Home Economics Education in New Zealand:
A Position Statement
Pat Street – October 2006
The paper was commissioned in the context of the New Zealand Curriculum/Marautanga Project. The purpose of this paper is to:
provide an outline of the understandings (nationally and internationally) of what contemporary home economics education is
clarify the location of home economics within the draft materials for health and physical education and other learning areas
identify its relationship to the key competencies
identify barriers and enablers pertaining to students learning related to home economics.
1. International and national understandings of home economics –
What is contemporary home economics?
1.1 International history
The origin of home economics in New Zealand is similar to that of other European countries and Australia. The roots of the discipline stem back to its earliest association in the 19th century with the teaching of manual training, the purpose of which was to train the mind, eye and hand co-ordination (Coon, 1964). At the same time there was also an intention for future generations to live better than the present one. From these early beginnings there emerged two predominant perceptions for the introduction of the home economics discipline:
The emancipation/empowerment theory. The legitimisation and documentation of a specialist body of knowledge enabling women to have more control over their lives. “The need and purpose for a new field of study in education that could help the home and family” (Cosic, 1999, p. 23).
The reinforcement of the notion of a ‘women’s place is in the home’, thus ensuring women continued to take primary responsibility for house-hold and child-care tasks.
The development of home economics and the associated body of knowledge must be considered in the context of the life and times of the late 19th century, which was one of rapid change as a result of industrial revolution. These changes had significant impact on the social issues of family life, health, education and welfare, and altered the very fabric of family living (Reiger, 1986). Home economics emerged in response to the impact of these social issues on the health and well-being of home and family.
When considering contemporary discussions of home economics and its role within the school curriculum today, it is important to understand that these two perceptions of the discipline still exist. The challenge for today’s educators is to adopt trialectic thinking. This thinking accepts that neither perception is right or wrong. It retains a tension between the two opposing views while giving emergence to a new thinking and understanding. This is not a synthesis of the ideas, but a new view from which to gain valuable insights.
In summary, the evolution of home economics can be identified in the following phases (Pendergast, 2005; McGregor, 1997):
1880s–1924 Home economics emerged in response to social issues of the time. This is considered a highly progressive phase, accompanied by the first wave of feminism which legitimised women’s work. The basis of the study was technical practice working in integration with a social mission. The body of knowledge included the development of sanitation, health, management of home and family using scientific underpinnings, with recognition of the contribution to the arts and inclusion of social and philosophical perspectives. The teaching of life skills was the prime focus of early home economics (AAFCS, 2006).
1925–1942 Home economics’ emphasis shifted to a greater focus on management and thriftiness in response to the social, economic and political climate (e.g. World War 2). The scientific paradigm continued to be leveraged to strive for personal well-being, along with an emphasis on consumer economics.
1943–1960 Social changes of this era gave rise to increased social affluence. Home economics lost its social mission but responded with a focus on personal well-being through an increased emphasis on psychological and sociological factors affecting the home.
1961–1981 Home economics responded to increased consumerism with a continued focus on the consumer and scientific paradigms. Home economics suffered a loss of confidence in light of feminist advocacy, and there were increased efforts at attempting to ensure academic legitimacy for home economics (Prendergast, 2005). During the 1970s the organismic paradigm was adopted. This paradigm identifies the importance of relationships between individuals and family members (McGregor, 1997). This paradigm shift is reflected in the New Zealand Home Economics Syllabus developed in the late 1970s–early 1980s.
1982–2002 This was a period of globalisation and post modernity. Home economics continued to focus on the importance of family and family needs. In response to the rapid societal changes, home economics promoted the use of the contextual paradigm, an eco-centred, global critical perspective. This paradigm is expanded more fully in the next section.
2006 Home economics is experiencing a global resurgence as society grapples with a number of health-related issues directly attributable to food choices affecting personal and family well-being.
The two emergent themes are that home economics evolved in direct response to societal needs within a family framework, and at the basis of this evolution was the continued emphasis on enhancing the quality of life of individuals, families and communities.
1.2 Contemporary home economics internationally
Home economics is described as an ‘interdisciplinary’ and a ‘multi-disciplinary’ profession, with the importance of families at the core of everything undertaken by professionals in the field (Kieren, Vaines & Badir, 1984; Vaines, 1980; Pendergast, 2005).
“Although it is multi-disciplinary, it does not teach a skill for the sake of that skill, it teaches for application, it teaches for informed decision making in endless scenarios, it teaches evaluative and critical thinking skills, it empowers individuals no matter what their context.” (Pendergast, 2005, p. 8 )
In today’s mobile global society there is a need for a consistency of common language across recognised international frameworks of educational knowledge. The International Federation for Home Economics (IFFHE) formalised an international understanding of home economics: “The study of household management for achieving the highest quality of life” (IFFHE, 2004). IFFE advocates the need for home economists to teach vital and culturally integrated theory for human capacity building, and identifies the present challenges for home economists as sustaining a better quality of life and conveying life competencies. In addition, home economics must be seen in the context of ‘family studies’, and vice versa, in a holistic context. The description is further expanded as:
improvement of the quality of everyday life for individuals, families and households through the management of their resources
highlighting the impact of the social, economic and environmental impact on the management of everyday life of individuals, families and households, and
expanding the understanding of the ecological view of the individuals, families and households in the larger environment (IFFHE, 2004).
In countries other than New Zealand, research supports similar view points of home economics and the rationale behind the inclusion of the subject within their curriculum.
The American Association of Family and Consumer Sciences (AAFCS) identified a body of knowledge for home economics. This body of knowledge is defined as content that has a direct relationship with the daily issues individuals face as they interact with family and their environments. The threads are: basic human needs, communication skills, public policy, critical thinking, diversity and a global perspective. Specialist themes include: food and nutrition, future technological developments, textiles, shelter, economics and management, relationships with social leadership, and wellness (AAFCS, 2006).
Home economics is taught within the context of a practical application of critical theory – known as a ‘critical science perspective’. The use of critical theory also counters the assumption that all problems can be solved by science and technology as the dominant mode of reasoning (Brown & Paolucci, 1979).
In Canada, home economics has been described as being in transition and undergoing a shift to a contextual paradigm (McGregor, 1997). This paradigm can be expressed using other terminology, for example, global, eco-centred, practical problem solving, human ecology, critical reflective, emancipatory, and dialectic. Underpinning this paradigm is the research method of ‘participatory action research’. This involves the people who will immediately benefit from the research using a process of working with others rather than on others for others. “This approach to practice and research assumes that every person is capable of knowing, interpreting and giving meaning to information – they are able to be empowered.” (McGregor, 1997, p. 10)
Within the South Pacific, the Home Economics Institute of Australia (HEIA) is leading the way in research work in home economics.
“The central focus of home economics education is the well-being of people in their everyday living. This involves enabling students to address increasingly complex challenges related to their well-being including those related to human development and relationships and the provision of commodities such as food, clothing and shelter. It is also concerned with effecting changes that will bring about a more just society for all people with respect to their well-being. Home economics embodies the dynamics of change. As we move through the new millennium, society and indeed individuals, need the knowledge, skills and attitudes developed in the study of home economics.” (HEIA, 2002)
Home economics education is seen as being concerned with meeting the challenges of everyday living in a modern society. These challenges include: establishing and maintaining effective relationships, juggling paid work responsibilities (or lack of) with home and personal responsibilities and pleasures, and being able to make numerous informed consumer choices (ibid). The HEIA identifies a range of understandings and skills that all students will develop and also provides a framework for the delivery of the competencies, including the importance of metacognition. The Australian Curriculum Framework for Home Economics in the Junior Secondary School (1999) provides an outline to the purpose and understandings of home economics and student outcomes. In addition, the content areas of home economics are identified as families, food, clothing and textiles, human relationships and housing.
Home economics education provides “the necessary balance in bringing together theoretical understandings and addressing practical everyday problems. It contributes to empowering people to become active and informed members of society with respect to both living independently and living in caring situations with other people. Students develop an understanding of the interdependence of their everyday living with that of other human beings and broader issues related to ecological sustainability” (HEIA, 2002).
For example, in the state of Queensland, home economics is outlined as “the knowledge, practices and dispositions” necessary to:
understand and promote well-being
understand and think critically about personal and societal influences on well-being
make informed consumer choices
engage in creative and enterprising actions when meeting the needs and enhancing well-being of self and others
develop effective interpersonal and communication skills
make socially responsible and informed decisions
understand the impact of decisions and actions on future well-being
promote preferred futures for individual and family well-being in situations related to food and nutrition, human development and relationships, and living environments (Queensland, 2005).
Australia has also produced a framework for food and nutrition education in schools (National Nutrition Education in Schools Project 1992). It has the over-arching principle of developing health promoting nutrition behaviour. It argues that in order for students to undertake health promoting nutrition throughout their daily lives they must develop food related autonomy. This was designed to be achieved through the provision of food and nutrition education programmes, providing a range of knowledge, values, and skills to empower students to take personal and social action with respect to a range of food related issues.
In the United Kingdom the implementation of the British National Design and Technology curriculum saw the merging of two subjects – home economics and craft design technology (CDT). This is now identified as a foundation (core) subject requiring pupils to apply their knowledge to solve practical problems (Wright, 1993). In the junior school it is expected to be taught in themes, and in the senior school as a separate subject.
The alignment of home economics with technology has meant a loss of knowledge and skills associated with nutrition and practical food preparation. In response to this, the British Government has proposed revisions to the national curriculum, including a recommendation that all children should also be given the opportunity to experience “food preparation and practical skills in the context of healthy eating” (Halpin, 2005).
In Northern Ireland, in response to society’s concern about the nutritional problems associated with healthy eating and food choices, a new revised curriculum identifies a statutory role for home economics. It is expected that home economics will play a pivotal role in equipping young people “with the knowledge and practical skills to identify and prepare healthy food options” (Smith, 2006).
In Singapore the home economics mission statement is: “To develop pupils’ knowledge skills and attitudes in home economics for the well being of self, family and the community” (HEC Syllabus Lower Secondary, 2002). It is a compulsory subject at this level, with the rationale that “makes clear the inter-relationships between Food and Nutrition, Textiles and Clothing and Consumer Education both in theory and practice. It enables students to examine issues that affect individuals, their families and the community while developing knowledge and skills to help them think critically and make decisions for themselves and their family” (ibid ).
In Japan the recent curriculum reform identifies home economics as a compulsory course of study for post-compulsory upper secondary courses. Students work towards obtaining four credits from general home economics, living skills or general living skills. (Japan Curricula, 2005).
In Hong Kong, home economics is identified as an existing subject related to the “well-being of the individual, family and society”. It includes the specific subjects of home economics (food, home and family), and home economics (dress and design) and textiles. It identifies food and clothing as basic human necessities, and through the study of contemporary technologies students will “learn how to critically assess these and their impact on the well-being of individuals, families and society” (CDC, 2004). In the proposed new senior secondary curriculum the traditional five subjects associated with home economics merge into two distinct areas titled home economics, and health management and social care.
In Finland, home economics is the subject that traditionally teaches nutrition education. In the 7th grade (age 13 years), it is compulsory to take home economics for three hours a week for one year. From grade 8–9, pupils may choose home economics as one of the elective subjects (Nutrition in Finland, 1999). Teacher education in home economics is a priority, and the Department of Home Economics and Craft Science in the Faculty of Education at Helsinki University claims: “In home economics, Finland is a forerunner in developing university studies and teacher education in Europe”. Home economics is described as “a combination of personal development, healthy lifestyles, social responsibility, sustainable development and use of resources and cultural heritage. The studies focus on nutrition education and food culture, family studies and consumer and environmental issues, all based on human aspects and everyday life” (Helsinki, 2006).
In summary, despite the many variances between countries in how home economics is implemented, there are clear unifying themes:
home economics is responsive to change
changing times require new ways of thinking. Inclusive in this are the specialist thinking skills of critical and reflective thinking, and metacognition
pervasive themes of wellness, technology, global interdependence, human development, resource development/management
individual, family and community, self and society are identified as a common body of knowledge
social, economic and environmental challenges and issues, and wholeness of the global family
over-arching themes include family, food and nutrition, food preparation, management and consumer choices
specialisations include food and nutrition, future developments in the creation of foods, clothing and textiles, shelter, economics and management, relationships and social leadership, wellness
application of the knowledge to relevant and authentic contexts, inclusive of food preparation.
1.3 Contemporary home economics nationally
For the purpose of this paper, it is not necessary to trace in detail the origins of the home economics discipline and subsequent body of knowledge within the New Zealand education system. However, what is important is the identification of pertinent themes during the discipline’s more recent history and consideration of these in relation to the emergent international themes identified above.
The most significant period of time for the development of home economics was in the late 1970s and early 1980s. The development and implementation of the 1985 Syllabus for Schools Home Economics Forms 1–4 was pivotal for the discipline, and represents the first considered national purpose statement for home economics. The existence of this syllabus was instrumental in providing a platform for inclusion into the current health and physical education curriculum.
The 1985 syllabus articulates the philosophy of the discipline.
“The central concern of Home Economics is the quality of life of individuals and families. Home economics recognises the family as the most important single influence in the nurture, care and education of its members.” It also identified that “Home economics applies principles and knowledge from the physical, biological and social sciences and the arts to the practical needs and concerns of families.” (Syllabus for Schools: Home Economics Forms 1–4, Dept of Education, 1985)
The syllabus included comprehensive objectives underpinning the key concepts of development, relationships, management and protection. The syllabus also stressed the importance of providing “authentic contexts to learning through a practical approach”. The knowledge and understandings, and values and attitudes identified in this document provided teachers with a framework to develop meaningful programmes for their students, using the themes of:
food and nutrition
textiles and clothing
home and family living.
The 1985 syllabus provided a framework for scaffolding knowledge and understandings, and values and attitudes for entry to the national examinations of School Certificate Home Economics and /or Clothing and Textiles. The subsequent development of the senior Sixth Form Certificate Prescription in 1986–7 enabled specialisation of study to be continued in one or more of the themes. In September 1987 a draft prescription for University Bursaries Home Economics was prepared and presented, but approval was delayed. Home economists accepted this delay when promised that home economics would be the first internally assessed Bursary subject. The draft University Bursaries prescription became the basis of the Form Seven Home Economics studies for Higher School Certificate.
These two senior course statements included sociological, creative and scientific contexts, and enabled specialisation to occur through the selection of a major focus from:
human development and family
nutrition and food
textiles and clothing.
Examples of the content as related to food and nutrition included:
social cultural, political, psychological, and economic issues and their effects on family lifestyles, for example: eating patterns and food choices, government policies, culture and place, values and priorities, conflict with beliefs and practices, role of media and market place, changing health and safety needs
historical, present and future trends, economic and social issues, changing social and emotional needs, using human resources in flexible and caring ways, developments in availability of food choices, nutritional issues, food production and marketing, protection of the consumer, culture, traditions and lifestyles
development, management and innovative use of resources by individuals and groups to meet changing human needs, decision-making focus and practical application to assist wise food choices
scientific and technological changes affecting health status, values and attitudes of individuals and groups and the influence on their health practices and well-being, health and safety, nurture and care of families, roles of government and private agencies to provide support and help for families, evaluating new information about nutritional requirements, technological and scientific developments.
When the NZ Curriculum Framework (1993) was released the home economics body of knowledge was included in two essential learning areas – health and physical education and technology. The technology curriculum was released two years in advance of the health and physical education curriculum, and this phased implementation meant the placement of the traditional body of home economics knowledge within and across these curricula was unclear. During the development of these curricula, nutrition and the related practical food preparation was identified for inclusion in the health and physical education curriculum.
A draft position statement was tabled in 1996 by the then Home Economics Teachers’ Association (HETANZ) in an attempt to clarify directions. At the same time as these discussions were taking place, the specialist area of textiles and clothing had already begun to align itself with the design technology approach, and this positioning ensured a smooth transition for textiles into the technology curriculum in 1997. In order to support textiles technology teachers the subject association changed its name to the Home Economics and Technology Teachers’ Association of New Zealand (HETTANZ, 1997). For the purposes of this paper, textiles has not been included in any further discussion.