A draft curriculum for narrow capitalist economics

Most parents will never read the draft for the new school curriculum published by the government earlier this year. It’s available if you know where to get it and if time can be found to read it and understand its implications.

At one level it seems like a collection of well-meaning, uncontroversial, motherhood-and-apple-pie statements about what students should be taught and why these things are important. At another level it contains clearly coded messages about the relative power of the various lobbies who would have been consulted in putting it together.

Most of the focus of public debate so far has been on the expunging of The Treaty of Waitangi from the draft curriculum – a deficiency astonishing for its crude cynicism. Can you imagine a US curriculum without a prominent place for the Declaration of Independence?

Absence of the Treaty sends a message to the wider community. The government is pushing Maori into the back seat.

As well as the slap in the face to Maori there is included throughout the draft the handiwork of big business lobbies. They have been hard at work behind the scenes with the government to skew the curriculum in favour of narrow capitalist economics.

It starts in the first paragraph on the first page where the vision focuses on children being equipped to “contribute to the growth of the economy”. Central to this vision is children becoming “entrepreneurial” – running businesses to make profits – and even when the draft talks about values, “economic values” are included.

The business ripples then run through the entire document. The “economic life of New Zealand” gets plenty of coverage in the main curriculum strands while the Social Studies curriculum has been positively colonised by the “economic world” and the injunction that children “use this knowledge to understand their place in the economic world”.


Business is determined to inculcate our children with the values of the capitalist free market where profit is god and the needs of human beings are subservient to the needs of entrepreneurs and profiteers. 

The Enterprise New Zealand Trust is the key driver of this “entrepreneurialism” with their aim to “create tomorrow’s entrepreneurs today”. Organised, funded and supported by big business interests they have a complete package of well resourced programmes to deliver to our children and the draft curriculum will give them the “in” to every school in the country.

In the meantime business influence in schools has been a quiet rust eating away at the options our children may conceive for themselves and their community in the future.

Consider programmes such as the ENZ Trust’s Primary Enterprise Programme at Paengaroa Primary School in the Bay of Plenty where for six weeks of the year the teachers create their own “real world” for children with their own currency, business plans, advertisements, job applications, interviews etc. A real learning experience on the one hand with lots of maths, language development and interesting activities but think about the values and learning inherent in the program when the teacher in charge says-

“The scary part about it is how it does mirror society in a big way. They make things and sell them, we have thefts and children who get sacked when they don’t do their work. We haven’t got to the stage where we have the dole but maybe next year. I’m absolutely sold on this approach to learning. Already I can see the children who will be entrepreneurs one day.”

Do we want our children to brand themselves as economic winners and losers when they are at primary school? Surely the focus should be for students to critically question the world they live in and explore other economic possibilities. What about work co-operatives, credit unions, trustee banks, profit sharing? 

Imagine the outrage from business if the teacher had created a trade union for six weeks and the children had elected delegates, run recruitment drives for members, organised meetings and worked co-operatively to improve the pay and conditions for low paid employees. 

The fury of Enterprise New Zealand Trust’s backers would be palpable and yet this would be a much more appropriate approach. Almost a third of our children grow up in poverty and a large proportion will take up low-paid, part-time jobs for much of their working lives. They need to question and think critically about the economic alternatives to the failure of New Zealand’s economy to work for people aside from a small numbers of wealthy entrepreneurs.

In the early days of Tomorrow’s Schools we had Bairds Primary School giving naming rights to Mainfreight. The school now called Bairds Mainfreight will forever be the symbol of government failure in education.

Unless we can erase “entrepreneurialism” from the curriculum then Education Minister Steve Maharey may as well sell the naming rights. How does the New Zealand Business Roundtable curriculum sound?