education for New Zealand:
Scoping document 4th draft
October 14, 2005
Citizenship Education in
New Zealand: a scoping document
Having recently gone through
a general election, most New Zealanders might be expected to have a pretty
good understanding of the issues involved, and of our MMP system. Have
they? For all the coverage in newspapers and periodicals, on the Internet,
TV and radio – not only in the English language – it seems
many are not at all clear.
To remain healthy a democracy
needs an active, informed and thoughtful electorate, knowledgeable about
the structures and procedures of government both central and local, and
up to date on current issues and problems. Citizens have a responsibility
to vote; and they should know their own rights.
New Zealand is a constitutional
monarchy, a pluralist secular democracy with a small and relatively well
educated population, good communications and an active media. We have
a number of loosely-defined cultural communities and a stream of new immigrants,
all contributing to our inclusive, national Kiwi identity.
Over time significant numbers
have come here from more than 50 countries; some 20% of us are foreign-born;
one in six speak more than one language; and in recent years many have
come from Asia rather than Europe. There are also birds of passage, business
people and others, who will remain here for some years and then move on.
New Zealand wants immigrants,
and wants immigrants to become citizens. That is part of positive nationalism.
We have welcomed, we celebrate,
cultural diversity, appreciating the many contributions new arrivals make
in skills, ideas, new foods, the arts, sports, dress, religion, values
and sheer stimulation. New Zealand has become a more multicultural country:
most of us are of mixed ethnicity. One-third of the under-35s have some
Maori or Pacific Island ethnicity. We are concerned to develop a society
of people and institutions living and working in harmonious relationship
in a diverse and inclusive New Zealand.
All are individuals. We try
to avoid categorization or stereotyping: we see people as individuals,
each one as a citizen or potential citizen. We are all members of the
body politic, citizens in a participatory democracy. We are all empowered.
This is also a young country.
One million of our four million are under 18. We are still building nationhood.
Taken together, these figures
underline not only the importance of education generally, but the need
too for citizenship education.
The goal of citizenship
The challenge is to ensure
that both young people and new arrivals receive grounding in the essential
framework of our democracy, our government and electoral system, and that
older age groups are kept up to date with recent developments. Whether
this is achieved in traditional or modern ways, it falls under the heading
of citizenship education.
New Zealand starts with some
advantages. Not only are we small, with a comprehensive school system
and an alert media. We also have made a success of democracy for several
generations. Most young people growing up can be expected to learn much
about good citizenship from families, friends, community leaders, church
or sports groups, or perhaps local NGOs, and from following current events
both in this country and overseas.
Nevertheless, something more
will often be required in terms of detailed information on our political
history, or guidance about the individual’s role, and plainly a
special effort must be made to help the many new arrivals – of whom
some will adapt quickly, but others may not. From information they will
proceed to the actual processes in which we all participate.
More is required today in
part because the machinery of government, both central and local, is more
complex than it was. The public sector is adapting, taking on new roles
in the face of new challenges, and reflecting changes in society and the
climate of thought. Not only is there more collaboration across agencies,
there is more collaboration with the community. New Zealand is quite a
different place from what it was only 30 years ago. We are constantly
Our constitutional arrangements
provide useful checks and balances that make an ideal framework for the
promotion and protection of human rights which include fairness, transparency,
accountability, rule of law, non-discrimination on the basis of ethnicity,
religion, political opinion, sexual orientation or gender. Various agencies
are responsible, and efforts are made to provide human rights education
to a wide range of civil society, public and private organizations.
In addition, the range of
issues on which voters are expected to have an opinion is getting broader.
The state is listening to the voices of individuals and communities. Citizens
need to know how they can make their voices heard and can take political
Moreover now that the state
does more for the citizen than it did in the past, the citizen needs to
know what is available and how to access such benefits.
Citizenship education might
be seen, therefore, as assisting people to gain some appreciation of our
historical background, our current inclusive society, our principal institutions
and our freedom to operate as individuals with respect for others, and
the responsibilities of the citizen, the state and the international community.
Quite apart from their constitutional
role, individuals should grasp the concepts of “good citizen”,
“good neighbourliness” and “civic responsibility”:
these may be largely a question of mind-set. There is behaviour our society
simply does not tolerate. More than 2000 years ago the Greek political
philosopher Aristotle maintained that the qualities of the good man and
the good citizen are not identical. So there is a lot to think about.
Though all this may sound
rather like a full-scale liberal education (and plainly centuries of thought
and experience have gone to produce our current system and our concept
of the citizen) citizenship education is quite narrowly focused, is operational
rather than theoretical. An introduction only.
We simply want to prepare
people for their responsibilities, and to explain their relationship to
the machinery of government, and the opportunities before them.
In fact, New Zealand has been
somewhat left behind by countries such as Australia and Canada, that like
us have large numbers of immigrants, and by the EU, which is bringing
together 25 members all with different traditions. In recent years they
and others too have instituted programmes for schools, and much of their
thinking is of direct relevance. It can serve to jump start our efforts.
A lengthy, detailed review of Australian experience up to the end of 2003
could be particularly useful. Links and summary ideas are available in
the CCE documents section at http://www.decisionmaker.co.nz/cce/indexcce.html.
Our principal target group
must be the 15-25 year-olds up and down the country, many still in school,
others active in service groups or sporting clubs, the newly proposed
youth councils, already at work or at university.
The other major target will
be new arrivals, whether or not they themselves are yet eligible to vote,
who may be finding New Zealand a rather strange place and need to understand
not only how different we are but how they can readily fit in. They want
to learn how we operate. This will be part of the process of settlement.
These are very different target
audiences. Accordingly the approaches to them – the methods we employ
– will be different too. The methods will, if not the message. We
live among diverse communities.
Such target audiences may
be reached most effectively by intermediaries, by tutors who may themselves
be elected representatives, officials, teachers, media, community leaders,
church or businesspeople who consequently need to be recognised as amongst
prime targets for information, advice and support – practical help.
What succeeds with pupils
in a school in South Otago – where it might be part of social studies
– might mean very little to someone recently arrived from a village
in Savai’i or a refugee from Somalia – or to someone from
a strict authoritarian regime.
There is likely to be a need
for, to some extent, graded tutoring. University students can be expected
to take a more sophisticated interest, even if the material is much what
they heard earlier; whereas new arrivals with an urgent need to learn
what the state can do for them may not yet be ready to get involved in
voting rights and procedures. From a new migrant’s perspective,
the workings of the New Zealand political system may well be at the bottom
of their list of priorities after such things as finding work, learning
the language, finding schools for their children, handling any apparent
discrimination and understanding the laws that most directly touch their
By the same token there is
a wide range of possible means. Oral lessons, discussion groups, booklets,
brochures, posters, lectures, newspaper articles, DVDs, other materials
and e-government services: all can be effective. ICT will both facilitate
and influence democracy.
This suggests that no monolithic
programme is likely to be sufficiently flexible. Though the basic message
to all will be much the same, delivery will be in the hands of a variety
of agencies, including parents and perhaps welfare workers.
Schools are very important:
their curricula are crowded, but many of the subjects they teach touch
on aspects of citizenship. These may be brought together as “social
science”, adding perspectives on history, geography and economics
to social studies. Active participation in the electoral process is a
great learning experience.
Schools will no doubt find
various ways of building into their courses the ideas and the information
that come under the heading of citizenship education. Mock elections can
Others such as church or “grey
power” groups, sporting groups, NGOs, ethnic councils, or local
bodies may be prompted to take the initiative with lectures or discussions
– and guide members to some relevant resources. These may be available
from local libraries, or on the Internet.
Libraries themselves can circulate
suitable material. Employers can perhaps take up the subject at staff
meetings – as well as at meetings of service clubs such as Rotary
and Lions, or the local Chamber of Commerce or other civic-oriented business
associations. The members of Business New Zealand offer a potentially
Given that the basic questions
are, What does it mean to be a New Zealand citizen? What are our core
values? How do we and should we go about running our society? Good answers
are as likely to come out of discussion as from any prescriptive lecture
Discussion and debate help
everyone to see the issues, to see how others see them, and to adapt their
own thinking. The young ask sharp questions; strangers often bring a very
different but nevertheless valuable point of view. Talking to new arrivals
it must be insisted that that “NewZealand-ness” is by no means
a straight-jacket. We recognise the significance of other people’s
experiences. Toleration is a core value. We are tolerant, and well aware
that in response to new ideas, new pressures, our own society is and always
has been constantly changing, and our institutions modified again and
At an early stage people should
be encouraged to see all this in terms of themselves participating in
the processes of government, whether central or local, feeling free to
express their views – and some of them possibly standing for public
office. We applaud the ambition to serve the community. The nation needs
political leaders. There are numerous opportunities.
Because candidates for office
want support from like-minded citizens, we have developed a range of political
parties large and small. Young people should know something of the role
and procedures, formal and informal of these parties, volatile as they
may be. They are welcome to join parties. Consulting together is a step
towards working together.
But political activity is
by no means restricted to election time. People should always be alert,
sometimes trying to change the views of others and maybe changing their
own. We need new ideas, new ideologies, framed as far as possible to deal
with real problems, current or foreseen.
As a practical matter this
seems to suggest fairly regular networking among those who have some official
interest or responsibility, the countless potential tutors up and down
the country, leaders of immigrant communities, producers of resource materials,
media editors and, of course, politicians themselves. Dialoguing will
help everybody. Attempts to insist on coordination might well just stymie
valuable independent efforts.
Priorities and practicalities
Looking then at content, it
does appear that first priority should be the structures and processes
of Parliament, the law, and central and local government. Individuals
will naturally enough be interested in many issues, and some may hold
strong views, but as citizens they should understand how they fit into
the political system, their rights and responsibilities – in our
social organisation. They are then equipped to involve themselves in any
aspects of our society as they may choose.
Even supposing they become
highly critical of some features of our policies or procedures, and advocate
far-reaching reforms, that must be their starting point, the basis of
their freedom to criticise.
If some important issues,
such as human rights, or the place of the Treaty of Waitangi, are at first
beyond the capacity of some audiences, the way these are handled must
depend on the judgement of the tutor or discussion leader.
With the same consideration
in mind, it is clear that a range of teaching materials is called for.
Leaders may find a textbook useful, or build on the stimulus of posters
in workplaces, or rely very much on the Internet. Some use DVDs, or other
new information technologies. Some audiences may want to take home short
pamphlets, or perhaps worksheets.
Materials produced by some
government agencies, or ngos, will carry particular authority.
Networking – word of
mouth – may prove most effective in alerting people to the existence
of especially useful resources, and when it appears that there is nothing
available on a certain topic, word-of-mouth may prompt some person or
agency to produce (and fund?) what is wanted.
Nevertheless, a skilled teacher
uses all sorts of materials that happen to come to hand, and will be quick
to respond to the interests of, or questions asked by, his or her particular
audience. Questions asked in Hastings by new arrivals from overseas are
likely to be quite different from those that come up in a Timaru school,
in Porirua different from the North Shore – particularly on handling
A central Exchange Desk would
facilitate this sort of networking, and help people to identify particular
gaps as challenges.
That could be a way, too,
of keeping in touch with overseas institutions, and assessing the relevance
for New Zealand of what might be called international best practice.
Plainly enough, the Ministry
of Education will have an important role to play. Not only is it desirable
that space be found in the curriculum for citizenship education, perhaps
within “social science” or its component subject areas. But
both current and future teachers should be given training in ways to handle
classes in this field. Teachers may also want help in handling divisive
issues when they teach values explicitly and implicitly. The trainers
of our teachers will no doubt be helping them recognise the opportunities
to induce learning about citizenship which arise as they teach the existing
Attached at annex is an indicative
list of topics which might be considered relevant. This is by no means
In the last few years devolution
from the centre has given the citizen a bigger role in local affairs,
and the state has come to provide more benefits than it did. We can use
a top down and a bottom up approach in citizenship.
More attention is now being
given, too, to the settlement of new arrivals, some of whom may need guidance
on our approach to the status of women, or other difficult issues.
Everywhere, more emphasis
is being put on the principles of good governance and transparency.
It is not surprising, therefore,
that in 2005 there have been so many references to the need for more citizenship
education, and that three Parliamentary select committees have called
for action – from the perspectives of constitutional development,
local government and human rights. Its importance is emphasised by parties
in Parliament. Likewise the Pacific Plan being prepared by the Pacific
Islands Forum stresses the need for extensive work among the Islands.
The leaders have been concerned, among other things, to promote good governance,
human rights, civil society, leadership codes, transparancy, accountability
and development of a strategy to support participatory democracy.
Given that many institutions
promote good causes and debate major ethical questions, it is probably
desirable that citizenship education should focus quite sharply on the
basic questions of how our system works, and the role and responsibility
of the individual.
That is by no means a lengthy
“course”. It is rather an introduction. People have a life-time
in which to think and learn about other important matters and to develop
their views on particular issues: that is really beyond the scope of citizenship
Some people advocate making
citizenship education compulsory for all, and certain countries require
candidates for citizenship to take special courses. Different countries
have quite different challenges, and so have different priorities. Some
Pacific Island countries have awareness teams visiting villages, building
nationhood, promoting democracy and good governance, and explaining rights
and responsibilities. We have to be clear about our own priorities.
Even supposing it were decided
to require candidates for citizenship to hear some particular lectures,
the subject matter could be quite limited.
Plainly there are policy decisions
to be taken. At one level, to persuade secondary schools to focus, within
the very broad context of “social science”, on the processes
and responsibilities of citizenship; at another to make more use of that
concept when dealing with new arrivals and refugees; and at yet another
to encourage and make it easy for good-hearted people in many walks of
life to become involved in efforts to assist young and old to understand
our system better, and their own role as well. This presumably requires
the identification of some agency of government as having a principal
responsibility, and also the allocation of funding, e.g. for the functioning
of an Exchange Desk as suggested earlier, and production of some basic
Many activities, including
production of some such materials could, and probably should be funded
quite separately in accordance with the interests of particular institutions
or the needs of particular audience groups.
An example might be the arrangements
for special tuition for candidates for citizenship, and for such testing
as might be deemed necessary in that concept.
Though the message is pretty
clear, who is to put it across?
As a practical matter most
of the people involved will be initiators of or contributors to projects
on the ground, some perhaps local authorities but others representing
any one of a number of well-known institutions or enterprises.
The implementation of the
programme – if that term is not too formal, and so misleading –
will inevitably be in the hands of a great many individuals and institutions
with a wide variety of interests and backgrounds, who are ready to make
a contribution. They are probably the best people to talk to and to help
their neighbours. But they will need some support.
The Centre for Citizenship
Education, a Wellington-based NGO, is currently working on the 6th edition
of the DecisionMaker Guide to Parliament and Government, which is available
at www.decisionmaker.co.nz, and has produced other educational, policy
and professional development resources in a range of media.
It could provide more of the
sort of resource which is likely to be found useful, in collaboration
with other agencies. It could also undertake research on the needs of
certain target groups, or the responses which seem to be most appreciated.
But there is of course a wide array of suitable material already published,
which could readily be brought to the attention of prospective tutors
by, for example, an Exchange Desk.
New Zealand is constantly
changing, not only in terms of technologies, trade patterns or security
but in the balance of its population and the spread of people’s
interests. This is bound to provoke further changes in the roles and management
of the organs of both central and local government, and subtle shifts
in what we think of as our core values. It is important that these be
registered promptly, and introduced forthwith into lectures or debates
on citizenship education: citizenship education must be kept up to date.
Annex: Some relevant citizenship education topics
Head of State and Governor
Prime Minister and Cabinet
Speaker and Parliament
- Electoral system (MMP)
- Members and Parties
- Legislation/ Bills/Submissions
- Bill of Rights
- Official languages
SSC and Ministries (major and minor)
Courts: Supreme, Appeal, High, District
Treaty of Waitangi
- Rights and Responsibilities
- Official Information Act
Local Authority (regional/city/district councils)
- Local Government New Zealand
- Handling local issues
Please send your suggested
changes to these draft policy pointers to the Centre
for Citizenship Education.
Updated 15 October 2005