Interview: Education Minister Hekia Parata on Preparing New Zealand's Future Generations to Take on the World


New Zealand's Minister of Education Hekia Parata aims to equip all of New Zealand's students with the tools to take on a fast-paced global community. (Image courtesy of Hekia Parata)

Hekia Parata has been the Minister of Education for New Zealand since 2011, after first entering Parliament in 2008. Parata grew up in a large family on the east coast of New Zealand. She comes from an indigenous Māori background and is a fluent speaker of the Māori language.

Parata's belief in the transformative power of education comes from personal experience. She has represented New Zealand at the New Zealand Embassy in Washington, DC, and at a number of multinational forums including the South Pacific, the United Nations, and the World Bank. She has also addressed several international indigenous forums.

Asia Blog spoke to Parata ahead of the launch of the Center for Global Education at Asia Society to discuss the importance of globally-minded future generations. 

Some responses have been lightly edited for clarity. 

Why is “global competence” important in today’s world?

Global competence has long been a fundamental skill for us New Zealanders. We are a small nation with a far reach and big ambitions. New Zealanders have a long tradition of looking outwards, and taking risks. We are a nation founded by explorers, first by Māori who voyaged across the ocean searching for new lands; then by the British with science and expansion in their sights. That sense of wanting to see the world, and to connect, has never left us. So it’s no surprise that New Zealand has one of the highest percentages of its population living abroad.

Which is why we know just how important it is to be globally competent. To be able to connect with the world around us and have the skills and knowledge to venture anywhere and still be successful. We are also a nation of lifelong learners with one of the highest rates of adult learning in the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD). In 2014 nearly 70 percent of adults aged 25 or over took part in either formal or non-formal education. We continue to value the impact that education can have on our lives long after we’ve left the classroom.

How can we make sure today’s youth grow up more globally competent than previous generations?

Today’s children and young people have more exposure to what’s happening around the world than ever before. Through the Internet, they can instantly find out what is happening anywhere in the world, as well as speak to friends and family based all over the globe. Ensuring that all our schools are connected to fast, reliable broadband has been one of the ways we’ve made sure that today’s youth are growing up more globally competent. Every single one of our 2,500 schools is now connected to the internet, even the most remote ones including the three schools on the Chatham Islands which lie 680 kilometers (424 miles) southeast of mainland New Zealand in the Pacific Ocean. 

But it’s not just about giving our young people the tools to be globally competent. It's about the skills and the knowledge as well. That means ensuring that our curriculum is not only rich and varied but reflects the modern world, and encouraging collaboration and problem solving. Equally important is the training that we give our teachers to ensure that they can pass on the necessary skills and knowledge so that every one of our Kiwi kids leaves school ready to take on the world.

In what ways does the New Zealand education system reflect the values of a globally-minded education?

Our education system reflects the values of a globally-minded education through the rich and varied curriculum that our schools offer. There is a diverse and wide range of choices when it comes to subjects that students can study from the traditional to the more unusual such as diving, agriculture and horticultural science, and visual arts. We are currently in the process of integrating digital technologies into the curriculum, working with business leaders to get a good understanding of the skills they’re looking for from the next generation.

We have strong pathways for students wanting to gain employment straight from school. Our Trades Academies focus on delivering trades and technology programs to secondary students based on partnerships between schools, tertiary institutions, industry training organizations, and employers. We are also working to increase the number of schools offering Asian language programs. More than 200 schools now offer students the chance to learn languages such as Mandarin, Korean, and Japanese thanks to government investment.

Our national school-leaver qualification known as NCEA (National Certificate of Educational Achievement) is recognized around the world. It is well-regarded by employers and used for selection by universities, both in New Zealand and in other countries. Our education system will be more globally focused with the option for schools and other providers to offer education through Communities of Online Learning. They’re known as COOLs and their aim is to open up what and how students learn. The idea has proved controversial and is currently within legislation passing through the New Zealand Parliament.

What we want from our education system in New Zealand is for students to be competent, connected learners who are achieving, not only within our own country but all over the world. We recognize that our kids need to be prepared for the jobs that don’t even exist yet — the ones they will invent for themselves.

In a world that is increasingly global, complex, and fluid, a good education gives our young people opportunities and choices. Here in New Zealand many of our schools are adopting new ways to teach their students inspired by their learning environment. With our new schools, we’ve been introducing innovative learning environments. These open spaces offer teachers the chance to work across classes with students working in groups to solve problems together. Kids can sit anywhere they want, often using devices, rather than scribbling on paper while sitting behind desks in rows facing the blackboard.

A globally-minded education system has the flexibility and responsiveness to encourage innovation. Whilst there is already greater flexibility in the classroom we are now building more flexibility into schools themselves and how they’re run so that we can stay ahead of the game in this fast moving technology driven world.

In addition, we are also fostering far greater collaboration between schools and pre-schools than ever before. We want great teachers to have the chance to showcase their innovative teaching practices, sharing best practices, and inspiring others. Our education system is focused on ensuring that every child and young person is a competent connected learner, confident to achieve all that they’re capable of not only in their own town or city but right across New Zealand and the world. 

About the Author

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Michelle FlorCruz is a Content Producer at Asia Society. She was previously a reporter for IBTimes.com, focusing on stories relating to business and culture in China and other areas of Asia.