EDUCATION - Where there are things that other countries have done well, we should steal it!


In an interview with NewsHub on Monday the Prime Minister Christopher Luxon said his Coalition Government has set some ambitious goals they want New Zealanders to focus on and will take inspiration from other countries to achieve them.

"We are here to improve the country by these targets and as a result, we look at whatever is working around the world," Luxon said.

He talked about three countries in particular due to them being a similar size and examples of success. Going so far as to say “Where there are things that other countries have done well, we should steal it!”

Concerns about "used futures" put to one side, let's investigate this idea a little further.

So who were the three counties he named? Estonia, Ireland and Singapore.

So that got me thinking, what does education look like in these countries? And when and how do we start our plundering? 


  • Holistic Education: Emphasising the development of students' character, values, and competencies alongside academic knowledge.

  • Core Values: Highlighting key values such as respect, responsibility, resilience, integrity, care, and harmony as foundational elements of education.

  • 21st Century Competencies: Focusing on social-emotional competencies and emerging competencies essential for success in rapidly changing environments.

  • Desired Outcomes of Education: Aspiring for students to possess self-awareness, moral values, lifelong learning skills, and active citizenship.



  • Structured Educational Stages: Divided into primary and post-primary education stages, with various pathways for further education.

  • Flexibility in Learning: Offering different educational programs such as the Junior Cycle, Senior Cycle, and Transition Year to cater to diverse learning needs and interests.

  • Examination Systems: Utilising different examination systems such as the Junior Cycle Profile of Achievement (JCPA) and Leaving Certificate for assessment and university admissions.

  • Vocational Pathways: Providing vocational education options alongside traditional academic routes.



  • Autonomy in Schools: Granting schools significant autonomy in curriculum development, teacher hiring, budget allocation, and evaluation.

  • Inclusive Education: Implementing principles of inclusive schooling to ensure access to education for all students, including those with special needs.

  • Focus on Early Childhood Education: Offering structured pre-school education as part of learning, emphasising play-based learning and readiness for formal schooling.

  • Integrated Vocational Education: Integrating vocational education into the broader educational framework, with opportunities for collaboration with companies and flexibility in pathways between vocational and higher education.

  • Each system has its unique approach and priorities, reflecting the cultural, social, and economic context of the respective countries.


There was also this recent article about the education system in Estonia which highlighted universal free lunches, brain breaks and happy teachers:  

So what do these systems have in common if we were pillage and plunder?

Looking across the three jurisdictions, the following themes are apparent.

  • Focus on Holistic Development: All three systems emphasise holistic development, including not only academic knowledge but also the development of character, values, and social-emotional skills.

  • Commitment to Lifelong Learning: They all promote the idea of lifelong learning, aiming to instil in students a passion for learning that extends beyond formal education.

  • Inclusive Education: Each system strives to provide inclusive education, ensuring that all students, regardless of background or ability, have access to quality education.

  • Flexibility in Pathways: While the specifics may vary, all three systems offer flexibility in educational pathways, providing options for students to pursue different educational routes based on their interests, abilities, and career aspirations.

  • Collaboration with Stakeholders: They all recognize the importance of collaboration with various stakeholders, including educators, parents, communities, and sometimes industry partners, to support student learning and development.

  • Adaptation to Changing Needs: Each system acknowledges the importance of adapting to changing societal, economic, and technological needs, preparing students to thrive in a rapidly evolving world.

So how does this compare with our current coalition’s educational priorities? 

I don’t know about you, but much of the above is reflective of what was already outlined in the 2007 New Zealand Curriculum, a curriculum that was lauded by other jurisdictions around the world thanks to its marriage of skills, competencies and balance of clear learning outcomes and enough flexibility to support both creativity and contextualisation. To be fair to the current government I am not sure we actually managed to improve much in the last six years either, what with many years of consultation and then a muddled work plan that struggled to complete either a coherent curriculum update or NCEA refresh. 

But I digress, let’s get back to our current Prime Minister and what he so sees as so darn aspirational, how does Singapore, Ireland and Estonia stack up against what our current coalition is focusing on?  

Well let’s turn our minds back to the promises made in the lead up to the election. The following was what the National Party campaigned on. 

Teaching the Basics Brilliantly

Our education system is failing too many children. National will make sure schools are teaching the basics brilliantly, so every child has the opportunity to succeed.

Our plan will ensure kids have the foundation they need in reading, writing, maths and science to set them up for success.

Under National, parents will know if their kids are doing well or, more importantly, if they’re falling behind. It’s not acceptable to allow children to fall further and further behind without anyone noticing or taking action to help them catch up.

National will set every child in New Zealand up for success and restore excellence to the heart of the education system.

National’s plan for Teaching the Basics Brilliantly

  • An hour each on reading, writing and maths every day

  • Minimum requirements for what schools must teach every year in reading, writing, maths and science

  • Regular standardised assessment and clear reporting to parents

  • Better training and more tools to support teachers


National will ban cell phone use at school

National will ban cell phone use at school to help lift achievement and support every child to make the most out of their education.

Schools will be able to decide exactly how they enforce it, but it could mean requiring students to hand in their phones before school or leave them in their lockers or bags.


And then of course there was the outcome of the coalition agreements where the following educational deals were struck. 

National & Act agreement

  • Reintroduce partnership schools and introduce a policy to allow state schools to become partnership schools.

  • Explore further options to increase school choice and expand access to integrated and independent schools including reviewing the independent school funding formula to reflect student numbers. 

  • Prioritise reporting and enforcement action to reduce truancy, including centrally collecting and publishing attendance data.

  • Improve the cost-effectiveness of the school lunch programme.

  • Replace the Fees Free programme with a final year fees-free policy with no change before 2025.

  • Amend the Education and Training Act 2020 such that tertiary education providers receiving taxpayer funding must commit to a free speech policy.

  • Amend the Education and Training Act 2020 to enshrine educational attainment as the paramount objective for state schools.

  • Restore balance to the Aotearoa New Zealand’s Histories curriculum.


National & NZ First agreement

  • Enforce compulsory education and address truancy.

  • Focus on doing the basics better through emphasising reading, writing, and maths.

  • Refocus the curriculum on academic achievement and not ideology, including the removal and replacement of the gender, sexuality, and relationship-based education guidelines.

  • Stop first year Fees Free and replace it with a final year Fees Free with no change before 2025.

  • Maintain the Apprenticeship Boost scheme



Firstly, we would be better off plundering our own past, we were ahead of time and National Standards aside there is much about New Zealand education in the 00’s that now feels like something of a golden age! But if we must plunder, there is much the current Ministers and MAGs could learn from the three jurisdictions named. From universal free lunches and the focus on holistic, flexible and inclusive learning is a whole lot more appealing than the current focus failed UK initiatives with increasing standardisation, drilling basics and assessing, tracking and reporting the joy out of learning.

In closing, Mr Luxon, plunder away and if you would like a band of educators to travel to Singapore, Ireland and Estonia to go and get a'stealing I’d be happy to help and reckon I could whip up a posse to assist. And I might just dust of my 2007 NZC and do some (re)reading along the way.

Further reading - A closer look at each jurisdiction 



From Singapore’s Ministry of Education website:

We aim to help our students discover and make the best of their own talents, to help them realise their full potential, and develop a passion for lifelong learning.

They are unapologetically holistic, upfronting the importance of core values and a range of competencies. 

Framework for 21st Century Competencies and Student Outcomes

Image of the Framework for 21st Century Competencies and Student Outcomes

Core Values

Values are at the core of one's character. They shape the beliefs, attitudes and actions of a person, and therefore are positioned at the centre of the framework of 21st Century Competencies.

Our Core Values include respect, responsibility, resilience, integrity, care and harmony, which are acknowledged as values that are at the foundation of our shared societal and national values.

  • Respect: Our students demonstrate respect when they believe in their own self-worth and the intrinsic worth of people.

  • Responsibility: Our students are responsible when they recognise they have a duty to themselves, their families, community, nation and the world, and fulfill their responsibilities with love and commitment.

  • Resilience: Our students are resilient when they demonstrate emotional strength and persevere in the face of challenges. They show courage, optimism, adaptability and resourcefulness.

  • Integrity: Our students demonstrate integrity when they uphold ethical principles and have the moral courage to stand up for what is right.

  • Care: Our students are caring when they act with kindness and compassion, and contribute to the betterment of the community and the world.

  • Harmony: Our students uphold harmony when they promote social cohesion and appreciate the unity and diversity of a multicultural society.

Social-Emotional Competencies

These are competencies necessary for children to develop healthy identities, recognise and manage their emotions, develop a sense of responsibility, care and concern for others, relate to others and develop positive relationships, handle challenges, make responsible decisions, and act for the good of self, others and the society. Students will learn skills from these 5 interconnected Social-Emotional Competencies:

  • Self-Awareness

  • Self-Management

  • Responsible Decision-Making

  • Social Awareness

  • Relationship Management

Emerging 21st Century Competencies

Building on a sound character foundation, the following Emerging 21st Century Competencies enable students to thrive in and beyond school while living, learning and working in rapidly changing, highly digitalised, and interconnected environments:

  • Critical, Adaptive and Inventive Thinking

  • Communication, Collaboration and Information Skills

  • Civic, Global and Cross-Cultural Literacy

Together, these core values and competencies will help our students embody the Desired Outcomes of Education so that they possess the dispositions, skills and knowledge to take on the opportunities and challenges of the future.

Desired Outcomes of Education

The Desired Outcomes of Education are attributes that we aspire for every Singaporean to possess by the time they complete their formal education. These outcomes establish a common purpose for our educators, drive our policies and programmes, and allow us to consider how well our education system is doing.

A child schooled in the Singapore education system embodies the Desired Outcomes of Education. They should possess a good sense of self-awareness, a sound moral compass, and the knowledge, skills and dispositions to take on the opportunities and challenges of the future.

They should be:

  • Confident persons who have a zest for life, have a strong sense of right and wrong, are adaptable and resilient, know themselves, are discerning in judgement, think independently and critically, and communicate effectively.

  • Self-directed learners who take responsibility for their own learning, are curious, reflective, and persevering in the lifelong pursuit of learning, driven by their passion and purpose.

  • Active contributors who are empathetic and open-minded to collaborate effectively in teams, exercise initiative, have courage to take risks responsibly, are innovative and strive for excellence.

  • Concerned citizens who are rooted to Singapore, have a strong civic consciousness, are responsible to their family, community and nation and take active roles in improving the lives of others.



The Irish education system is made up of primary school and post-primary school (also known as secondary school). You must ensure that your child gets a certain minimum education from the age of 6 to 16 or until they have completed 3 years of post-primary education.

Primary and post-primary schools must provide places based on their school admissions policy and admissions notice.

Many people continue on after post-primary to further education and third-level education. State-funded education is available at all levels, unless you choose to send your child to a private school.

Primary education

Children do not have to attend school until the age of 6.

Usually, children start primary school when they are 5 years of age. They start in September - the beginning of the school year.

The Irish primary school curriculum is child-centred.

Generally, children are required to study Irish in school. Some children may be exempted from learning Irish in school.

Post-primary education

Post-primary education is provided by different types of post-primary schools.

Post-primary education has 2 stages:

Junior Cycle – age 12 to 15 (approximately)

Senior Cycle - age 16 to 18 (approximately)

Junior Cycle and examinations

Students generally start the Junior Cycle at the age of 12 and take the Junior Cycle Profile of Achievement (JCPA) examination at the end of 3 years.

Senior Cycle and examinations

Children can have a 2 or 3-year Senior Cycle. The Senior Cycle is 3 years, if you opt to include Transition Year.

The Transition year allows students to experience a wide range of educational instruction and work experience.

During their final 2 years in the Senior Cycle, students take one of 3 programmes, each leading to a State examination:

  • Established Leaving Certificate

  • Leaving Certificate Vocational Programme

  • Leaving Certificate Applied

The established Leaving Certificate is the main basis on which students are allocated places in universities, institutes of technology and colleges of education.

The Leaving Certificate Vocational Programme has elements of the established Leaving Certificate but concentrates on technical subjects and includes additional modules with a vocational focus.

The Leaving Certificate Applied Programme aims to prepare students for adult and working life through relevant learning experiences. It is for students who wish to follow a practical or vocational programme. It is not recognised for direct entry to third-level courses but it can enable students to take Post-Leaving Certificate courses.



Estonia follows a comprehensive school system that aims to provide all students with the best education, regardless of their background.

Schools in Estonia enjoy quite extended autonomy. The national curriculum leaves space for the school to develop their own curriculum. All schools can decide on their goals and the focus of studies. Principals can hire and fire teachers, decide on how to allocate the budget and evaluate the needs for teacher training. Teachers decide on the appropriate textbooks and teaching methods they would like to use in their lessons.

In Estonia, education is free by law unless parents opt for private schools for their children. Apart from free services, such as lunch, textbooks, and school transport, students get support services if needed.

The length of the study period consists of at least 175 teaching days (35 weeks) and four intervals of school breaks.

According to the child’s interests, the child may also be enrolled in a hobby school.

Preschool education

Pre-school education is delivered to children between the ages of 18 months to 7 years in specially dedicated educational institutions. 

In Estonia, pre-school education is not only childcare but also part of learning with a curriculum and substantive and methodological activities.

Although children start school at a relatively late age of 7, many of the activities that in other countries are done at school, Estonian children do in kindergarten in a more playful and relaxed environment. Most children know how to read and write when they start first grade at school.

Basic education

Compulsory basic education lasts from grades 1 to 9. Parents are free to select a school for a pre-school-age child. Every child has the right to receive basic education at a nearby school. The principles of inclusive schooling are implemented, meaning that students with special educational needs usually study in an ordinary class of their school. 

  • Acquisition of basic education grants the right to continue studies to acquire secondary education.
  • Graduating the basic school requires that the student learns the curriculum at least a satisfactory level together with passing three basic school graduation exams as well as completing a creative assignment.

General secondary education

General secondary education is acquired at the upper secondary school level. Upper secondary schools are designed to help students become creative, multi-talented, socially mature and reliable citizens.

  • The study programme at upper secondary school is arranged into mandatory and voluntary courses. Studies last for 3 years.

  • In order to graduate, students must complete a curriculum consisting of 96 individual courses as a minimum.

  • At the end of their studies, students must pass three state exams, school examination and student study or practical work.

  • Attaining general secondary education entitles students to continue their studies at a higher educational institution or to obtain vocational education.

Vocational education

Vocational education serves the purpose of fostering the knowledge, skills and attitudes, occupational know-how and the social readiness required for working, participating in social life and participating in the lifelong learning process. Vocational education is free and can be obtained after basic school as vocational secondary education (length: 3-4 years) or as vocational skills only without general education (length: 3 months to 2.5 years).

There are close collaborations with companies in curriculum development and in creating opportunities for apprenticeship. Moving from vocational education to higher education and vice versa is becoming increasingly popular.


Popular posts from this blog

The National, Act and NZ First Coalition and what it means for education

National, Act and the age of standardisation in education

Assessment in the Age of AI - Claire Amos