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New Zealand - The Educational System—overview

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The education system of New Zealand was introduced by the British colonial authorities during the colonial period and remains essentially the same as that in the United Kingdom. It is based on universal primary and secondary education to the age of 15 and a more diverse system after that point involving the later years of secondary school. Universities were more elite institutions but are now much more widely accessible since their expansion in the last decade that involved increasing student numbers in existing universities and redesignating other tertiary institutions. They are supplemented by polytechnics and a range of vocational institutions. But it has been extensively modified by the sovereign New Zealand state. In particular, the education system has had to make special provision for the indigenous Maori population.

Maori Education: While most Maori students remain within the mainstream education system, there is now a strong demand for Maori language education. This growth has been stimulated by the revival of te reo Maori (the Maori language). The programs developed to preserve their language have given Maori the opportunity to design the kind of education they want, and one that meets the needs of both adults and children.

The revival began with the establishment of köhanga reo (Maori language early childhood centers) and continued with kura kaupapa Maori (Maori medium schools). Growing numbers of Maori students are also enrolled in bilingual and Maori language immersion classes in mainstream schools. Maori achievement has increased across the New Zealand education system in recent years, but it has not kept pace with that of other groups.

Statistics on the Maori population provide a valuable insight into the demographic, social, and economic characteristics of the country's first people. As New Zealand's indigenous ethnic group and a population undergoing considerable change in recent years, information on the status of Maori people is of great interest to the public and to policy-makers. Comparisons with non-Maori show differences in population structure, living arrangements, crime, life expectancy, educational achievement, employment patterns, and income levels. These differences, in particular some of the socioeconomic disparities between Maori and non-Maori, have led to policies that seek to address the disadvantages faced by Maori. Economic restructuring, welfare reforms, treaty settlements, economic development initiatives, and bicultural policies have all had significant effects on the demographic, social, and economic situation of Maori people.

Recent decades have seen rapid growth in the size of the Maori population. From less than 8 percent of the New Zealand population in 1956, the Maori ethnic group grew to 15 percent at the 1996 census. By the middle of this century the Maori ethnic group is projected to almost double in size to almost 1 million people and make up 22 percent of the total population. Among the factors contributing to this growth have been historically higher rates of fertility, a greater concentration of people in the reproductive age groups compared to the non-Maori population, and a growing willingness to identify as Maori. The Maori population has a young age structure and although it is expected to age over the next half century, it should remain relatively young compared to the non-Maori population.

Another distinguishing feature of the Maori population is its geographic distribution. From being a predominantly rural population prior to World War II, Maori are now almost as highly urbanized as non-Maori. Nevertheless, the importance of traditional iwi locations is reflected in their greater concentration in the Northland, Waikato, Bay of Plenty, and Gisborne regions. Recent years have also seen increasing migration back to rural areas. The ethnic population distribution among the two main communities comprises European preponderance in the south that gets progressively more diluted as one moves north, until Maori dominate in Northland.

Patterns of family formation and the types of families and households in which Maori live differ from others, but trends in family formation for the Maori population reflect wider social trends among the population as a whole: Maori are less likely to marry and more likely to live in a de facto relationship than in the past, tend to have fewer children, and are more likely to live in sole-parent families than previously. At the same time, however, the living arrangements of Maori also reflect the traditional importance of the whanau, or extended family. Maori are considerably more likely than non-Maori to live in extended families, in households occupied by more than one family and in large households. Socioeconomic circumstances may possibly also be a factor encouraging shared living arrangements.

Education is an area in which there have been some significant initiatives in recent years to improve outcomes for Maori. Both participation and attainment by Maori in education have improved over the past decade, but disparities between Maori and non-Maori remain. Maori are more likely to attend early childhood education than in the past, with the growth of köhanga reo providing a major impetus in this area. They are also more likely than in the past to stay at school beyond the compulsory leaving age and more likely to leave with qualifications. There has also been considerable growth in the number of Maori enrolled in tertiary education and, consequently, an increase in the proportion of Maori with postschool qualifications. However, these changes have occurred within a context of increasing educational participation and attainment amongst the population as a whole, with the result that further improvements for Maori are needed if disparities in educational outcomes are to be reduced.

Educational outcomes have a major impact on employment opportunities. Historically Maori, by comparison with non-Maori, have had higher rates of unemployment and a greater concentration in lower skilled manual occupations in secondary industries. The economic changes since the early 1980s have had a significant effect on Maori employment with major job losses in sectors in which Maori were highly represented. Employment for both Maori men and Maori women fell markedly between 1986 and 1991. Subsequent recovery saw employment for Maori women reach higher levels in 1996 than a decade earlier, but Maori men remained less likely to be employed than in 1986. Unemployment rates for Maori mirrored this trend, rising markedly between 1986 and 1991 and falling between 1991 and 1996. Despite this fall, Maori were almost three times as likely as non-Maori to be unemployed in 1996. Job losses in traditional sectors of employment for Maori have been offset to some extent by new opportunities in other sectors. This is reflected in a fall in the proportion of Maori working in manufacturing industries and increases in service industries such as wholesaling, retailing, restaurants and hotels, as well as business and financial services. Occupational distribution has also changed, with a fall in the proportion employed as plant and machine operators and assemblers and an increase in the proportion employed as service and sales workers.

There has recently been some dispute about this interpretation of the figures. Some researchers have argued that ethnicity has not been a major determinant of income distribution. This has been hotly contested, however, and most academic research and government policy is based on the opposite interpretation.

Maori on average receive lower incomes than non-Maori. Median incomes for Maori fell as a proportion of non-Maori incomes between 1986 and 1991 and then increased again by 1996 but did not regain the level of a decade earlier. In part, the difference between Maori and non-Maori incomes reflects the greater concentration of Maori in low-paid occupations. However, comparisons within occupational groups show that Maori receive lower median incomes than non-Maori with similar occupations. Maori also receive lower median incomes than non-Maori with similar levels of education. The education system has an important role to play if these issues are to be adequately addressed.


Maori Teachers: An evaluation of Maori teacher supply initiatives was completed and a review of the current Maori and Maori medium teacher supply initiatives is underway. During the year 2000, TeachNZ scholarships, designed to attract increased numbers of Maori and Maori medium teachers, were awarded to 165 recipients.


Kura Kaupapa Maori & Other Secondary Education: Maori medium education in schools is rapidly expanding. In 1990 there were six officially designated kura kaupapa Maori catering for 190 students. In 1999 there were 59 kura kaupapa Maori. In 1999, a total of 396 schools other than kura kaupapa Maori were offering some form of Maori medium education. Maori enrollments at the senior secondary school level have been steadily increasing over the last 10 years. In the tertiary sector in 1999, Maori were most likely to be enrolled in polytechnics, whereas non-Maori were most likely to be enrolled in university. A total of 27,837 Maori were enrolled in a formal program of tertiary education. Maori made up 9 percent of university students, 11.9 percent of college of education students, and 12.6 percent of all tertiary students.

There are three wänanga Maori (tertiary establishments): Te Wänanga o Aotearoa (Te Awamutu); Te Wänanga o Raukawa (Otaki); and Te Whare Wänanga a Awanuiarangi (Whakatane). All are state funded. In 1999 there were 1,735 Maori students enrolled at wänanga and 148 non-Maori. Government and iwi will assess the future development and growth of wänanga as a viable option for Maori participation in the tertiary sector.


Maori Language Education Resources: The government supports targeting funds to increase teacher training in the Maori language and to increase the supply of learning resources for Maori medium education. The Maori Language Education Plan (MLEP) is the educationfocused part of the government's Maori Language Strategy. There are five key areas in the MLEP designed to support Maori language education. These focus on raising the capacity of education providers to deliver high quality Maori language education. This will be done through the adequate and appropriate provision of resources for both mainstream and Maori medium schools, including the provision of skilled teachers, sufficient teaching and learning material, and new assessment tools.


Labor Education Policy in 1999: Once again, Labor represented and is now implementing the Left orthodox critique of the education system as it was evolving in the more liberal environment of the 1990s.

Labor policy for the 1999 election on schools said: Labor sees quality education as a basic right, which must be available to all children. If New Zealanders are better educated, the whole society will benefit, both socially and economically. National's market approach has meant some schools find it hard to attract quality teachers. Priority will be given to ensuring that all schools are staffed by quality teachers.

Labor will therefore improve preservice training and require ongoing professional development of teachers. It will also retain advisory and training services on a central basis, move to universal registration for all teaching staff in schools or early childhood education, and establish a staffing working party to develop a long-term staffing formula that gives proper consideration to schools' workload issues.

Labor argued that schools were increasingly being divided into winners and losers, with poorer communities being disadvantaged by that. Gaps were also widening between the achievement levels of school students. To offset this Labor would end bulk funding and reallocate the extra funds to schools through base grant, operational, and targeted funding increases. It would also introduce an annual inflation adjustment of operations grant funding, work with boards and staff organizations to develop a scheme to provide incentives for teachers to be seconded to "hard to staff" schools, and host a Hui Taumata to bring together Maori educators and community leaders to plan for long-term progress in Maori education.

Labor argued that there was a need to build capacity in technology and school buildings for the future. To achieve this Labor will ensure that teachers are trained in the use of information technology and will investigate bulk-buying options for hardware, software, and networking systems.

In particular Labor argued it would pursue a policy of "Closing the gaps." Whereas Labor determinedly pursued the Maori vote, and got it in 1999, it was widely assumed this referred to lifting Maori achievements to the same level as non-Maori. This was to become a controversial issue in late 2000.

When the coalition government came into power in December 1999, there were over 1 million people, 30 percent of the population, enrolled in the New Zealand education system. The number of students enrolled in formal education, grew from 1997 to 1999. In July 1997 there were 163,925 children in early childhood education, 712,276 students in the schools, and 252,034 in postsecondary education for a total of 1,128,235. In July 1998 there were 171,198 children in early childhood education, 724,579 students in the schools, and 256,123 in postsecondary education for a total of 1,151,900. In July 1999 there were 171,576 children in early childhood education, 727,396 students in the schools, and 253,043 in postsecondary education for a total of 1,152,051.


Types of Schooling:


Compulsory Schooling: At early levels, school attendance is considered compulsory. Primary schools represent the first level of compulsory schooling. They cater to children from the age of five years (Year 0) to the end of their sixth year of schooling (Standard 4). Children in their seventh and eighth years of schooling (Forms 1 and 2) may either be in a separate intermediate school or part of a primary, secondary, or composite/area school. Secondary schools usually provide for students from Year 9 (Form 3) until the end of Year 13 (Form 7). Area schools that are usually based in rural areas combine primary, intermediate, and secondary schooling at one location.


Choices in Schooling: State schools are coeducational at the primary and intermediate level, but some offer single-sex education at the secondary level. Some offer special programs for adult students or run community education classes. Although most students attend statefunded schools, there are a number of other choices for parents and students. Integrated schools are schools that were previously private and have now been integrated into the state system. They follow the state curriculum requirements but incorporate their own special character (generally a philosophical or religious belief) into the school program. Integrated schools receive the same government funding for each student as state schools, but the buildings and land are privately owned so the school meets the costs of property development and maintenance from attendance dues.


Kura kaupapa Maori (Maori medium schools) are state schools where teaching is in te reo Maori (the Maori language) and is based on Maori culture and values. The curriculum is the same as at other state schools, but was developed to build on the success of köhanga reo (Maori language early childhood centers) in preserving and increasing the use of te reo Maori. One of the key goals is to produce students who are competent in both Maori and English.

Independent (or private) schools are governed by their own independent boards but are required to meet certain standards in order to be registered. Independent schools may be either coeducational or single sex. They charge fees, but also receive some funding from the government based on the percentage of the average total cost of state schooling. Boarding schools may either be independent or part of a state-funded school; both charge boarding fees.


Te Kura-a-Tuhi (the Correspondence School) is funded by the Ministry of Education. It is a national distance-learning school administered by an elected board of trustees, composed of parents, community, and school representatives. Full-time students are enrolled for a variety of reasons, including distance from other schools, a wide range of special needs, medical and psychological problems, itinerancy, and suspension from other schools. The total school roll at 1 July 1999 was 19,278.

Home-based schooling is for parents who want to educate their children at home. They can do so provided they maintain a standard of education equivalent to that of a registered school. They need to get approval from the Ministry of Education and are given an annual grant to help with the cost of learning materials. Home-schooling parents may purchase teaching services from the correspondence school.


The Curriculum: New Zealand Curriculum Framework: A program of reform of the curriculum is continuing and The New Zealand Curriculum Framework provides the basis for programs in schools. It sets out the principles that underpin and give direction to all teaching and learning in New Zealand schools as well as the essential skills to be developed at each stage. It also outlines the policy direction for assessment at school and national levels. The New Zealand Curriculum Framework is the foundation policy statement covering teaching, learning, and assessment for all students in all New Zealand schools.

The Principles: The Framework establishes and identifies the principles for all learning and teaching programs in New Zealand schools. The principles are based on the premise that the individual student is at the center of all teaching and learning.


The Essential Learning Areas: The Framework identifies seven essential learning areas. These are broad, recognizable categories of knowledge and understanding. They constitute a balanced curriculum within which the essential skills, attitudes, and values are developed. The Framework defines eight groups of essential skills. All students need to develop these skills to enable them to reach their full potential and take a full part in society. Students will develop the essential skills through a range of learning experiences across the whole curriculum. It outlines some of the attitudes and values that are an integral part of the school curriculum. The school curriculum will encourage positive attitudes towards learning. It will help students to develop and clarify their own attitudes, values, and beliefs while respecting those of others.

The Framework sets out the policies and procedures for assessment in all New Zealand schools. The national curriculum statements provide clear learning outcomes against which students' progress can be measured. The purpose of assessment is to assist with planning the next step of learning for students, reporting to parents, and planning for the most effective use of resources.


National Qualifications at Secondary Schools: Under the present system, secondary school students may take the national examinations as outlined below. From 2001, all New Zealand students at year 11 (Form 5) will work towards a National Certificate of Educational Achievement (NCEA) in place of School Certificate. In 2002 and 2003, levels 2 (Form 6) and 3 (Form 7) will be phased in to replace sixth form and university bursaries. NCEA will include a wider range of subjects and skills not previously examined under the School Certificate, university bursaries, and scholarship qualifications. It will also allow for recognition of a broader range of student achievements.


School Certificate: This examination is taken by most students at the end of three years of secondary education (fifth Form or Year 11). Except for part-time students, each candidate's course of study must include English, although the student is not required to sit the examination in that subject. A student may enter the examination in a number of subjects (up to six) and is credited with a grade in each subject. There are five grades: A, B, C, D, and E.


Sixth Form Certificate: This certificate is awarded on a single-subject basis to Sixth Form (Year 12) students who have satisfactorily completed a course of one year in one or more subjects. Most students take five or six subjects. All candidates must study a course of English, although, as with the School Certificate, they do not have to take it as a Sixth Form Certificate subject. Grades are awarded on a 1 to 9 scale, grade 1 being the highest. Candidates are assessed internally but grade allocations are moderated externally.


Higher School Certificate: The higher School Certificate is awarded to students who have satisfactorily completed five years of full-time secondary schooling beginning at Form 3. At least three subjects must be studied at a level above Sixth Form Certificate. It is a course completion qualification and grades or marks are not awarded.


University Entrance, Bursary, & Scholarship Examinations: Entrance to university is achieved by gaining a Higher School Certificate with three C grades or better. B bursaries are awarded if the total marks are between 250 and 299, and an A bursary is awarded if the total marks are 300 or more. Scholarships are awarded for high performance in individual subjects and there are also top scholar awards. Small cash payments are made to those gaining bursaries and scholarships.

Between 1980 and 1998, the highest attainment of secondary school leavers improved considerably. In 1980, some 33 percent received no formal qualification, 23 percent got a school certificate, 13 percent a sixth form certificate, 16 percent university entrance, and 15 percent a seventh form award. In 1998: 18 percent got no formal qualification, 16 percent a school certificate, 23 percent sixth form certificate, 13 percent higher school certificate, 9 percent university entrance, and 20 percent a university bursary.


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