By Jenni Petersen, Assistant Professor, Educational Foundation
New Zealand was a wonderful setting for my first time leading the Comparative
Education and Overseas Fieldwork program. Both the American and Kiwi teachers were dedicated to the program and open minded about learning from one another. This experience was an amazing opportunity to step out of my comfort zone and learn about a different way of thinking, feeling, and operating. I finished the program with several new friends and a feeling of inspiration and optimism about my own teaching.
New Zealand is a perfect combination of the familiar and the exotic. Kiwis are
generally very friendly and proud of their country. Many locals actually enjoy helping tourists by giving directions and pointing out their favorite places to eat and sight see. The transportation is very accessible and the food is generally familiar. Yet, despite all of the conveniences of this beautiful country, there are enough cultural differences to immerse oneself in a different lifestyle. New Zealand society considers itself a bicultural society, integrating the Maori culture into the mainstream. The Maori language is actually one of the official languages of New Zealand and it was not uncommon to see it written or spoken in our travels.
Students in public schools become familiar with Maori words, songs, and dances at a very young age, as the preservation of this unique culture has become a national priority.
Amidst much controversy, the New Zealand Ministry of Education recently adopted
national performance standards for its public schools, similar to the United States Common Core Standards. However, these national standards are not assessed by formal pencil and paper tests. Instead, teachers make a judgment about whether each of their students are at, above, or below these standards. Coming from an educational system that is dominated by formal assessment, it was a refreshing change to visit a country in which teacher judgment of student performance was valued. The Kiwis also value a holistic approach to education. Non-‐academic skills such as emotional intelligence, appreciation of the arts, cultural diversity, and health and nutrition are a significant portion of the school day. The academic competition and pressure for academic success, which is so prevalent in American schools, was not as apparent in the New Zealand schools I visited. Students are given a great deal of freedom and responsibility for their own behavior, and as a result even the very youngest children are self-‐sufficient.
The Comparative Education and Overseas Fieldwork program at UW-‐Whitewater is an experience of a lifetime. With increased globalization and emphasis on international competition, it is inspiring to work together with teachers around the world to improve the educational experience and learning for all of our students.