New Zealand students' intentions towards participation in the democratic processes: New Zealand results from the International Civic and Citizenship Education Study

Publication Details

This report is the third in a series based on the International Civic and Citizenship Education Study (ICCS), which was undertaken in New Zealand in 2008. This report investigates students' perceptions of responsible adult citizenship and their current interests and abilities with respect to a range of citizenship behaviours and competencies. The students were also asked to look to their futures and say which of a range of social and political activies they will be most likely to do, or not do, when they are adults. The data were collected close to the 2008 national election, which is likely to have influenced student views.

Author(s): Rosemary Hipkins, New Zealand Council for Educational Research and Paul Satherley, Research, Ministry of Education.

Date Published: July 2012

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Executive Summary

Civic and citizenship education is a topic embedded in the principles, values and key competencies of The New Zealand Curriculum (NZC). Although New Zealand took part in ICCS before NZC was mandated in 2010, the findings are relevant to current civic and citizenship teaching and learning. The future focus principle and the participating and contributing key competency of NZC are particularly relevant to the findings of this report.

Citizenship values were strongly held by Year 9 students.  We see very high or substantial levels of agreement that good adult citizens:

  • always work hard
  • obey the law
  • vote in every national election
  • take part in activities to protect the environment
  • show respect for government representatives
  • participate in activities to benefit the local community
  • take part in activities that promote human rights
  • learn about the nation’s history
  • follow political issues in the media.


There were much lower levels of support for actions that are overtly political, such as participating in peaceful protests against laws seen as unjust, engaging in political discussions and joining a political party. More knowledgeable students were more likely to agree or strongly agree that working hard and always obeying the law are attributes of good adult citizens.

Greater numbers of students said they were interested in environmental issues than in political or social issues. Girls were more likely to express interest in environmental issues than boys (70% of girls were very or quite interested compared to 56% of boys). Just over half the students said they were interested in national politics and social issues.

Greater proportions of students estimated they have at least some competency in areas associated with traditional school learning activities, such as taking part in discussions and debates, whereas fewer than half estimated they have personal action competencies in areas that require a level of activity (and perhaps initiative) beyond the classroom.

Just over half of Year 9 students had at least modest confidence in their own understanding of political issues, but there are lower levels of confidence that their own views are actually worth hearing.

Coming from households where both parents are interested in political or social issues was associated with having a higher civic knowledge score.

Most students anticipated that they would take part in representative democratic activities such as voting, although more so in national than in local body elections. Eighty-four percent thought they would certainly or probably vote in national elections, compared to 77% for local body elections. Much lower proportions of students anticipated taking part in more participatory democratic activities such as helping a candidate in an election campaign, joining a union or a political party, or standing as a local body candidate.

When students were asked about their anticipated citizenship activities in the near future, we saw much higher levels of support for activities that are generally social in nature compared to those that require overt political participation. For protest actions when they are adults, more than half the students could see themselves taking part in moderate forms of protest, but much lower proportions envisaged undertaking stronger forms of civil disobedience. Boys were more likely than girls to see themselves participating in these more extreme types of protest, such as spray-painting slogans, blocking traffic or occupying buildings.

Māori students were somewhat less likely than other students to think that it is important to vote in every national election, and were also less likely to express an intention to vote in local body elections. Nevertheless, both Māori and Pasifika students were more likely than either Pākehā/European or Asian students to say they might stand as a candidate in a local body election or join a political party.

The New Zealand findings of this report are close to the averages across the countries that participated in ICCS, and are also close to those of the other English-speaking ICCS countries, England and Ireland.

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