The New Zealand education system has become one of the most advanced in the world in recent years. Located in the first positions of the PISA Report, it constitutes an example of cultural integration, for its effort to recover and preserve the Maori culture, and of pedagogical innovation, for its promotion of pedagogical flexibility and creativity. This boom is a consequence of the reforms carried out in the 1990s. We explain its main characteristics, which can help us to reflect on our teaching system and the measures that would help to improve it.
TEN PILLARS OF THE NEW ZEALAND EDUCATIONAL SYSTEM
- 1. Education is free and accessible to all . Children must attend school from 6 to 16 years old, but most begin at 5 and continue until 19. During these years they attend the cycles of Primary (5-6 to 12 years) and Secondary (13 to 18-19). Education in these stages is free. The Government also has a distance education program for those students who, for various reasons, cannot attend educational centers. It covers more than 24,000 preschool, primary and secondary school students.
- 2. Public school is the majority option. Although there is a private school, most of the children attend public school. According to OECD data, 96% of Primary and 85% Secondary students choose to attend state schools. Public education is highly valued and is completely secular.
- 3. There is a National Curriculum, but teachers have the flexibility to apply it. The curriculum is compulsory for Primary and the first years of Secondary. It establishes eight areas of learning: language arts, health and physical education, languages, mathematics and statistics, natural sciences, social sciences, and technology. And five basic competences: thinking, use of symbols and linguistic texts; self-management; relationship with others; participation and contribution. However, the Government relies on the professionalism of teachers and allows them to adapt it to the needs of their students.
- 4. The student is given prominence. The State promotes a teaching model that prepares and encourages students to solve problems on their own, deal with information, work collaboratively, create and innovate. The goal is to prepare students for the changing 21st century, and to develop their full potential.
- 5. Innovation and creativity are promoted . The Government encourages among teachers the use of methodologies focused on active learning and developing capacities such as decision-making, creativity and autonomy in learning. This bet is accompanied by training for teachers, who are released from their classes to attend training courses.
- 6. Investment in education is very high and teachers are highly valued. New Zealand devotes 7.3% of its GDP to education, almost two points above the OECD average (5.8%) and three more than Spain (4.3%). Teachers are considered highly skilled professionals. They enter their position after three years of university studies, two of work in schools under the supervision of another teacher, and after passing a selective test similar to those of resident intern doctors (MIR) and other professionals. Once registered as teachers, they earn a salary of almost 45,000 euros (the average salary in the country is 32,848 euros).
- 7. There is a strong commitment to intercultural integration. Since the 1990s, the Government has encouraged the participation of the Maori community in the educational system, and taken various actions to safeguard their language and culture. There is a network of schools for 3- to 14-year-olds known as Te Kura Kaupapa Maori, where Maori is the vehicular language and education is based on Maori culture and values. There is also a network of Maori kindergartens, the Kōhanga Reo, and three university centers, known as Wānanga.
- 8. Schools have autonomy and families participate in their management. Both the Primary schools and the Secondary schools are governed by a board of directors made up of the principal, a member of the team of teachers and various representatives elected by the parents of the school.
- 9. Evaluation is considered a tool to plan for the future. Teachers and schools have clear national standards and tools to assess student learning, although great importance is attached to teacher judgment and professional knowledge. Evaluation is understood as part of a continuous improvement process. There are also systems to evaluate and ensure the quality of schools. The Government allocates three agencies to this function: the Education Review Office (ERO), which assesses and reports on the new care and education of students in schools and nurseries; the New Zealand Qualifications Authority (NZQA), which ensures quality and the evaluation system in secondary schools; and the New Zealand Teachers Council (NZTC), which is concerned with maintaining the standards of its teachers.
- 10. It is committed to ICT to promote the autonomy of students . ICTs are conceived as a tool to empower students and stimulate them to seek their own answers, develop their creativity and work collaboratively. According to the OECD, New Zealand is one of the countries with the most computers per student in the classroom: at least one computer for each student in 2012.