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Regional Comparison

The Big Cities Project


Knowledge and Skills:

Knowledge and Skills

Desired Outcomes

All people have the knowledge and skills they need to participate fully in society. Lifelong learning and education are valued and supported. All people have the necessary skills to participate in a knowledge society.


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 people’s sense of self-worth, security and belonging.

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

Knowledge and skills include not only education and training, but also abilities gained though work and daily life – for example, parenting skills or skills relevant to recreation or leisure activities.

For many people, the acts of learning and of 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 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 not only the economic standard of living people are able to enjoy, but also 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, the educational attainment of the adult population, adult literacy skills in English and participation in tertiary education. The focus of four of the five indicators is on formal education and training. This reflects both 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 knowledge and skill acquisition.

The indicators are relevant to both current and future social wellbeing. Participation in early childhood education is included because it contributes significantly to a child’s later development. Going to a kindergarten, kōhanga reo or some other early childhood service prepares children for further learning and helps to equip them to cope socially at school. Quality early childhood programmes can help narrow the achievement gap between children from low-income families and more advantaged children.36

Students who attain higher qualifications at school tend to have a wider range of options for higher education and future employment. Those who leave school early are at a greater risk of unemployment or having low incomes.37

Educational attainment of the adult population provides a broad picture of New Zealanders’ overall attainment 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.

Participation in tertiary education opens up career opportunities and provides people with the skills they 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 the participation of adults in tertiary education.