Knowledge and skills

Desired outcomes

Everybody has the knowledge and skills needed to participate fully in society. Lifelong learning and education are valued and supported.


Knowledge and skills enhance people’s ability to meet their basic needs, widen the range of options open to them in every sphere of life, and enable them to influence the direction their lives take. The skills people possess can also enhance their sense of self-worth, security and belonging.

We live in a society where access to information and proficiency with technology are becoming more important. An inclusive society will increasingly require everybody to have high levels of knowledge and skills.

Knowledge and skills include education and training, as well as abilities gained through daily life. The experiences of very young children within their families affect their acquisition and use of knowledge and skills, and influence their capacity to learn. Adults acquire skills through their work and non-work activities, for example, parenting skills or skills relevant to recreation or leisure activities.

For many people, the acts of learning and mastering new skills are important in themselves. Possession of knowledge and skills can be integral to a person’s sense of belonging and self-worth: many people define themselves by what they can “do”, not only in employment but elsewhere in life.

Knowledge and skills relate directly to employment decisions and to career choices. Those with relatively few educational qualifications are more likely to be unemployed and, on average, have lower incomes when in work. This affects people’s economic standard of living, as well as their security and ability to make choices about their lives. Knowledge and skills are important for gaining access to services, and for understanding and exercising civil and political rights.


Five headline indicators are used in this chapter. Each provides a snapshot of New Zealanders’ acquisition of knowledge and skills at a particular stage in their lives, from early childhood to school-leaving age to adulthood. They are: participation in early childhood education; school leavers with higher qualifications; participation in tertiary education; the educational attainment of the adult population; and adult literacy and numeracy skills. The focus of the indicators is on formal education and training. This reflects the importance of formal education and training, and also the availability of data – there is little data that captures the contribution informal, on-the-job training makes to acquiring knowledge and skills.

The indicators are relevant to current and future social wellbeing. The first indicator, participation in early childhood education, contributes significantly to a child’s later development. Going to a kindergarten, kōhanga reo or some other early childhood education service prepares children for further learning, helps equip them to cope socially at school, and develops their bodies and minds to prepare them for adult life. Quality early childhood education programmes can help narrow the achievement gap between children from low-income families and children from more advantaged families.

Students who obtain higher qualifications at school tend to have more options for tertiary education and future employment. Those who leave school early have a greater risk of unemployment or low incomes.

Participation in tertiary education, the third indicator, opens up career opportunities and improves the skills people need to participate in society. This has become more important with the growth of industries that require well-educated, highly skilled workforces. It also captures aspects of lifelong learning through participation in tertiary education.

The educational attainment of the adult population indicator provides a broad picture of New Zealanders’ possession of knowledge and skills. It is influenced by factors not measured in the other indicators, such as adults gaining new qualifications and new migrants arriving with qualifications.

The final indicator, adult literacy and numeracy skills, is a fundamental skill. A good level of literacy in English and skills in numeracy is vital in the workplace and in everyday life.

Domain summaryTop

The Knowledge and Skills domain indicators show a positive picture of improvements over time.

Participation in early childhood education continues to rise for both recent-change and medium-term-change, as does the number of school leavers with NCEA Level 2 or above and the educational attainment levels of those aged 25–64 years. There has been no new information on adult literacy rates since 2006 so results are dated and a medium-term-change result cannot be reported, but across the most recent periods available, there was an improvement.

Changes in participation in tertiary education are more complex to interpret, given that reductions in the provision of low-quality, certificate level courses largely account for the decline in participation for both recent-change and medium-term-change. There is no time series for adult numeracy skills.

Māori, Pacific peoples and lower socio-economic groups continue to perform less well across this domain than the population overall, but Māori and Pacific peoples are making gains on the other ethnic groups.