Education: The new life of Bryan: alive and well and teaching at Waikato

Word of Mouth John Izbicki in New Zealand
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The Independent Online
Good as Gould

THEY SAY a week is a long time in politics, so you might be forgiven for forgetting Bryan Gould, who left Britain four years ago to become vice-chancellor of Waikato University in Hamilton. Tony Blair must have been overjoyed at his departure, for if ever there was a real rival for the leadership of the Labour Party after John Smith's tragic demise, it was Gould. So has this astute Kiwi had second thoughts since returning to his homeland? He took Edith Piaf's line when we chatted: "I have no regrets." And he added: "It's odd, but when you take the kind of step I did, the world suddenly looks totally different. Mind you, I've not abandoned my political views." These, if I recall correctly, tended more towards "old" Labour than the Blairite variety. "I'm in no way involved in the hurly-burly of British politics and have never been one to look back."

Professor Gould may not be pining for Britain, but he does believe that British universities are far better off than those in New Zealand. Cuts have bitten hard into their fabric. "But we operate a leaner, meaner machine very efficiently and are determined to preserve quality." One way of doing this is to produce more funding from outside sources - which includes the admission of more overseas students. Waikato, with 13,000 students, so far has only 650 from abroad. And the university is considering a fee increase of 11.5 per cent to help cover an estimated $NZ 4.2 million (about pounds 1.4 million) reduction in funds.

Magic of maths

MANY OF us love cats. So it didn't surprise me to learn that a delightful little book called Pawmistry was snapped up by Penguin and has just been published in the UK. Written by a couple of Kiwis, Ken Ring and Paul Romhany, it analyses the personality of cats through their colour, even the bumps on their heads, and is selling like hot cats in New Zealand. Great stuff. But why hasn't Penguin grabbed another book, also by Ken Ring, called How to Get Your Kid to Like Maths? Should we not be as interested in maths as in mogs?

Now 53, Ring graduated in psychology from Auckland University, then turned to teaching and lecturing. After 20 years in the classroom he realised that good teachers not only had to be good actors but also clever magicians. Indeed, he took a keen interest in magic and was three times elected president of the New Zealand Society of Magicians. His presentation of mathematics through magic is now well known in more than 500 of the country's schools. He performs to 200 youngsters at a time and they know him as Mathman. "Kids don't understand the language of maths, the minuses and multiplyings. Maths should never be separated from reality," he told me. He'd like to see performing artists employed in teacher training colleges. "Teachers who think they are not there to entertain fail to comply with the physical reality of their environment. They need to know about voice modulation, posture, eye contact." Wow! We could do with a few Ken Rings in our schools.

Pipers away

Not so much taking coals to Newcastle as taking bagpipes to Scotland. Greg Wilson, a New Zealander from Paraparaum, is doing just that. He has been appointed bagpipe teaching co-ordinator to Scotland's schools. No kidding. He will be based in Glasgow. Why pick a Kiwi for so Scottish a venture? Because this 32-year-old Army major happens to be one of the world's top pipers. And on 31 October, shortly after his arrival in the UK, he qualified for the Glenfiddich piping championships at Blair Castle.

Princely head

Top pipers are not the only human export from New Zealand. John Lewis was head of King's College, Auckland, which is one of the country's finest independent schools. He was appointed to one of our very own top headships and followed in the distinguished footsteps of Eric Anderson to take up the reins of Eton College, whose pupils now include the Princes William and Harry.

Fishy tails' tale

Have you ever cast a line, then fallen asleep waiting for some poor tiddler to go for it? A group of Auckland University scientists are investigating what it is that attracts big fish to little bait. They have already shown that fish feed better on dark nights and make good use of water currents to search out food and communicate with each other. John Montgomery of the university's school of biological sciences said the appetite of some fish is controlled by the amount of light. To prove it, the scientists produced a false sunset in the early afternoon and, lo and behold, the fish fed and fed - but only briefly. The night light levels proved too low. According to Professor Montgomery, the fishermen's rule never to fish when there's a full moon is no old wives' tale. "It is supported by scientific fact," he said.

And finally...

Teachers and academics are forever "talking shop". This means that when they go on holiday, they feel deprived if they can't bump into a fellow teacher. So there's good news for those teachers who are considering a holiday Down Under. The Auckland Tourist Hospitality Scheme will put you in touch with your Kiwi counterparts. You will probably be invited into their home for info exchange and a friendly chat over a cuppa. The cost? Not a cent. It is a voluntary organisation and you won't be "sold" anything. It's a genuine contact venture. Simply write a few weeks before your departure with the dates you will be in Auckland to either Polly Ring (the above- mentioned Ken Ring's mum!) at 775 Riddell Road, Glendowie, Auckland 5; Tel: 00-649-575-6655; or Meryl Revell, 60 Prince Regent Drive, Half Moon Bay, Auckland; Tel: 00-649-535-5314.