Education in New Zealand is based on a system that was primarily modeled after British practices and approaches. This was largely inevitable, as the island nation was under British sovereignty from 1840. Although many other Western countries would trade and interact with New Zealand, the nation was basically an extension of the British Empire during its most formative period, and this was clearly reflected in the school systems.
These basics remain in place today. All New Zealand children from the ages of six to sixteen are required to attend primary, and then secondary, schools, which is very much like the United States’ system of elementary and high school levels. However, the unique history of New Zealand, which is greatly influenced by its tribal past and geographic location, has added important differences to how these educational systems are employed. Ancient Maori customs still in the culture, combined with modern systems, set New Zealand education apart from all other systems in the world today.
Because of this Maori culture, the youngest children in New Zealand experience a less restricted or standard kind of education: “Early childhood ‘education’ continues to be used as the generic term covering the diverse range of types of services in New Zealand” (Fielding, Moss, 2011, p. 63). As New Zealand evolves as a nation, it continues to add a holistic approach into all education levels, bringing together modern ideas with ancient and still respected concepts of an integrated society.
While basics of reading and writing are taught, there is a heavy emphasis on the child’s over-all development: “…In the national curriculum frameworks guiding practice in…New Zealand and the countries of the UK, the role of exploration and play in young children’s learning is stressed” (Kernan, Singer, 2011, p. 1). It would take the United States and other Western nations years to begin adopting this kind of philosophy, which was literally native to the New Zealanders. This approach has also received full government approval. In 1996, the New Zealand Ministry of Education formally acknowledged the value of the Te Whariki, or “woven mat”, ideology of education. In this style of education, children at the earliest levels are introduced to how culture, community, relationships, and language all form a broad basis for learning and life (Fielding, Moss, 2011, p. 81).
Unfortunately, and also in common with higher level schools in other developed countries, there are modern problems in New Zealand’s secondary educational systems. The primary and the upper levels are in many ways excellent. However, “The weakest point of the state system is secondary education, where the quality of schools varies widely and many have a reputation for a rough…culture that is antithetical to learning” (Palffy, 2008, p. 194). It could be argued that it is not so much the New Zealand school system here that is lacking, as it is a virtually global issue of adolescent education. Plainly, teens in any culture present difficulties for educators, as the age is usually rebellious and open to sometimes dangerous cultural influences.
Reform and Higher Education
The New Zealand government underwent a period of radical reform in the 1980s, and this translated to a period of intense, national self-scrutiny on education. “Heightened political interest in education during the early 1980s was also reflected in the growing importance the Opposition National Party accorded its new education spokesperson, Ruth Richardson…” (Openshaw, 2009, p. 80). The political platforms were shifting and the involved parties all turned to education issues to gain support from the voters.
The Picot Report was the result of a sitting committee of twelve months, whose purpose was to completely re-evaluate how government money was being used in education. The Report resulted in strong recommendations, including “…quite draconian measures for dealing with those schools who did not meet the required output levels” (Lingard, et al., 1993, p. 265). The Prime Minister drew upon the Picot Report to produce what would be known as “Tomorrow’s Schools”. This was a policy document that reflected the government’s new insistence on increased efficiency and accountability in the secondary schools it was funding. Then, the policy encouraged a kind of commercial incentive in surrounding school communities. As parents, teachers, and residents became more involved in either saving schools money, as in banding together and getting better deals on supplies from wholesalers, the government would recognize and reward these efforts (Lingard, et al., p. 270).