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Home Economics Education in New Zealand: a position Statement


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4. Barriers and enablers pertaining to students learning related to home economics

The identification of barriers and enablers to students’ learning in home economics is addressed in this section under the headings of:



  • Gender imbalance

  • Teacher confidence and professional support

  • Supply and demand of teachers

  • Clear learning pathways, sustainability and perceptions

  • Relevance, confidence and enjoyment of learning


Gender imbalance

The imbalance of classes by gender is an issue both nationally and internationally. It is less of an issue in the primary, intermediate and some junior secondary school programmes because of the compulsory nature of the health and physical education curriculum. However, when ‘options’ are available the classes tend to revert to their traditional gender of young women studying the subject (MoE, 2005; BSSSS, 1989; Jones, 1994). The development of resources that assist senior male students to see the relevance of learning in home economics is required. (MoE, 2005). Australian recommendations include the development of more male-orientated resources along with the encouragement of males to train as home economics teachers and to act as role models for students (Jones, 1994). Addressing these issues would become a significant enabler for student learning in home economics.


Teacher confidence and professional support

“The single most powerful moderator that enhances achievement is feedback” (Hattie, 1999). Teachers who feel confident in their pedagogy and subject knowledge will be in a stronger position to provide feedback to students.


Professional support and relevant resources to assist teachers to design programmes of learning are factors in aiding teacher confidence. The Beacon School project was instrumental in providing a professional development model that empowered teachers, encouraging them to use teaching and learning strategies that encouraged students to actively clarify their ideas and assumptions. Using a range of strategies, for example mind mapping and learning journals, enables students to take responsibility for their own learning (Hipkins & Connor, 2004). Principals see professional training and support of teachers as contributing to enhancing students learning (MoE, 2005).
The provision of professional development opportunities for teachers to access current research and practice can be seen as powerful enablers. (MoE, 2005). The Beacon School project was available to selected schools in specific regions, and what is needed is increased professional development of this quality nationally.

Clear learning pathways, sustainability and perceptions

In some schools home economics is not offered, instead other related courses may be offered, for example, food and nutrition, life skills and/or food technology.

“Some subjects that have essentially the same content and are assessed in similar ways may go by different names in the various schools. In 2002 it was not always clear whether a student was taking home economics or food technology and so we collapsed both subjects together and called them food technology.” (Hipkins, Vaughan, Beals, & Ferral, 2004, p. 187)

This inconsistency with naming conventions may indicate teachers’ philosophical understandings lack clarity of the difference between the health and physical education and the technology curricula. It may also reflect the flexibility NCEA offers schools in planning learning programmes. There are no nationally prescribed, compulsory subjects for years 11–13. Working within this framework, schools can offer courses in traditional subjects and also create contextually focused courses – courses built on a tradition of applied or vocational courses (Hipkns, 2004; Hipkins, Vaughan, Beals, & Ferral, 2004). While this increased flexibility can be seen as an advantage for students, lack of alignment with clear learning pathways can also provide confusion for students and parents.



Despite the development of achievement standards in levels 1–3 for home economics, there still remains some perception that home economics is non-academic, with a low status (MoE, 2005; Hipkins & Conner, 2005). Australian research also indicates this perception by students, parents and teachers is a barrier to encouraging students to study home economics (Pendergast, 2001). Anecdotal evidence suggests that students studying home economics are considered to be less academic in comparison to students taking other subjects; for example, teachers identified a barrier to student achievement in external achievement standards because of the ability of students with low levels of literacy to engage with and respond to complex issues (MoE, 2005). This perception of low status may also contribute to the low number of students studying home economics in the senior school.
Low numbers of students in senior home economics classes is a potential barrier, as low student numbers affect course viability and sustainability. Nationally, home economics numbers in the senior school are lower than some subjects, but again this also reflects the lack of consistency with subject naming conventions. Yet research suggests home economics is actually viable and sustainable in schools if the numbers of students who wanted to select home economics could do so. “Nearly half the Year 11 students [surveyed] would have liked to take at least one different subject, with home economics the most popular choice” (Hipkins, Vaughan, Beals, & Ferral, 2004). Students cited various reasons for not being able to take their chosen option. For example, explanations of classes being full, not meeting pre-requisites, and poor behaviour, and/or their parents did not want them to study their chosen subject (Hipkins, Vaughan, Beals, & Ferral, 2004). Similar results were also found in Australian research (Jones, 1994).
Parental perception can therefore be seen as a potential barrier to student engagement and, consequently, learning in home economics. There has been a great deal of change in home economics in the last six years (Hipkins & Conner, 2005), and unless parents are aware of these changes, their own past experiences of home economics will continue to inform their understanding and perceptions of the subject.
Home economics is academic, while retaining strongly practical components, and is popular with students and teachers (Hipkins 2004, Hipkins, Conner, & Neill, 2005). Ensuring the practical component of home economics does not become subservient to the theory is an important consideration when designing programmes of learning, to ensure the relevancy and enjoyment of students’ learning is retained. Research indicates “home economics is more likely to be assessed with a mixture of achievement standards from health and selected unit standards, some of them industry related. This mix allows for assessment of more practical aspects of food preparation and use – aspects that students clearly link to expectations that the subject will be interesting” (Hipkins, Vaughan, Beals, & Ferral, 2004, p. 197). However, the inclusion of unit standards is problematic. While unit standards enable the recognition of the practical aspects of home economics, their use strengthens the perception that practical aspects have a lower status than aspects assessed by achievement standards. This view may be attributable to the oversimplification of the value of practical skills involved in food preparation (Short, 2003). Furthermore, home economics teachers perceived that assessments in home economics seemed more difficult than in other subjects; for example, at NCEA level 2, these are “long and time consuming for just a few credits” (MoE, 2005, p. 8).
Home economics’ students are also disadvantaged in their progression of study of home economics because home economics lacks the status of an ‘approved subject’ for entrance to university, and does not have a scholarship examination (MoE, 2005). By default, this adds further credence to the perception that the subject is of little academic value and provides a system, intentional or otherwise, for the traditional streaming approach to operate where home economics courses are identified with vocational pathways.

“[Student responses] show that they are concerned with making good decisions for their futures. Many of them link their choices about options in the subjects at the core of the school curriculum (English, mathematics, and to a lesser extent, science) and their future plans, especially future study and/or future career. These links are also made for optional subjects.” (Hipkins, Vaughan, Beals, & Ferral, 2004, p. 205)


To increase student ability to demonstrate competence and confidence in home economics and provide transparent links to vocational and academic learning pathways, these issues need to be addressed – “a way might be found to structure new achievement standards so that they can be used to assess some types of knowledge and practical skills that seem currently to be mainly assessed by unit standards. No doubt this is an issue that will be addressed as the NCEA continues to evolve” (Hipkins, Vaughan, Beals, & Ferral, 2004).
Supply and demand of teachers

Australian research (Pendergast, Reynolds, & Crane, 2000) identifies a projected shortage in the number of trained home economics teachers as a significant barrier to learning in home economics. The study found:



  1. there exists a growing shortage of home economics teachers

  2. the reason for the shortage is directly attributable to loss of specific teacher training courses for specialist home economics teachers

  3. tertiary institutions appear to be hesitant/slow in adjusting programmes to meet changing demands for what and how home economics teachers are expected to teach

  4. shortages were the normal experience in comparison to over supply.

Although no such study has been completed for the New Zealand context, an assumption is made that the outcomes would be similar to that of the Australian research. Data to support this assumption includes:



    • In 1987, less than 45% of New Zealand home economics teachers were under the age of thirty-nine. As this group of teachers draws closer to retirement age there are significant implications for filling these existing positions and any newly created positions due to increased student numbers (Research and Statistics, 1987).

    • The number of home economics teaching graduates was already in decline at the time of the above research, and the trend has continued.

The consequences of this shortage are that schools face either collapsing courses, recruiting teachers from overseas, or employing teachers with ‘an interest in the field’ but with no formal teacher education in the specialist area. Student learning in home economics is inevitably affected as students are taught at NCEA levels by people without the necessary knowledge of underlying principles, approaches and content. Many schools report the shortage of supply and of suitably trained teachers, including availability of qualified day relievers, is of significant concern to short- and long-term sustainability of home economics. New Zealand has significant career opportunities for people with qualifications and expertise in food and nutrition, for example, as food technologists in industry, nutritionists in health related occupations in the community, and in the tourism industries. The shortage of home economics teachers impacts on the supply of professionals in all these areas.


Relevance, confidence and enjoyment of learning

Students enjoy studying home economics, and home economics was one of the most popular 2003 optional choices at year 11 (Hipkins, Vaughan, Beals, & Ferral, 2004). Students’ reasons for taking home economics are explicitly linked to its contextual focus – they chose it for “life skills” and for “the practical aspects” (ibid, p. xvii) The most commonly cited reasons that students valued learning, and in particular home economics, were because it was enjoyable, interesting, exciting, challenging, relevant and useful, and they enjoyed the practical aspects (Hipkins, Vaughan, Beals, & Ferral, 2004; Hipkins & Conner, 2004; Jones, 1994). Students are also clear about the relevance of their learning on personal, interpersonal and societal levels. This was described as “broadening their view of the world and increasing their understandings of social issues” and “home economics students often noted the appeal of the subjects practical components such as cooking” (MoE, 2005, p. 5).


Enjoyment is seen to be significant in improving student outcomes as evidenced by current learning research, which indicates a correlation between positive emotions and their contribution to higher order thinking and long-term memory effectiveness (Pendergast, 2006; Haksell, 2001). If enjoyment is such a crucial factor to learning, then there are clear implications for the sustainability of students as life long learners (Hipkins & Vaughan, 2002).
Relevancy is also achieved by the provision of meaningful learning contexts that enable students to have ownership of their learning process. At the same time, learning needs to be challenging, entertaining and allow for opinions to be expressed. The learning environment and relationships with the teacher is also a contributor to ensuring enjoyment of learning. Students like the more relaxed approach to teaching and learning and “felt they had better relationships with their teachers” (MoE, 2005, p. 5). It has also been noted that students find home economics was less stressful [in comparison to other subjects] because of the way it was conducted (Jones, 1994).

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