Courageous Leadership for Long-Term Change: New Zealand’s Education Conversation
Tom Kenyon, 21/06/19
“We need your help. We don’t want to simply impose our ideas about what might be best …We want you to help us … to design the best education in the world.”Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern
Open, transparent and generous leadership was a key attribute of the change pioneers we met through Reimagining Education Together. They combined the ability to articulate purpose, steward a vision for change and the courage to share ownership of a project with a wide coalition of people. This was true at a school and regional level, but remarkably also on a national scale in New Zealand. New Zealand’s central government, under the leadership of Jacinda Arden, has opened-up a conversation about education’s purpose and practice to the entire nation.
Kōrero Mātauranga – the national Education Conversation, is a bold programme to radically change the New Zealand education system and to co-create a thirty-year strategy (thirty years!) for education to deliver equitable and excellent outcomes for all New Zealanders, present and future.
Kōrero Mātauranga launched with two Education Summits to surface diverse perspectives and lay the foundations to build a better and more inclusive education system for generations to come. Around 1,400 people spent two days discussing their vision of what the future of learning might look like in New Zealand and the values that should underpin education.
The conversation continued well beyond the event. The Education Conversation’s hashtag, #EdConvo18, trended #1 on Twitter for New Zealand during the Summit and a public online survey and digital resources to help people run their own education conversations have enabled 43,470 people to get involved in education conversations so far.
The sheer ambition of programme is exciting, not just because of the long-term vision of its outcomes, but because of its process. The co-creation process is designed to include voices that are not traditionally heard – children and young people, Māori, Pacific communities, refugees and migrants, and people with disabilities or with additional learning needs – in order to tackle uncomfortable truths about the education system and how it meets the needs of all New Zealanders.
The Ministry is now looking at how to continue to include diverse voices in the next phases of work. Participants in the Education Conversation are demonstrating a willingness to trust the process which features co-design with diverse participants at every stage, even though some of them said they had been consulted about previous policy.
Long-term strategy, representation, co-ownership, servant leadership, networked growth – New Zealand’s approach has so much that chimes with the Reimagining Education Together research. But the thing that fascinates me is the courage it takes to decide to open up policy in this way. It is not a decision driven by deficit.
New Zealand has a very reputable education system – its combined Maths, Science and Literacy scores place it comfortably in the top 20 PISA rated countries in the world; top 10 for reading. From this position of strength, many governments might take the approach of optimisation – making incremental adjustments to what works, creeping up the ranks.
To commit to a level of reform where “everything in the education landscape is up for redesign”, where you face up to cultural differences and structural inequalities, where you ask the question what is education for? That takes real bravery. That takes hope. And that’s what the Kōrero Mātauranga gives me: hope that we can work together and build something better.
 Iona Holsted, Secretary for Education