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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. Being able to function fully in society requires people to have higher levels of knowledge and skills, than in the past.

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.

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 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 skills in English. 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 of informal, on-the-job training to acquiring knowledge and skills.

The indicators are relevant to the current state of knowledge and skills as well as future trends. 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 better 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.45

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.46

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

Educational attainment of the adult population 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.

Literacy is a fundamental skill. A good level of literacy in English, including numeracy and the ability to understand documents and tables, is vital in the workplace and in everyday life.