The purpose of the New Zealand education system is to equip all New Zealanders with the knowledge, skills and values to be successful citizens. Educational curriculum should meet the needs and current demands of the culture, the society, and the expectations of the population being served. To achieve this vision, the Government directs what students should learn through its national curriculum.
In our rapidly changing world, continually updating school curricula ensures that the next generation is fully equipped to function well in society. There is a growing need for specialised training for certain career pathways, which requires more formal training. This has created greater demand for greater pre-professional and/or vocational education in secondary school, to help ensure a smooth transition into on-going education, training or work.
The New Zealand Curriculum
The New Zealand Curriculum is the statement of official policy relating to teaching and leading in New Zealand schools. It sets out the vision and principles that are the foundations of decision-making in school curriculum. Schools are required to base their curriculum on the principles of the Curriculum, to encourage and model the values, and to develop the key competencies at all year levels. The key competencies identified in the curriculum are:
- using language, symbols, and texts
- managing self
- relating to others
- participating and contributing
The curriculum also specifies eight learning areas
- the arts
- health and physical education
- learning languages
- mathematics and statistics
- social sciences
The learning associated with each of these areas us part of a broad, general education and lays the foundation for later specialisation.
Under the National Administration Guidelines, the national curriculum is compulsory until Year 10, so schools are required to provide subjects that relate to the learning areas above and are compulsory for all students.
Currently, secondary schools in New Zealand provide a mixture of compulsory and elective subject choices. For Year 9 and 10 students “core” compulsory subjects include mathematics, english, science, social studies, technology and health and physical education.
School curricula must keep up-to-date with the continuous evolution of knowledge and technological change, so students and fully equipped to function well in society.
Specific issues have come up in the last few year relate dot the Global Financial Crisis, and the economy shifting away from the traditional production sectors, school curricula may not be developing the skills and knowledge to meet these challenges. Specific issues perceived as being important to address include:
a lack of financial education
failing participation and academic performance in “core” subjects such as science or mathematics
ensuring students have the skills to keep up with rapid technological innovation
“citizenship” classes to improve participation and contribution to society
environment and sustainability pressures.
Reasons for compulsory subjects
Compulsory subjects exist because the learning areas in which they belong are regarded as fundamental to building the key competencies of students. Some reasons for making some secondary school subjects compulsory include:
The perception that many students do not always know what might be best for their future learning or employment. This is highlighted by the shortage of skilled professionals in certain employment areas, and the comparative over supply in others.
There is a concern that current subject choices (and even achievement standards within subjects) by secondary schools could have a negative impact on our ability to replace our existing pool of science and Digital technologies professionals. A high level of knowledge in these learning areas is essential to developing a career in some professions. While to a degree this knowledge can be used at university, it is important that a “foundational” knowledge is developed at secondary school.
Some knowledge is also essential for people to engage in public debates as informed citizens.
Reasons for freedom of subject choice
Subject choice in schools is consistent with the principle of “self directed learning”, in which students decide what learning areas they have an interest in and would like to develop further skills and knowledge.
Greater freedom in subject choice in linked with greater student satisfaction, and higher performance at secondary school.
Somethings that need to be considered:
What key competencies and knowledge will students require to be successful in the modern workforce?
What key competencies and knowledge will students require to ensure they will be able to make decisions about complex social, economic and technological issues?
How important are subjects such as science, maths, digital technologies in modern society?
Should more subjects be compulsory? If so, which ones?
Should students have more choice about the subjects that they take currently? If so, which subjects shouldn’t be compulsory?