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Document 15:

Cultural Diversity and Citizenship Education:
Learning from each other

Report from CCE Networking seminar in New Zealand’s Parliament Buildings, co-sponsored by the Centre for Citizenship Education, American Embassy, NZ Diversity Action Programme and Local Government New Zealand.

The Citizenship Education Networking Seminar held in the Beehive, Wellington on 20 September 2006 attracted about 100 people (representing some 65 institutions) who in one way or another are involved in promoting good and responsible citizenship in our multi-cultural society. It is safe to say that they are also well aware of problems being encountered elsewhere in the world, and have thought about the potential implications for New Zealand.

Naturally enough each had his or her own particular focus of interest, and though they had taken advantage of this opportunity for informal networking - and many useful background papers were circulated before and at the seminar – they appeared to see no need for greater co-ordination or more central direction of their various programmes.

Tim Barnett, MP, introducing the guest speaker, Dr Charles Quigley, spoke of the roles and responsibilities of New Zealand citizens in a world of cultural differences, the need to resolve conflicts, to respect human rights, to protect the environment and to take an active part in both national and local politics. Young people, new migrants, and adults too, all needed guidance and had something to learn. Though the current review of our school curriculum offered opportunities for giving citizenship more emphasis in the school system, a lot was required from both public and private institutions. And resources were needed. New Zealand, he said, had much to do.

Dr Quiqley, who is Executive Director of the Centre for Civic Education based in California, spoke on a video conference link-up arranged by the U.S. Embassy. He summarized progress in the U.S. since the 1960s, where initiatives had been taken in the University of California and the California Bar, at a time when people were welcoming the Bill of Rights and decisions of the Warren Court.

At first a private foundation, the Centre now enjoyed Federal and Congressional support. Because school curricula were the responsibility of local authorities, to begin with progress was slow but national standards could now be based on the web. A national campaign to be led by the House and Senate was being planned.

He gave some details of the cultural and linguistic diversity in his own State, which underlined the importance of teaching ideals and values.

His Centre had linked with 30 other States and with some 70 countries. He would certainly be very glad to collaborate with organisations in New Zealand.

In the time available Dr Quigley then heard brief accounts of some of the issues arising in this country and offered his comments. He stressed the importance of the evolution of rights and responsibilities in a Democracy – and instanced Bosnia. People had to be empowered to solve problems by examining alternative solutions. The development of civil society was important because it could educate government.

Anthony Haas, CCE Director and seminar coordinator, observed that citizenship education in New Zealand was homegrown, and that we probably had too many silos. We did, however, have multi-party support from Parliament, and already some valuable overseas contacts.

After the video link had ended there followed a lively exchange of views among participants, which was well summarized by Joris de Bres, Race Relations Commissioner and facilitator of the NZ Diversity Action Forum, as follows. (In fact, discussion continued over lunch, which had been generously provided by Local Government New Zealand.)

1. There is a clear political mandate for initiatives in citizenship education. A number of recent multi-party select committees have made recommendations to this effect.
2. The level of attendance at this meeting has further emphasized the importance of citizenship education.
3. We need to be clear about what we mean by citizenship education. It is not just civics, but also active citizenship. It includes both teaching and modeling human rights and responsibilities. We also need to articulate the key values that underpin citizenship.
4. The release of the draft School Curriculum for consultation presents an important opportunity to address the issue. Organisations are encouraged to make submissions.
5. There is a need for quality educational resources for both students and teachers to support citizenship education.
6. The concept of early childhood centres and schools as human rights communities in the New Zealand Action Plan for Human Rights provides a potential framework for citizenship education in the education sector.
7. There are many good initiatives underway, often involving organisations working in partnership. There is a need to continue networking and cooperation and to share information on citizenship education initiatives.
8. Additional resources are required for existing and new citizenship education initiatives, and private, philanthropic and government sources should all be considered.
9. It is important to focus on certain priority groups and issues when considering citizenship education initiatives. Among groups identified are young people, disabled children, new migrants and host communities, and groups that are poor, vulnerable or marginalised. Priority issues include active local participation, electoral participation, issues of Maori citizenship, national identity, cultural relevance, tolerance, and human rights.
10. There is a need to actively promote practical citizenship education projects by and within communities of interest, including business, local government and central government.

A few additional points may be noted.

By and large people seemed to accept that little purpose was served by trying to define the differences between citizenship education, civics, social studies or promotion of human rights: much depended on the particular target audience. The participants in this conference were all demonstrating their commitment: they were all “growing active citizens”. Words could be tyrants.

Religion too, has a role to play, and can, while recognizing diversity, lead to positive integration.

New Zealand accepts a special responsibility towards Pacific Islanders, many of whom come here for education or as migrants. Some, of course, are already New Zealand citizens when they arrive, but still have something to learn. As time goes by New Zealand may have opportunity to spread the ideas and value of good citizenship more widely in the South Pacific.

In today’s world the web offers easy access to a great deal of relevant material which is being produced both within this country and overseas. People should be encouraged to make full use of this.

The CCE website, for example, can serve as a vehicle for continuing networking and collaboration or interaction with others here or elsewhere, in effect as a “clearing house” facility.

Below is a link to a page of the United State Embassy to New Zealand website, where are audio files of the video conference with Charles Quigley, a copy of the speech made by Tim Barnett MP, and photographs from the seminar. The event being held in the Beehive underlines the concern of many in Parliament to promote citizenship education in New Zealand:

CCE will be glad to cooperate with like-minded individuals or institutions in organizing similar networking functions in the years to come.

By Roger Peren, Board member, Centre for Citizenship Education charitable trust.


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