Key Competencies in the NZ Curriculum

It’s now truly writing time for my Axford paper, and I’ve done a pretty unremarkable job updating this space during my time in New Zealand. With about 3 months left, I’d like to change that. The current strategy? Kick off the day with a short spout of writing, whether on something read or something experienced over the past few months.

The core of my work is looking into the role technology can play in supporting the development of the Key Competencies of the New Zealand Curriculum. That curriculum refers to those competencies as “capabilities for living and lifelong learning”, defined as the following:

  • Thinking
  • Relating to others
  • Using language, symbols, and texts
  • Managing self
  • Participating and contributing

That is, TRUMP – an acronym most schools here seem to have moved on from, though you may spot the occassional set of TRUMP attributes on a teacher’s wall here or there.

Putting aside the irony of that acronym alongside managing self and relating to others for a moment, it’s important to note that the KC’s themselves are based on work from the OECD. The OECD built a framework to guide the development of its PISA assessments through a process known as the Definition and Selection of Competencies – the DeSeCo project. ┬áThe four competencies that resulted – acting autonomously, functioning in heterogenous groups, using tools interactively, and thinking – were chosen as a set of skills that meet the following criteria:

  • Every student needs them
  • They are relevant across cultures and disciplines
  • They are interdisciplinary, i.e. relevant to all areas of the curriculum

For my part, I chose to focus on understanding how secondary schools address the KC’s for the following reasons:

  • Teaching has traditionally focused on student acquisition of content knowledge in largely isolated disciplines. I wanted to better understand how New Zealand schools think about moving beyond this paradigm into one focused on teaching skills as well as content.
  • Survey data of NZ teaching practices show that teachers may be struggling to develop aspects of the key competencies among students, such as ensuring that students “think critically and talk about what and how they are learning,” a practice fewer than 25% of NZ teachers rated as being done “very well.” A practice that critical to the education of children being marked fairly low in comparison to others deserves further investigation.
  • Part of the reason schools often neglect to focus time and energy on developing “capabilities” among students is that they are not accountable for growth in those areas in the same way they are held accountable for achievement in traditional subjects like math and reading, or traditional metrics like graduation rates. I wanted to better understand how the NZ Ministry of Education supports the broad goals it has set out for students through its national curriculum in part by understanding how schools view their own accountability in meeting those goals. I’ve found, as with many aspects of NZ education, the way schools approach talking about, implementing, and measuring the KC’s varies considerably from one school to the next.