UC academics call for stronger democracy in summit at Parliament

29 November 2018

Several University of Canterbury academics are calling on the Government to strengthen New Zealand democracy at a summit in Parliament.

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    The New Zealand Political Studies Association released a public discussion paper on strengthening New Zealand democracy written by 30 political scientists, educators, and community leaders, including several UC academics.

Several University of Canterbury academics are calling on the Government to strengthen New Zealand democracy at a summit in Parliament.

The New Zealand Political Studies Association (NZPSA) is releasing a public discussion paper on strengthening New Zealand democracy at a Civics Summit hosted by Ministers Eugenie Sage and Tracey Martin.

The report was written by 30 political scientists, educators, and community leaders, including UC academics Associate Professor Bronwyn Hayward, Dr Tara Ross, Associate Professor Donald Matheson, Professor Angus Macfarlane, Senior Lecturer Glynne Mackey and Lecturer Benita Rarere-Briggs.

It highlights a number of issues New Zealand democracy faces, including declining voter turnout, rising level of political distrust and growing social inequality.

The discussion paper, Our Civic Future, aims to start a public discussion about how to improve the quality of New Zealand democracy with suggestions involving whole-of-life practical learning – from early childhood activities to volunteering among students and retired citizens. The document was launched at the summit in Parliament on 29 November.

NZPSA recommendations call on the New Zealand Government to take three main steps:

  • Develop a strategic plan for supporting active citizenship throughout life (not just in school)
  • Uphold Treaty rights in citizenship education, especially by enabling more local Māori histories to be taught and teacher development for this
  • Review the key competencies of citizenship in the school curriculum and identify civic empowerment gaps where students are missing the practical skills and support they need to participate, and help teacher’s professional development to address this.

The Electoral Commission’s Chief Electoral Officer, Alicia Wright, says the “Civics Summit is a welcome opportunity to discuss civics education”.  

“Civics education is critical to helping prepare New Zealanders to actively participate in civic life. Put simply, the more people who take part, the stronger our democracy will be,” says Ms Wright.

UC Associate Professor Bronwyn Hayward, Coordinator NZPSA Civics Citizenship and Political Literacy Working Group:

This year marks 125 years of Women’s Suffrage and it’s a good time to take stock of our democratic health. Today’s Civics Summit is the beginning of a public discussion. There’s a lot to celebrate. We have a record number of female MPs and increased representation of Māori, Pacific and Asian New Zealanders. Many young New Zealanders have comparatively high levels of civic knowledge, trust in democratic institutions and support for human rights, and say that they view the Treaty of Waitangi as “personally important”.

“But despite the good news we face some big problems – declining voting turnout, rising disengagement and serious gaps in “civic empowerment”: some people are highly engaged but others lack the skills, information and support they need to be heard on the issues they care about.

“The report, Our Civic Future, also makes it clear that effective civics education isn’t just about learning facts, it’s about encouraging a rich everyday civic culture of social connection, reciprocal care or manakitanga. The report calls for strategic investment to create opportunities for citizens to meet, face to face, listen and learn from each other.

“We are also really thrilled that two new films Aren’t and Can’t vote by producer Ruth Korver and commissioned by the Spinoff and NZ on Air will be screened at the Civics summit because they show the problem of civic engagement is less about citizen education and more about how we support citizens to be heard in the struggle of normal life.”

UC Senior Lecturer Glynne Mackey, Early Childhood Education expert:

“Four leading practioners in early childhood teaching have contributed to this report, Our Civic Future, because we think it is timely that Te Whāriki, New Zealand’s curriculum for early childhood education, is recognised for the vision it has to support children’s mana and to empower young children as active citizens.

“This year, we have new opportunities for Early Childhood Education, with He taonga te tamaiti: Draft Strategic Plan for Early Learning 2019-29 now open for consultation. Tomorrow brings new opportunities for strengthening this vision and securing a future for our youngest citizens where their participation is valued.

Margaret Agnew, Senior External Relations Advisor, University of Canterbury
Phone: +64 3 369 3631 | Mobile: +64 27 254 3949margaret.agnew@canterbury.ac.nz
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