New Zealand’s world-ranked education system excels at giving student teachers the skills, knowledge and practical experience they need to prepare their students for the demands of a fast-changing world.
In 2017, The Economist Intelligence Unit ranked New Zealand first in the Worldwide Educating for the Future Index.
Why has New Zealand been ranked a world leader in educating students for the future?
Part of the answer lies in the way it educates its teachers.
New Zealand topped the index’s ‘best teaching environment’ category and was given full marks for teacher education.
Dr Andrea Milligan, Associate Dean (Teacher Education) at Victoria University of Wellington’s Faculty of Education, says New Zealand has had an international reputation for student-centred education since the 1940s.
She says student-centred learning and giving trainee teachers practical experience in the classroom are just some of the factors that make New Zealand’s teacher education unique.
Rather than treating students as a group, teachers in New Zealand learn to personalise their planning and teaching to meet the needs of each individual student.
“In your planning and your teaching, you’re not thinking about the group in front of you but about the needs of each individual learner,” says Andrea.
“It’s an approach that international teaching students in New Zealand often find very refreshing, especially if they come from education systems where high-stakes assessment drives lots of their practice.”
Personalised learning requires teachers to have an in-depth knowledge of the strengths and needs of every student.
A flexible curriculum
New Zealand’s world-leading national curriculum sets out five ‘key competencies’ that students should develop to prepare them for the future. The vision, principles and values also set the direction for learning.
However, the curriculum also gives teachers flexibility. Rather than working from a textbook, teachers create their own plans to suit their students.
“Having a flexible curriculum gives our schools a great deal of autonomy in deciding what to teach. It’s a challenging and rewarding way to teach,” says Andrea.
Indian student Claudia Patrao, who is studying a Graduate Diploma of Teaching at Victoria University, enjoys adapting her teaching to suit each student’s needs.
“In India, you teach what’s in the textbook. Here you come up with your own plan for how you’ll teach each subject, and you might also have different plans for different students,” she says.
“It’s a way of making sure that your teaching is open and achievable for every student.”
Teaching for a multicultural world
Students need to prepare for life in a increasingly multicultural world. New Zealand is a great place to do that – its largest city, Auckland, is home to over 200 ethnicities.
Andrea says student teachers learn how to teach classrooms with students from diverse backgrounds, and to help students understand, respect and respond to different viewpoints, values, customs and languages.
“It’s about bringing each child’s culture into the classroom, rather than treating the class as a single homogenous group,” says Andrea.
Mexican student Reneé Balcazar has had placements in two primary schools while studying for a Graduate Diploma of Teaching at Victoria University.
“The papers I’d studied really helped me to respond to children from different cultural backgrounds. I’ve also gained great classroom management skills,” says Reneé.
“In India, you teach what’s in the textbook. Here you come up with your own plan for how you’ll teach each subject, and you might also have different plans for different students.”
“The papers I’d studied really helped me to respond to children from different cultural backgrounds. I’ve also gained great classroom management skills.”
Practical experience in the classroom
Working with real students in real schools is a way for student teachers to make connections between the theory they’ve learned in lectures and everyday teaching practice.
“Applied learning is hugely important in New Zealand. Students develop expertise from studying in their university, and they develop relationships from working in a classroom,” says Andrea.
“It’s really important for students to see that everything they have learned in lectures will be valuable in the classroom.”
For Marc Rowlinson, from the UK, gaining practical classroom experience was one of the highlights of studying for a Postgraduate Diploma of Teaching at Massey University’s Auckland campus.
“It gave me a good grounding in putting my learning into practice. It also made me realise the huge range of opportunities that students have in New Zealand, from sport to technology,” says Marc.
“Studying in New Zealand isn’t just about sitting down and doing a test – it’s about educating the whole child.”