making materials for an online environment.

Looking forward to seeing everyone there and some great chinwags. Also to watch the Rugby World Cup final on Saturday night – tips on the right pub will be appreciated! Kia kaha kapa Ō-Pango! Go All Blacks! 

Walking backwards into the future, looking at the past.

Our early connections influence how we engage later in life.

Where we come from is what roots us. It’s the road map we use for life, and to which, if we’re smart, we’ll keep adding to with streets and neighbourhoods as we grow.

Looking towards Apiti, Central North Island New Zealand

Part of my cultural and learning inheritance: Looking towards Apiti, Central North Island New Zealand

We have a saying at home, that we walk backwards into the future. Learning is changing, our communities are changing, but some essential elements remain true and timeless. It’ about harnessing new landscapes to facilitate learning, not being over-run by them and looking after our inheritance.  #DigELT2015

Document: North Island new Zealand Road Works "Go Men"


Often in my story-telling/art-making, I’ve documented road trips. More often than not, the footage doesn’t get anywhere, but the process helps me move somewhere mentally and emotionally, as I associate so much with landscapes and activity in it. Some years back, I photographed all the roadworks we passed on a trip from my hometown in New Zealand (Palmerston North) to Auckland and some of these images made their way to be paintings. The Go men (and women) always took time to acknowledge us and the trucks. I love trucks.

Resurfacing State Highway One Oil on canvas, Emma Louise Pratt

Resurfacing State Highway One

I’ve begun to focus more on the video work I do to collect information for paintings and realised it’s place not only in process, but as a finished work itself. I’m currently working on a video and painting project based on a village and it’s water sources. A multi-media work on canvas is developing as another way of telling the story within the video story. Confused? I’ll get it finished and uploaded soon and I’ll leave it to do the talking!

What I really want to talk about in this post is documenting. 

I got this post today – being shared around Facebook. It’s a call for video footage about a week of protests in my homeland New Zealand. This call for footage isn’t new. Since videos have been in the hands of more and more people via their phones, we’ve become used to seeing our own, albeit shaky, footage used in news reports. We’ve become reporters of our own histories. BBC is constantly making use of people on the ground tweeting what they’re witnessing, posting images and video. Image and footage work their way effectively around social platforms, moved by us, the people on the ground, to the envy of any news platform.

In recent floods in New Zealand, in which our own family farm was submerged, I went to news sites to get a handle on things, but quickly found the collaborative efforts of facebook pages and twitter hashtags set up by locals on the fly far closer to what was happening to my community. I got disaster relief info, flood updates and shared images and footage from people’s own windows, front gates, or while out walking the dog.

When I was a kid, we all typed with two fingers and through use became more adept at typing. Now we are becoming more adept at filming and visual aspects of storytelling through the possibilities given us of participating socially. people are even becoming adept at giving soundbites and short statements. We adapt. We learn.

What’s interesting about this latest call for footage and imagery is that it isn’t reactive. To get good footage at a later date, journalist Bryan Bruce would, as he explained, be restricted to the archived footage taken by news crews, and would have to pay for it.

A call for footage after the act would give him some good footage, but this documentarian is asking in advance for people to get out on the streets and carefully, MINDFULLY document the protests from their vantage point. He isn’t looking for that “quick, get the phone out and film that” reactive documenting. He’s given a list of things he’s looking for. Bruce wants good footage.

From the Facebook post:

“Try to get good images of protest signs, groups marching (from the front and the side) and show the diversity of age groups and ethnicities protesting  and catch some speakers in various centres…

If you interview people, which I hope you will, please remember to ask first “Do you mind if I ask why you are protesting today?”

(Don’t forget the odd shot of police of GCSB filming the demos 🙂

Our team of volunteers film makers will then edit the footage together to make what will not only be a historical piece but an ongoing social media protest. We will make teh footage available on social media adb it will eventually be stored in the New Zealand Film Archive under a creative commons licence.”

If you send me a personal message I will give you information about how to send the footage to me.

This is learning with a facilitator/catalyst. Bruce is encouraging people to consider what they cover, to effectively cover all aspects of the events and consciously consider what those aspects might be. This is an environment for reflection on their overall performance as participators and collaborators in recording history and telling a story. The project continues improving their filming skills through being asked to considering a variety of shots, and become interviewers and journalists. All on the fly.
Bryan Bruce’s Post here:


Ancient learning is as relevant today as ever.

I’m thinking of how my father learned what he knows. He was pulled from school by his father as soon as it was legal to do so. He didn’t want to leave. School was social and the farm was isolated, but the farm was functioning without his much needed hands and he was required to go.

My father’s family didn’t see the use of much formal education. My brother and I were among the first to go to university. My grandparents shook their heads in bewilderment. That I was going to study for a Degree in Fine Arts was dumbfounding. When I went back for a Post Grad in Museum Studies, I seem to remember the words “over-educated -idiot” being mumbled.

I watched my dad paint walls, fix drawers, renovate the house, fix fences, shear sheep, sort, dag, medicate, birth lambs, heal animals. He knew about plants, weather, materials. He tested on the go, he had beta versions, he iterated. He could learn new things quickly, dipping into a instruction booklet in no linea order. His handwriting was terrible.

Joseph and His Technicolor Dreamcoat

It’s cold and wet. There’s no saving the ewe, she’s already dead. Dad is pulling the lamb out, little feet, then the nose and head…it slops limp onto the ground covered in afterbirth. Dad is quickly pulling the membrane from around it’s nose and the lamb is coughing and shaking itself into life outside the womb.

“Emma come here and take this lamb to the yards.”

I pick this warm, bloody, slimy, wooly little creature up in my arms and walk as fast as my little legs will take me to the yards where a mother is standing forlorn by her stillborn lamb. Dad gently takes him away out of sight of the ewe and skins him. I watch in awe. He takes the newborn living lamb and rubs his face and head with the wool of the dead lamb to transfer the scent. Then he pokes the lambs slimy head through the neck hole and the feet through holes where the legs of the dead lamb once were. He’s fashioned a little coat. He gently places the lamb in his new coat by the anxious ewe. She sniffs at him, pokes him. The lamb gets up and staggers to to her for a feed.  After a while of adjustment, the ewe is mothering him.

I learned to learn by being beside him. I believe this context is where my physical art making skills come from – picking up materials, working with them, building, testing, experimenting, blended with knowledge of the chemical nature of things. This learning is situational, needs based, at times geo-located, relevant and timely. It is also very, very old.

45 generations ago, my father’s ancestors were moving across Yorkshire and settling into the districts of Westmorland and Cumbria. They brought their sheep knowledge and mingled it with the new people and geography. Some 41 generations later, two descendants took that knowledge and some sheep to New Zealand. James Rebanks, in his book “The Shepherds Life”, describes how he could stand on a fell and have a conversation about farming with a viking and it’s essence wouldn’t have changed. I can safely vouch that the farming practice in his valley of Cumbria is pretty much the same in Apiti, a hill country community, nestled under the Ruahine Range of the Central North Island of New Zealand where my family went to farm.  Knowledge is passed on, and adapts to new geography and times.

In the 1880s in New Zealand, my mother’s great grandfather noted, after years of setting up schools for Māori and observing learners, that the learning capabilities of Māori outstripped Pakeha (settlers) by a long way. Settlers had come, in many cases, from poor factory towns, where any learning was limited to increasing their performance at a finite set of factory tasks. Meanwhile, Māori knew the weather, the movements of stars and the moon, tides, bird life, ecosystems, hunting, gardening, housing and building. Māori were the inventors of trench warfare, which is lethal in the bush, but possibly not so on the Somme. Formal institutional learning was oral and memory based, using narrative, music, rhythm and movement. Some single holders of genealogical knowledge for a family or tribe could recite 1000 names or more.

Formal Learning and Grassroots Response to Need

New formal learning in a colonised country meant for many Māori that this kind of learner was forced, like square pegs in a round hole, to learn de-contextualied ideas and a second language using materials that told of things that had little to do with their lives. It was alienating, abstracted and left many marginalized, as Silvia Ashton-Warner found when she was teaching in the 1960s in a small rural New Zealand community. Ashton-Warner developed the idea of organic reading, where the words that children learned were the key words that described their realities. She often started with the words about what they were frightened of. From there, they constructed their own stories to be read over and over again. They were motivated by the thought that these squiggles and sounds could describe such impacting experiences of their world.

Image from Teacher by Sylvia Ashton-Warner Simon an Schuster edition 1963

Image from Teacher by Sylvia Ashton-Warner Simon an Schuster edition 1963

Image from Teacher by Sylvia Ashton-Warner Simon an Schuster edition 1963

Image from Teacher by Sylvia Ashton-Warner Simon an Schuster edition 1963

Images: Examples of children’s slate boards and the children at the Pa, from “Teacher” by Sylvia Ashton-Warner, Simon and Schuster edition 1963.

This old learning and my father’s experience is situational, geo-located, social, responsive, agile, not always linear, it’s mobile, relevant and timely. If they didn’t know it, they had the agility to get in there and find out quick, test, adjust, try again. And it sounds very much like the kind of learning and learner we are looking for today. Perhaps we need to spend more time with our farmers.

Julian Stodd of SeaSalt Learning, an e-learning and mobile learning specialist, on the nature of learning today:

The world is owned by agile learners- it is less about what you know and more about your ability to find things out and create meaning from it fast.

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