Designing for empowering curriculum implementation

The potential of “enduring competencies”




International advocacy for future-focused curriculum design often centres on the idea of “competencies” or “capabilities” as potentially transformative constructs for high-level curriculum frameworks. This trend is exemplified by the addition of “key competencies” to the 2007 New Zealand Curriculum. Despite good intentions, this structural change appears to have made minimal difference to the learning that many students experience, or to the assessment practices used to evaluate that learning. With a Curriculum Refresh currently underway, now is an opportune moment to revisit the use of competencies as a lever for curriculum change and ask how the type of transformative change they are intended to stimulate might be conveyed and implemented in more empowering ways.

This paper introduces the idea of “enduring competencies” as an umbrella construct for more effective curriculum design conversations. Learning from what has proved problematic in the past, we show how this construct might refocus thinking about purposes for learning, while at the same time being more specific about how and why traditional curriculum “content” might need to change. We illustrate this potential by drawing on our recent collective endeavour to build a small set of enduring competencies for school science education. The paper briefly outlines these four enduring competencies and demonstrates how they build bridges between past (more traditional) and future-focused (more transformative) curriculum and assessment design for the science learning area.


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Author Biographies

Rosemary Hipkins, New Zealand Council for Educational Research

Rosemary Hipkins (Kei Hautū Rangahau/Chief Researcher, Rangahau Mātauranga o Aotearoa/New Zealand Council for Educational Research) was a teacher of science and biology before moving into teacher education and then research. She has a strong interest in the intersection of assessment and curriculum. Dr. Hipkins has been involved in studies of key competencies, NCEA, and most recently, complex systems thinking. With Ally Bull, she designed the Science Capabilities for Citizenship.

Bronwen Cowie, Waikato University

Bronwen Cowie (Associate Dean Research, Te Kura Toi Tangata School of Education, University of Waikato) was a secondary school teacher of maths and physics. Her research is focused on classroom interactions, with an emphasis on Assessment for Learning in science and technology classrooms, and culturally responsive pedagogy in science education.

Sara Tolbert, University of Canterbury

Sara Tolbert (Associate Professor, Faculty of Education, University of Canterbury) previously worked at the University of Arizona. In her first career she was a science and ESOL teacher and environmental educator. Sara is interested in possibilities for justice through science and education in the Anthropocene(s). Among other projects, she leads the UC Learning for Earth Futures research cluster (with UC Professor Ben Kennedy).

Pauline Waiti, Ahu Whakamua Limited

Pauline Waiti (Director, Ahu Whakamua Ltd.) was involved in the development of the Pūtaiao Curriculum to sit alongside the New Zealand Curriculum. She has previously worked as Māori Development Manager at Learning Media and as Te Wāhanga Māori Manager at NZCER. Her adult work life has been informed by her belief that education for Māori needs significant change to ensure the education of Māori, particularly in schooling, is the best it can be.


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