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Real issues - No 216

Maxim Institute - real issues - No 216
3 August 2006





Education Minister Steve Maharey announced the release of the new draft National Curriculum this week. The government has updated, shortened and revised the curriculum, which sets out what must be taught in New Zealand schools, and is calling for public comment on it.

The new curriculum allows much greater freedom for schools and communities to be able to set the direction of their teaching. It does this by setting out core values and principles, and then leaving schools to teach consonant with them, adapting them for their particular context. The present curriculum is outdated, cumbersome, and prescribes teaching and learning right down to minutiae. The new draft curriculum cuts the volume right down to thirty-eight pages, ditching centralised bossiness and allowing schools and communities to set their own directions to a much greater extent. For this, the government deserves applause.

The curriculum has "key competencies", "values" and "learning areas", like English, Maths, Science, Technology and Languages, and key principles of effective teaching. It also sets out those things that a school community should consider when writing the school curriculum. The document is weighed down with boilerplate educational jargon, but underneath, the principle is basically sound. Schools, parents and communities know what will suit their children best. The focus should be on effective outcomes and results, not on prescribing every aspect of teaching and learning. The new curriculum rightly says, "All students can learn and succeed, but not necessarily on the same day, at the same time, or in the same way". Pupils, schools and contexts are different. Teaching should be different too.

It is disappointing, however, that the principle of freedom for schools only extends so far. While the curriculum allows schools to make more decisions, it remains overly prescriptive in some areas, such as the insistence that all schools must teach an additional language, as well as English. Several principals are complaining that it will be difficult to implement aspects of the new curriculum within their existing resources and the need to prioritise their budgets. While I.T. and languages are important areas, schools exist in different contexts and so face different challenges. We should allow schools to decide where to put their resources, and where their community needs them; not just in a few areas, but in all of them.

To view the draft curriculum and submit your views on it, please visit:



Bars fed up with the excessive drinking culture in New Zealand have resorted to rugby tactics in an attempt to keep their patrons under control. A yellow card sends the drinker to the 'sin-bin' for a glass of water and a temporary ban on alcohol, and a red card sends the unfortunate punter packing for the night. And to show good sportsmanship, the bar will redeem last night's red card for a drink on the house the following day.

This is an amusing approach to a complicated problem, and it is an innovation that should be welcomed. As the Alcohol Advisory Council of New Zealand point out, "It's not the drinking; it's how we're drinking" which is causing the problem. This slogan highlights the enormous challenge of influencing culture. It is no small feat and requires a multi-faceted approach; one of which is the law.

In particular, the legal age limit is still the subject of much public debate. To address increased drinking among youths and curb the problems associated with "... rising numbers of drunk and disorderly teenagers ...", former Progressive Party MP, Matt Robson, proposed a Bill to amend the Sale of Liquor Act 1989 to raise the drinking age back to 20. The Sale of Liquor (Youth Alcohol Harm Reduction) Amendment Bill is currently before the Law and Order Select Committee, who are due to report back to Parliament in late 2006.

Support for this amendment comes from mounting evidence that since the drinking age was lowered to 18 in 1999 there have been increases in alcohol related incidents involving 15-19 year olds, such as car crashes. This is despite the fact that according to the Sale of Liquor Act, bartenders are not legally allowed to serve anyone they think is intoxicated. Unfortunately enforcing this is an uphill battle, especially among younger bartenders who often feel the social pressures of turning down drunken patrons.

Regardless of whether people feel comfortable refusing to serve those who are intoxicated, the fact remains that it is against the law. If we are serious about changing our drinking culture, the current law must be better enforced, alongside a review of the legal drinking age. It's time to give New Zealand's binge drinking culture the red card.


Following the Ministry of Education's release of the new draft curriculum that will govern what our children will be taught in school, much attention has focused on the list of eight core 'values' that pupils will be encouraged to take on: excellence, innovation, enquiry and curiosity, diversity, respect, equity, community and participation, care for the environment and integrity.

While these appear to be noble ideals, the imposition of values held by those at the Ministry of Education onto every young New Zealander is not an exciting proposition. Surely our children would be better served if the values they are taught in school reflected those being taught in the family and modelled in the local community. A Colmar Brunton survey commissioned by Maxim Institute found that 84 percent of parents think that schools should be allowed to teach their community's own values. Amongst Maori parents this number was even higher.

Furthermore, people do not truly obtain values by being told that they should have them. Young people most successfully internalise values by seeing them modelled in exemplary and inspiring role models such as parents, community leaders and historical figures. Such examples are far more important in building character than isolated values laid out in an educational curriculum.

C.S. Lewis once said: "Education without values, as useful as it is, seems to make man a more clever devil." The Ministry of Education is on the right track by wanting our children to live by worthy values, but its method is not the most effective. Schooling forms only one part of a child's life; reflecting and reinforcing the same positive values in school that already exist in community life helps to ensure consistency, and a strong emphasis on individual and corporate character.

The Colmar Brunton research is featured in Maxim Institute's first report in the Parent Factor series, Freedom for schools. To read the report, please visit:




Christchurch, New Zealand's first city, turned 150 this week and marked the occasion with a huge birthday bash in Cathedral Square. Queen Victoria signed Letters Patent on 31 July 1856 making Christchurch a city, so that an Anglican bishop could be consecrated for the South Island. Red and black streamers appeared all over the city, and a carrot cake weighing several tonnes was cut in the Square. Dignitaries attended a civic service, with music, celebration and festivities lasting for most of the day. It is an important day for Canterbury, and also an important time to reflect on the importance of history, heritage and the pioneering spirit. Happy Birthday Christchurch!

"Looking down, he saw the land laid before him in natural divisions. On one hand was the town, its life circumscribed by the stream and its fertile coastal strip undulating to the port hills and the sea. On the other, to the west, stretched the plain of Canterbury, a sheet of waving tussock. Beyond the plain rose the longitudinal spine of mountains, snow-capped, that strode the length of the horizon, unexplored and terrifying." - James McNeish (1931-) Mackenzie


A British lesbian couple have failed in their bid to have their "marriage", which was solemnised in Canada, recognised in the United Kingdom. Celia Kitzinger and Sue Wilkinson were "married" in Vancouver, but British law recognises their union as a civil partnership, not a marriage. The pair attempted to argue that the law was discriminatory, but senior judge Sir Mark Potter, President of the High Court Family Division, rejected this argument. He accepted that marriage was "by longstanding definition and acceptance" a relationship between a man and a woman.

To read the judgment, please visit:



"Integrity without knowledge is weak and useless. Knowledge without integrity is dangerous and dreadful." Samuel Johnson (1709-1784)


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