• Wyatt Creech

Thank you for inviting me to speak here today.

This place has an interesting history. In 1876 the Wellington Provincial Government granted the newly established borough of Palmerston North 391 acres of land for use as a public park, recreation ground and boating gardens. At that time the area was forested in kiakaha, rimu and tawa. It is appropriate that the new Education Centre we are opening today, developed in the 101st year of Victoria Esplanade's existence, has an environmental emphasis.

The development of Victoria Esplanade began in 1897 with the laying of "Victoria Drive", named so to commemorate Queen Victoria's 60th Jubilee. The Victoria Esplanade covers an area of 19 hectares adjacent to the Manawatu River.

The centenary of Victoria Esplanade Gardens was celebrated in June 1997. Although being opened this year, the Victoria Esplanade Education Centre was planned as the major initiative for the centenary celebrations.

Centenary initiatives included such interesting ideas as: the addition of a water sculpture in the Conservatory (located in front of the Education Centre) and the dedication of a specially bred rose named the "Victoria Esplanade.

There has also been an extension of the miniature railway; The popularity of the 1.2 km miniature railway has exceeded expectations. We will see as following the opening I am apparently having a ride on the railway! That should be fun!

This Education Centre is a real community project. One of the real strengths of New Zealand is the way so many volunteers get in behind valuable community projects such as this. In this age where selfishness and materialism appear to be the norm, around New Zealand many projects completely unheralded by the media are being put in place to make life better for all. In this case to the development of the Victoria Esplanade Education Centre. The Rotary and Lions clubs of Manawatu have contributed and many local business have donated materials and services.

The initial aim was to build a visitors centre as part of Victoria Esplanade Gardens centenary celebrations, which occurred in June last year. The concept of the Victoria Esplanade Education Centre has developed from this.

The Education Centre will include a display area, an audio-visual room and teaching facilities for school groups and other visitors.

This project will be very good for education. Palmerston North City Council's annual projections for patronage of the Education Centre include 40-50 schools, 5-10 polytechnics and universities, 35-45 community groups, organisations and special interest groups. In addition, the general public will also have access to the facility.

As Minister of Education I would like to see an increase in the range and number of learning experiences outside the classroom. We have increased funding in the last two Budgets for the Learning Experiences Outside The Classroom programme. I have seen some great experiences for our children delivered by this programme. It makes the curriculum more "real" for students, and broadens their experience of the world.

When funding was first available in 1994, the total available was $1.4 million. In this financial year the funding is close to $4 million, and by the 2000/2001 financial year the funding will be over $5 million.

The Education Centre will utilise special projects and displays specifically related to environmental issues, many of which will be generated by schools and special interest groups. Composting, recycling and revegetation will be some of the areas covered. For kids this will be real fun.

The Ministry of Education is producing Guidelines for Environmental Education in Schools. These guidelines will contain examples of best practice and will assist schools in planning and presenting environmental education programmes.

Surveys have shown that teachers and parents regard good quality environmental education as an important element of programmes in schools. Overseas visitors to our country have commented on the New Zealand students' high level of environmental awareness.

The Ministry of Education has recently signed an agreement to provide students with curriculum based learning experiences at the Science Centre & Manawatu and the Manawatu Art Gallery. I will be at the Science Centre & Manawatu Museum later today to present the Golden Crest Awards for 1998.

These initiatives are good - good for Palmerston North, for young people, for the community and for New Zealand.

I would like to take this opportunity to wish you all well in the future and I now declare the Victoria Esplanade Education Centre open.