Meaning in the numbers

Issue: Volume 94, Number 16

Posted: 7 September 2015
Reference #: 1H9cuZ

The New Zealand Census, conducted every five years by Statistics New Zealand, is not one of those surveys that you can hit the ‘No, thanks’ button on, even if you were allowed to – it’s compulsory by law to complete the census. A vast number of decisions are made based on the picture of life in this country that our census creates; your data helps New Zealand make best use of public spending and resource allocation in areas such as health, education, roading, and public transport.

But the census isn’t just for the use of policy-makers. It’s a goldmine for anyone who wants to examine what it means to be a New Zealander, because the numbers tell a story.

It’s also an invaluable resource for teachers wanting to provide rich cross-curricular learning: studying the census can introduce students to a rich repository of information on the nation around them, while investigating core statistical methods, and how to find meaning from numbers.

Statistics New Zealand has released an infographic poster that presents a wealth of information for teachers and students in easily digestible form that’s particularly applicable: qualifications and training. There’s lots of visually appealing graphics that can form the basis of classroom discussion.

Discussion themes

From the teacher’s point of view, the eye goes straight to the top left of the poster. This tells us that in 2013 (the last census) 79.1 per cent of New Zealand adults had a formal qualification – up from 72.3 per cent in 2001. Interestingly, slightly more female adults (79.5 per cent) had formal qualifications, compared with 78.6 per cent of males.

It’s also heartening, from an educator’s point of view, to see that the proportion of Māori and Pacific people with qualifications is rising. Almost 67 percent of Māori held a formal qualification in 2013 – up from 60 percent in 2006. For Pacific peoples, the proportion was 70 percent – up from 65 percent in 2006.

Classroom learning around the New Zealand Census can use the Statistics New Zealand qualifications infographic as a great starting point for discussion – on the nature of statistics themselves and the methods used to acquire them. The infographic is also great for discussions about how we can use statistics, and for discussions on the state of the nation.

The ‘QuickStats’ section of the Statistics New Zealand website(external link) is great for an expanded examination of the infographic. It compares lots of data from the 2013 census with that of the previous one, in 2006. For example, we can see that the percentage of those with a secondary school qualification from overseas has risen since 2006. What does this mean in terms of the cultural background of New Zealanders, and how that’s changed since 2006?

On the infographic, there’s also a map of New Zealand, divided by region. This details the percentage of a region’s population with a bachelor’s degree, level 7 certificate, or higher qualification. This tells us that the West Coast has a comparatively low 10.1 per cent, compared with the Wellington region at 28.1 per cent. What are the reasons behind this discrepancy? What does this tell us about the dominant employment sectors and industries of these regions?

In the ‘People with qualifications’ section of the poster, a bar graph tells us that the 20-34 age bracket has the highest number, at more than 80 percent, of those with a formal qualification; those in the 65 plus age bracket have the least, at just over 60 per cent. What can we infer from this about changing paths to success over time?

The breakdown by gender in the ‘People with qualifications’ section will also make students think: over the age group brackets, there are consistently more females with qualifications than males, up until the 50-64 age group, where it’s more or less even. What does this tell about the changing roles of women in our society? Can we determine when this change started to happen? What historic trends have shaped this movement?

The ‘Post-school qualification field of study’ section is also fascinating. Teachers will note that management and commerce, with 18.1 per cent of the total population of those studying the field in 2013, is the most popular field of academic pursuit. Does this gel with what teachers see at their schools?

Directly below management and commerce statistic is engineering and related technologies. It is obvious here that males (31.8 per cent of those studying higher qualifications) flock to this sector, while only 3.0 per cent of females (in 2013) were pursuing this popular field.

This means that males were over 10 times more likely to study engineering and related technologies than females in 2013! What do students think about why this sector appeals so much to males, and so little to females? The statistics reverse, however, when we consider health: females are nearly five times more likely to pursue a career in health than males.

A few other talking points

  • Median personal income was higher for people with a higher qualification.
  • Level 4 certificates had the highest proportion of self-employed people.
  • Management and commerce was the most common post-school qualification field of study.
  • More than half of people in part-time study also worked full-time.

A few other interesting census stats

New Zealand’s ‘brains’ aren’t just in the big centres: After Wellington, Auckland and Queenstown, Lakes District had the next highest percentage of adults with a bachelor’s degree/Level 7 qualification or higher (24.7 percent and 24.6 percent respectively).

Females are much more likely to get qualifications in education: 18.6 percent of women, compared with 5.1 percent of men, studied education.

The sector of our economy that experienced the strongest growth between 2009 and 2014 was distribution, accommodation, transport, and communications (11.6 per cent), followed closely by finance, insurance, and business services (10.7). Finance, insurance, and business services also makes the largest contribution to our economy, valued (in 2012) at more than 56 billion dollars.

The sector of our economy that experienced the least growth between 2009 and 2014 was the primary industries (3.0 per cent).

The price of bread is the only basic commodity listed by Statistics New Zealand (on the page at to have experienced zero inflation between 2009 and 2014. The average price of fish and chips (one portion) rose from $5.32 to $5.91; petrol (per litre) has risen from $1.60 to $2.11; a visit to the doctor has risen from $30.18 to $37.14.

Schools Corner

Schools Corner is a great source of resources published by Statistics New Zealand(external link)
Here teachers can find things like:

  • Data sets that can be downloaded and used in learning, like synthetic unit record files (SURF)
  • Infographics and data visualisations
  • Activities and interactive games
  • Interactive visualisation tools, like CommuterView and MigrationView
  • Census education activities and resources.

BY Education Gazette editors
Education Gazette | Tukutuku Kōrero,

Posted: 8:04 am, 7 September 2015

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