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Subject choice for the future of work: Insights from research literature

Rosemary Hipkins, Karen Vaughan

This research was commissioned by the New Zealand Productivity Commission to inform their examination of technology and the future of work in New Zealand. The main research question asks, in essence:

In what ways are secondary school subject-choice systems, and students’ subject choices, positioned to respond to future of work trends?

The following sub-questions provide more specific direction.

  • Do institutional biases in schools, including the construction and delivery of careers advice, funnel students from different backgrounds toward certain education and career pathways?
  • Is keeping options open until the end of secondary school a good strategy to prepare for an uncertain and rapidly changing future? 
  • Does the system architecture in New Zealand schools unnecessarily limit future choices for students?
  • Does staying in school longer open more career/further study options? Does it close any options? 
  • How much variability is there in the system between schools, and what drives variability?
  • In what ways do policy and regulatory settings limit flexibility in the schooling system and student choices?

This report scopes the context of subject-choice systems in New Zealand via a search for relevant local and international literature. It should be noted that contexts vary widely between different educational jurisdictions, and hence insights from the international literature need to be critically evaluated for relevance in local contexts.

The plethora of organisational arrangements in New Zealand secondary schools, combined with the modular flexibility afforded by the National Certificates of Educational Achievement (NCEA) system of assessment for qualifications, means that generalisations about what happens in schools are not readily forthcoming in the extant literature. Most of the pertinent research in New Zealand is small-scale and case-based. The second component of this research began with two focus groups with curriculum leaders from a range of different secondary schools and is published separately here.


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Literature review
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