Home' The Wellingtonian : September 8th 2011 Contents 12 THE WELLINGTONIAN, SEPTEMBER 8, 2011
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A lesson in life-long learning
Rebecca Thomson talks to Wellington Institute of Technology chief executive officer Dr Linda Sissons
about trade courses, going for walks and magazines.
Linda Sissons: ''The crisis in education is now with men and boys.''
Photo: REBECCA THOMSON
Are you from Wellington?
No, I was born in Ireland. When
we came to New Zealand we went
to Auckland. I was eight then. I
came to Wellington for university.
What were your first
impressions of Wellington?
I absolutely loved it. I loved the
way the university goes up the hill
and all the little houses around.
It s just magic.
What area of education did
you start out in?
Adult education. One of the first
things I saw was adults who were
incredibly successful at their jobs
or with their families, but when
they came to learn they would be
reduced to quivering wrecks.
They were so nervous about how
they would cope in a classroom.
People don t realise their life skills
can translate to an academic set-
What else in the education
sector are you particularly
I m extremely passionate about
learning within organisations and
workplaces. There are employees
who are not confident in what
they do and are not encouraged to
learn. We help companies to
become learning centres by offer-
ing them team-building skills,
management education and other
You also have an interest in
women and education. How
have things changed for
women in that area?
Women are probably doing bet-
ter than men now. There are more
women in tertiary education than
men. WelTec, because we have so
many trade courses, is one of the
few institutes in the country
where men outnumber women.
Also women tend to do better.
They work harder and achieve
higher. The crisis in education is
now with the men and boys.
Why is that?
With boys and men you really
need to find something to hook
them into learning. At WelTec
often sport is the hook. We have
guys who are good at rugby or
league and they have great skills
that can translate to an academic
setting. It s also about helping
men not to be put off by failure.
Are there any other prob-
We definitely have a crisis with
so many young people leaving
school early. They are disengaged
and it s a real problem. Once
again the secret is to find the hook
that reminds them they are very
good at something and those skills
can transfer to an academic
WelTec offers vocational
courses. Is New Zealand doing
enough to get people into the
No, New Zealand is not doing
enough, especially with a view to
the construction industry and the
rebuild of Christchurch. WelTec
has only just been granted 200
more places for trades. Seventy
per cent of our students at WelTec
are studying for diplomas or
degrees, 30 per cent for trades.
New Zealand also needs to think
about training people in hi-tech
trades -- looking at how we can
build houses that don t fall down
in earthquakes, houses that run
on solar power and houses that
are environmentally sustainable.
How does Wellington fare in
terms of tertiary education?
Wellington is in good place edu-
cationally. People might not
realise this, but we have the sec-
ond largest population of students
that come from other parts of the
country. Dunedin is in first place
and we re just behind them.
Students are as visible here as in
Dunedin, but they are very much
a part of the city. Wellington s
such a wonderful place for
students because of the cafes,
bars, theatres and museums.
You spent a semester at Har-
vard University. What was
It was a high-pressure three-
month programme, but it was
wonderful and incredibly exciting.
They used a teaching technique
based on case studies, so we could
get a case about a hospital or com-
pany and have to look at it from
the point of view of the CEO. Har-
vard is an incredibly wealthy
institute, unlike anywhere in New
Zealand. The facilities for the
students are amazing, from the
sports facilities to the catering.
And the library is unbelievable.
But it came down to having very
inspiring teachers who would
freely give their time and that s
something any institute can have.
It sounds as if you were very
academic. What were your
favourite subjects at school?
I was a girly-swot at school. I
loved languages, history, philos-
ophy. I was never really exposed
to the sciences, sorry to say, but
now my daughter is a scientist!
You sound very busy. What
do you do in your free time?
I go for walks. Wellington is
such a wonderful place for walk-
ing. There are so many walkways
I never get bored. I live near Mt
Kaukau, so I walk up there nearly
every week. I try to do parts of the
Northern Walkway or the City to
Sea Walkway, though.
And you do a lot of reading.
I read a lot of journals and
magazines that you wouldn t
expect me to read, like automotive
and economics magazines. I read
ago. Whenever he went to an air-
port book store he would pick up
whatever was on the top-right-
hand corner of the magazine shelf,
no matter what it was. I ve done
that. It s good to find out about
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