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Document 2:

Citizenship education for New Zealand:
Scoping document 4th draft

Updated Friday, 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 education

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 evolving.

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 initiatives.

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.

Target audiences

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 lives.

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.

Whose responsibility?

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 be useful.

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 valuable network.

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 or booklet.

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 again.

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 local issues.

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 curriculum.

Attached at annex is an indicative list of topics which might be considered relevant. This is by no means exhaustive.

The future

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 education, however.

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 resource materials.

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 General
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)
Government agencies
Courts: Supreme, Appeal, High, District
Treaty of Waitangi
- Rights and Responsibilities
- Participation
- Consultation
- Empowerment
- Voting
- Benefits
- Official Information Act
Armed Services
Local Government
- Devolution/Subsidiarity
- Elections
Local Authority (regional/city/district councils)
- Local Government New Zealand
- Handling local issues
- Consultation
- Planning
- Rates
- Welfare
- E-government
Civil Defence
Ethnic Councils
Service Groups



Please send your suggested changes to these draft policy pointers to the Centre for Citizenship Education.

Updated 15 October 2005


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