The Minister has invited us to have our say on Education as many aspects are up for review. Should the New Zealand Curriculum be one of them?
There is ongoing debate about whether our curriculum really meets the aspirations of our tamariki to be active citizens now and in their future so that they are well prepared for the task of making this world the best they possibly can for all people. Much of this debate at a national level focuses on the dichotomy between a 21st century skills-based curriculum and a knowledge-based curriculum. For example, Frances Valentine, an advocate for 21st century skills, recently stated:
I have run out of patience. Not for these incredible young minds, but for the analogue, rigid system that continues to prepare them for a world that no longer exists….. Are we really that committed to the status quo that we are happy to pretend that the world isn’t a very different place than it was when we grew up?
At the same time Roger Partridge called 21 Century Learning snake oil at a researchED ‘Festival of Education’ conference:
There is only one problem with 21st-century learning; despite its seductive underpinnings, there is no scientific evidence it is equal, let alone superior, to more traditional, teacher-led instruction. And there is lots of evidence it fails children, particularly the disadvantaged. So 21st-century learning is seductive snake oil, not science. And it is dumbing down children’s learning, by limiting their exposure to the wealth of knowledge their parents gained at school a generation ago.
From an international perspective the OECD Education 2030 position paper adds to the debate as they suggest that curricula needs a broad set of goals that focus on individual and community wellbeing and that provides young people with a broad set of knowledge, skills, attitudes and values in action to be prepared for the complex future.
Building on the OECD Key Competencies (the DeSeCo project: Definition and Selection of Competencies), the OECD Education 2030 project has identified three further categories of competencies, the “Transformative Competencies”, that together address the growing need for young people to be innovative, responsible and aware:
Creating new value
Reconciling tensions and dilemmas
Taking responsibility. (page 5)
And, any Google search will show a great number of lists of what these knowledge, skills, and attitudes should be — everyone has an opinion.
Why polarise? Personally, I don’t think this dichotomy of skills versus knowledge is useful, as life and curriculum are more complex than that.
What is important for Aotearoa New Zealand?
A key aspect of any curriculum is a vision for young people that is owned by all stakeholders in ways that it makes sense both emotionally and intellectually. This was a factor in the high regard teachers and leaders had for the New Zealand Curriculum, as described in the evaluation two years after implementation. “In summary, implementing key practices related to The New Zealand Curriculum continues to be difficult. The New Zealand Curriculum is cherished but is challenging.” (Executive summary Sinnema, 2011)
Seven years on, researchers, education agencies, and schools are still grappling with what the implementation of the New Zealand Curriculum could look like. For example, NZCER has summarised the research effort to understand:
- what key competencies are (their nature);
- how they should be included in a local curriculum (their weaving together with other curriculum components); and
- how they should impact the intended learning (their role).
In a related paper, Weaving a coherent curriculum, Rose Hipkin’s suggests that when teachers design rich tasks, they bring together concepts or big ideas (from one or more learning areas) and appropriate aspects of all the key competencies.
Rich tasks include a conceptual focus and a ‘doing’ focus that draws on aspects of all the key competencies. However, it is hard to focus the intended learning if we just say every key competency is in play. This is where the idea of capabilities can help. A ‘capability’ is demonstrated in action. It is what the student shows they can do—and is willing to do—as a result of their learning. Capabilities remix aspects of all the key competencies and weave them together with important knowledge and skills. (page 1)
Rose suggests that, while there are many important capabilities, a small number of really important ones that are valuable to all the learning areas and can be taught and practised are more likely to be kept in teachers’ “heads” as a guide for classroom actions and curriculum design. The capabilities suggested are:
- making meaning in discipline-specific ways
- critical inquiry
- taking action — living and contributing as active engaged citizens in the world.
To me, thinking about four interrelated capabilities sounds more do-able than trying to think about a list of key competencies and another list of learning objectives. It does mean deeply understanding these capabilities. How are we thinking about competencies, learning objectives, and capabilities in our context?
Another angle on what to teach in Aotearoa New Zealand has been whether te reo Māori should be compulsory in New Zealand schools. This was explored on a recent NR Insight programme. The audio also explored whether the teaching and learning about te Tiriti o Waitangi and Aotearoa New Zealand history should be compulsory. Some people thought yes and others no, with many voicing their concern that it would only make a difference if te Tiriti o Waitangi and Aotearoa New Zealand history was engaged with respectfully and with full knowledge of the stories. This is the conversation we can all participate in.
The question should we review our curriculum? may be right but the context may be wrong
We need to have conversations about what we should be teaching, and why, and speak up in favour for those learners and whānau who are least well-served by the current curriculum. I’d suggest that, instead of asking the question ‘Should we review our curriculum?’ at a national level, it would be better asked at the local level — Kāhui Ako, school, or classroom. And the answer is, Yes, if we are unsure whether our:
local curriculum reflects a vision for young people that is owned by all stakeholders in ways that it makes sense both emotionally and intellectually
vision for young people becomes a reality and actually leads to improved and equitable student outcomes.
Design and development processes
In Aotearoa New Zealand the following features of local curriculum design and implementation support the development of a vision owned by all, and a short time period between design and the desired outcomes:
- bicultural — honouring a commitment to the te Tiriti o Waitangi
- builds agency — teachers and community are empowered to use their professional knowledge, skills, and expertise to contribute to the local curriculum effectively
- inclusive — recognising a range of stakeholders (young people and their whānau, iwi and hapū, teachers and educators, experts and researchers, local communities, professional associations and industries, including representatives of teachers’ unions and the business sector, and national, regional, and local government); their visions, ways of working, language, and culture
- builds on what is known — is based on regional, national, and international research and evaluation
- tests ideas in the implementation process and makes clear what is new (and what is new for whom, in order to know where the support needs to go), what language works, and any unintended consequences
- incremental — focusing on the vision, framework, and position papers first, and the details second
- reflects the emotional and intellectual requirements to engage in curriculum change
- innovative — in the use of technology and social media during the design and implementing processes.
Where to next?
Think about your context:
- Do you have a process for curriculum review?
- Does any curriculum design and implementation process incorporate the eight features mentioned above?
If not, get involved and involve others in thinking about what should be reviewed and how to do it.
If you are exploring the design of a local curriculum that reflects a vision for young people that is owned by all stakeholders in ways that it makes sense both emotionally and intellectually, it often helps to have a critical friend work with you. CORE can offer this support.
See our list of accredited facilitators for a critical friend to guide your process, our online courses for leaders of change, and the Education Positioning System (EPS) to understand what your community thinks.
Rosemary Hipkins (2017) Weaving a coherent curriculum: How the idea of ʻcapabilities’ can help found on NZCER website http://www.nzcer.org.nz/research/publications/weaving-coherent-curriculum-how-idea-capabilities-can-help
Sue McDowell and Rosemary Hipkins (2018) How the key competencies evolved over time: Insights from the research (PDF, 2 MB) found on TKI curriculum page http://nzcurriculum.tki.org.nz/Key-competencies
OECD (1997) DeSeCo project: Definition and Selection of Competencies found on the OECD website This project underpinned the NZC key competencies — see
Rosemary Hipkins (2018) How the key competencies were developed: The evidence base (PDF, 2 MB) found on TKI curriculum page http://nzcurriculum.tki.org.nz/Key-competencies
OECD (2018) The future of education and skills Education 2030 found on the OECD website
Roger Partridge (2018) 21 Century Snake Oil. Article published 9 June 2018 on The New Zealand Initiative website https://nzinitiative.org.nz/reports-and-media/opinion/21st-century-snake-oil/
Claire Sinnema (2011) Monitoring and evaluating curriculum implementation: Final evaluation report on the implementation of the New Zealand Curriculum 2008-2009 found on the Ministry of Education’s website Education Counts
Frances Valintine (2017) Future-focused? Who are we fooling? Opinion published October 20th 2017 on the Education Central website https://educationcentral.co.nz/opinion-frances-valintine-future-focused-who-are-we-fooling/