Creating youthful active citizens

New Zealand secondary school students are ‘mucking in’, both inside and outside the classroom, to create real social action.

Bronwyn Wood inside the Hub at Victoria's Kelburn campus

Victoria Faculty of Education senior lecturer Dr Bronwyn Wood is leading a team exploring implementation of the 2013 National Certificate of Educational Achievement (NCEA) social studies assessment requirements for ‘personal social action’.

The internally assessed Social Studies achievement standards—at all three levels of NCEA—require students to take personal action on a social issue. This action often begins at NCEA Level 1 with fundraising and raising awareness, and as students progress through NCEA they often move to critiquing existing policy.

Bronwyn says her research has revealed that New Zealand’s inclusion of social action in its curriculum and assessment holds great potential for building a can-do attitude in youth and developing critical and active citizens.

“In other countries, students take actions such as volunteering at a food bank, whereas we have New Zealand Year 13 students taking on tasks like writing submissions on the Greater Wellington Regional Council’s draft climate change strategy, or lobbying for an increase in the refugee quota.”

Bronwyn says that active forms of learning are in vogue. “It’s exciting and a great way to encourage students to be involved in society.”

But there are differences in how teachers and schools individually interpret the achievement standard. As a result, Bronwyn is looking into the various approaches and what is really happening in the classroom.

“If this is compulsory and social action should be quite an intrinsic motivation, how does it work for students who aren’t motivated?

“While the majority of students are highly engaged, this research has taken a particular interest in those who are less engaged.”

Dr Wood has been looking at the different strategies teachers use to provide guidance and freedom in the assessments. “They don’t want to push students too much so they allow their class to choose their own social issues and social action. Students we interviewed were really flat if they didn’t engage with the issue.

“The interesting thing is that the assessment doesn’t measure their social action but rather their reflection on how it went. So the social action could fail but students can still pass the assessment. This is a real strength of the assessment itself. Students are quite pleased to say ‘the social action failed but this is what we learned’.”