Developing thinking about the key competencies in New Zealand

The New Zealand Council for Educational Research (NZCER) identified four phases of development in school leaders’ and teachers’ thinking about what the key competencies are and their role in education, since their introduction in 2007 (McDowall & Hipkins, 2018). For details of some of the theoretical research overviewed by the NZCER see Appendix 1.

The phases represent movement towards recognising and realising the potential of the key competencies. ERO has used them to indicate the journey a school could take in developing the KCs in students.

Phase 1

  • School leaders and teachers have a common concern that the KCs will replace the learning of traditional knowledge and skills.
  • Schools are yet to think about how the KCs could be used to help students manage their own learning.
  • The KCs are made to fit into existing teaching practices, rather than to inform them.

Phase 2

  • Leaders and teachers shift from considering the goal of learning as the uptake of content, to viewing the learning of content as a vehicle for equipping students with the skills to be lifelong learners.
  • Some teachers use inquiry topics to provide opportunities for students to have greater agency in their learning. This includes providing students with choices about the content they learn and how they carry out their learning.
  • Some teachers begin to recognise the potential to use the KCs in distinct ways for different learning areas, though the KCs are still mostly used uniformly regardless of learning area.

Phase 3

  • Uses of the KCs are further developed in ways that are specific to learning areas.
  • Leaders and teachers see the KCs as more complex and multi-faceted than in previous phases.
  • This increased complexity is reflected in the introduction of ‘capabilities’. ‘Capabilities’ are defined as the learning outcomes of students who are practising the key competencies. They are developed from weaving together one or more KCs with learning area content. (See Appendix 2 for more information on one of these capabilities)
  • Some teachers design rich tasks, which weave appropriate aspects of different KCs with concepts from one or more learning areas to build students’ capabilities. Rich tasks include a conceptual focus and a ‘doing’ focus that draw on aspects of all the KCs.

Phase 4

  • Some teachers use inquiry projects to deliver the curriculum in more complex, open-ended ways than in previous phases. Inquiry topics based on real issues provide students with opportunities to solve problems, requiring them to make use of previous knowledge and develop their KCs (McDowall & Hipkins, 2018). NZCER’s description of this phase is incomplete at the time of writing this report as their research is still ongoing.

Teachers operating in Phase 4 or at an equivalent level would provide students with a sound curriculum within which students can strengthen their capabilities as confident, connected, actively involved, lifelong learners. They are learning to learn.