Teaching teens to take part in political decisions

Exploring the ‘personal social action’ aspect of NCEA senior social studies in election year

New NCEA civics resources created by teachers 

Secondary students have visited parliament to make submissions on everything from healthy homes to climate change as part of their NCEA senior social studies assessment.

With the upcoming election, teaching teens how to participate in political decision-making is particularly relevant and a group of social studies teachers have put together resources to help do it.

The civics education resources (available in a special issue of the New Zealand Council for Educational Research’s SET magazine) grew from a workshop of around 50 social studies teachers held at Massey University’s Manawatu campus at the end of last year.

Healthy homes, climate change and visits to parliament

Making active and critically informed contributions to society is now part of the formal assessment programme in New Zealand schools through the ‘personal social action’ component of NCEA senior social studies.

The teachers present discussed their own efforts which included taking students to Wellington to learn about the workings of parliament and visiting the Beehive to make a submission on the Healthy Homes Bill. Others focussed on issues such as climate change, refugee quotas and minimum wages, with year 13 students learning how to access, interview and lobby politicians, organise a petition and write formal submissions on a bill.

“It links you to your own life”

Presenters quoted students who became particularly engaged through the social action assessment.

“Political action (level 3) seems more real, it links you to your own life…The fact that someone in a government reads your email and responds to it – you feel you have some impact. You are engaging in the politics of your own country,” one student said.

The workshop was part of a two-year Ministry of Education-funded project that aims to find out how teachers and students are implementing the standards.

Massey University Institute of Education researcher Rose Atkins said there had been much discussion in society about the needs for some form of civics education to inform and empower young people to become active and critically informed citizens.

Student participation in social studies increasing

The achievement standards provided an opportunity for social studies teachers to address the perceived lack of knowledge of the political system, seen as partially responsible for youth inertia about voting, she said.

“Student participation in senior social studies is rapidly increasing with 61 per cent of schools now offering some senior social studies achievement standards,” she said.

Of the 22,000 students who attempted social studies achievement standards in 2015, 21 percent did a personal social action.

Teacher-led research 

A team of five teacher researchers; Mary Greenland (Nayland College), Amy Perkins (Bishop Viard), Caroline Wallis (Paraparaumu College), Kathy Grey, (Horowhenua College), Joanne Wilson (Palmerston North Girls’ High) worked with Rose, Dr Rowena Taylor (Massey University), Michael Johnson and team leader Bronwyn Wood (Victoria University) on a Teaching and Learning Research Initiative (TLRI) research project, titled ‘Creating Active Citizens: Interpreting, implementing and assessing ‘personal social action’ in NCEA social studies (2015-2016)’.

They shared their findings at the conference and gave a preview of an article based on the research.

Student engagement and autonomy is key

They identified three strategies: effective engagement, critical cognitive knowledge and practical democratic skills.

Emotional engagement and empathy was the key to social action, they said.

It was important to connect pupils emotionally to a social justice issue in order to develop empathy with others and motivate them to want to take action, they said.

Their findings also showed young people responded best when given some autonomy to select a social issue for the assessment, and tended to be more motivated to explore social issues they had personally or democratically selected as a group.

The article also identified the importance of young people developing strong critical thinking and cognitive skills in assessing the nature of a social justice issue before deciding on the appropriate action to take.


NZCER SET No 3 – Special issue: Civics, Citizenship and Political Literacy 

The Electoral Commission’s Your Voice, Your Choice teaching units 

Last modified on Tuesday, 30 May 2017 15:09