By Ira Hopkinson and Christine Taylor-Agnew, April 2012
An Overview of New Zealand’s Educational System
This website provides a good overview of the educational system.
It is compulsory for children to attend school from the age of 6 years until the age of 16 years.
Primary Schooling: Year 1 to Year 8. Children generally begin school when they reach five years of age; hence, children are starting school all through the year. If children start after April they also complete an additional Year 0. The school year begins at the end of January or the beginning of February, and the year closes shortly before Christmas. Years 1 to 6 are usually taught at a Primary School and Years 7 and 8 are usually taught at a separate Intermediate School.
Secondary Schooling: Year 9 to Year 13. The school year begins in early February and finishes in November (for the senior students – i.e., those in Years 11-13) or mid-December (for the Year 9-10 students).
Assessment: Students sit national standardised exams in Years 11, 12, and 13. This is called the National Certificate of Educational Achievement (NCEA). Though NZ students have always faced assessments during the last three years of high school, the NCEA system was just introduced in 2002. You can read more about NCEA at this website. The Level One NCEA, which takes place in Year 11, is the basic educational qualification for NZers, corresponding roughly with the high school diploma for Americans. Students intending to enrol in university will be expected to complete Level Three NCEA in Year 13. There are of course some exceptions to the rule; unusually gifted students may be allowed to undertake tertiary courses while they are still in high school. For students who do not complete Year 13, they are usually allowed to enrol in a Polytech if they desire to receive post-secondary education. Later, after completing some courses at Polytech, they may apply to university.
In-country Resources Available to Families
Info on the Correspondence School can be found here.
An MK in Christchurch recommended the book The Teenager’s Guide to Living in New Zealand, published by NZ Immigration Service.
Cultural Differences for Teachers to Know About
One American wrote, “I have noticed a difference in attire. Kiwi kids oftentimes do not wear shoes. We were surprised when we returned to NZ to learn that the students at our daughters’ school were not allowed to wear shoes in the classroom. I don’t think this is typical for NZ schools, but it is true that children here oftentimes prefer to go without shoes (even on some cold winter mornings!) Also, shorts would be acceptable attire for boys in most primary and secondary schools (depending on the school’s uniform).”
Challenges/Recommendations for MKs on Furlough
School year calendar. The major challenge probably centres on the fact that the school year in NZ is out of sync with the American school year, while many Kiwi missionary children attend schools overseas that follow the American school calendar. If there is no school available on the field, Kiwi members often use the NZ Correspondence School system. This has several advantages: the service is free to all children of NZers, the children get plenty of individual attention from their teachers based at the Correspondence School in Wellington, and the students are able to transition easily into the NZ school system during visits to NZ, because they’ve been following the same curriculum used by all NZ schools.
Enrolment in Correspondence School. A word of caution however: if the student wants to continue studies with the Correspondence School while visiting NZ, that may not be possible. One of our MKs returned to NZ midyear to complete the second half of her last year of high school (Year 13). Shortly prior to leaving the field she learned that she would not be eligible for continuing in the Correspondence School whilst living in close proximity to NZ schools. Fortunately, she was able to enrol in a high school in Christchurch, which graciously allowed her to complete her Correspondence School courses. [In NZ high schools, students are allowed to take certain subjects via the Correspondence School if the particular subject is not offered at their high school. The above mentioned high school in Christchurch made an exception for this particular MK, for they felt it would have been difficult for her to change tracks at that late date.]
Enrolment in NZ schools. Another word of caution: parents need to enrol their children in school well ahead of their arrival in NZ. It may be difficult for a child to be enrolled in the school of his/her choice at the last moment. One MK mentioned that her enrolment papers had not reached the (private Christian) school. In order for her to attend a suitable school, the family had to shift to a location across town from their home.
School uniforms. Most secondary schools in NZ require students to wear uniforms (except in Year 13 when students are allowed to dress mufti). These uniforms can be expensive. This could be a problem if the family wanted to schedule a short furlough (2-3 months) during the school year. In the case of the MK in Christchurch, she was graciously given an exemption. She was the only student in the school who didn’t wear a uniform, as this private school required uniforms for Year 13 students as well.
Challenges/Recommendation for MKs Returning for University
Again, the difference in the school year calendar can cause difficulties in timing the transition from an overseas school based on the American school calendar. If completing high school in midyear, the NZer will have to wait until the following year before beginning university in NZ.
For those students who are not on the NZ Correspondence School curriculum, I suspect that they may encounter some difficulties enrolling in a NZ university. But of course there are many foreigners who study at NZ universities, so obviously the problems are not insurmountable.
One MK mentioned that her parents came with her to NZ to live in their family home with her while she attended her first year at university. She found their presence here extremely helpful; in fact, she didn’t think she could have coped with the transition if they had not been present with her throughout that year.
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