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EIT’s 40 Years Through 150 People’s Eyes

January 20, 2016
 History in the writing - Co-author Jean Johnson with a copy of ‘First to See the Light’. Photo credit: Gisborne Herald.

History in the writing – Co-author Jean Johnson
with a copy of ‘First to See the Light’.
Photo credit: Gisborne Herald.

First to See the Light is a book that tells the story of EIT’s 40 years as a tertiary educator resulting in almost a quarter of a million graduates for Te Tairāwhiti and Hawke’s Bay.

This year, with EIT’s 40th anniversary approaching, the planned commemorative history provided a great opportunity to document Tairāwhiti Polytechnic’s history too.

First to See the Light draws on around 150 interviews with the many staff and students who pioneered and sustained tertiary education in this region. Co-written by retired EIT Tairāwhiti staff member Jean Johnston and EIT Hawke’s Bay research professor Kay Morris Matthews, it is a wonderful story of determination, says Jean.

“It’s amazing, so many people have been involved. People who initiated tertiary education in this region had an absolute passion to make the enterprise work – you could hear it in their voices.

It was important to me to honour and bring out that passion in the book – why they worked so hard, and why it was important to them.” It is also a story of highs and lows of the East Coast district, and the transformative power of education.

“In the ‘80s, when I started teaching in the then Tairāwhiti Community College, farm subsidies were removed and state-owned assets including many forests on the Coast were sold, which meant a lot of people lost their jobs. Then we were hit by Cyclone Bola in 1988.

“Like other tutors I taught some affected angry people who would come into some of the classes looking for direction, trying to understand themselves a bit better and needing some skills to help them move on.”

Jean Johnston has taught in Gisborne for over 40 years and has been associated with Tairāwhiti Community College/Polytechnic since 1986. As an academic section head of Social Sciences she says she greatly enjoyed coordinating and teaching a range of programmes including YPTP, ACCESS, Community and Social Services, Adult Learning and Teaching and Nursing. Now retired, Jean is a trustee of the Tairāwhiti Positive Ageing Trust, and is a member of the Gisborne Printmaking Group.

Jean’s lengthy association with Tairāwhiti Polytechnic – later EIT Tairāwhiti – assisted in the interview process of the book and she is really happy with the end result.

“I believe I was an appropriate choice for the research process because I knew the older retired staff members and also many of the current staff so I was comfortable going into every area, and people probably felt they could say some of the things they did and know I would write with integrity.

Wherever possible we used their voices in the text of the book. In our initial consultation process there was an overwhelming request that the history should be a people-focused approach. We are extremely grateful to everyone who participated.”

First to See the Light is available for purchase at the main reception of EIT Tairāwhiti on Palmerston Road for $49.95.