Introducing careers to primary ākonga

Issue: Volume 101, Number 9

Posted: 21 July 2022
Reference #: 1HAV6E

School-industry partnerships in the trades and engineering space, or any space for that matter, can start at primary level.

Ākonga from Ellerslie School trial the Bridges to School engineering project.

Ākonga from Ellerslie School trial the Bridges to School engineering project.

The Institution of Civil Engineers has been collaborating with AUT, Fletcher Construction and Higgins Contractors to create a hands-on engineering workshop, Bridges to Schools, for ākonga from Year 5 and up.

They take construction materials for a 13-metre bridge into schools where students work together to build the bridge.

“It’s like a big Meccano set,” says Sam Best, Chair for the Institution of Civil Engineers (ICE) and senior project manager for Higgins.

 “We go into the school, we talk about what engineers do and why it’s fun, we talk about health and safety, and then the students get on with building the bridge.”

The aim of Bridges to Schools is to inform participants about what engineers do, what career paths there are, and ultimately to enable them to be an engineer by building a scale version of a real bridge.

“We want to get students thinking about STEM, to understand that if they do their STEM subjects, they can look at going into engineering. We also want to let students who are not necessarily strong in maths and physics know that they can go into building. You don’t need to be a rocket scientist to be a builder, you just need to follow the process and the health and safety.”

It’s also a way of tapping into and nurturing talent that may otherwise go undiscovered, says AUT lecturer Shahab Ramhormozian, who consults with Higgins.

“If you don’t get the opportunity to try something, you may never know you have a talent for it,” he says.

Fifteen students from Ellerslie School trialled Bridges to Schools in May this year.

“We chose students who have a real interest in engineering and fixing and building; those students who might sometimes go under the radar,” says principal Nick Butler.

“It was very big and realistic though on the flipside that means there is a health and safety aspect to it because the main stays were heavy and required careful handling. It requires students to work as a team and lift things together and that wasn’t straightforward. When it came to joining the bridge together, it had to be adjusted to get it fitting just like in a big engineering project. They had to work out that they were at a different angle and that was quite cool.

“The engineers also did a very good presentation which was super interesting, and they showed lots of photos of women in engineering.

“We want our students to be problem solvers and that doesn’t mean just engineering. We’re trying to teach kids how to look at a problem, particularly around sustainability, and come up with ways it can be solved.”

Curriculum links

The Bridges to Schools programme has clear links to The New Zealand Curriculum through the key competencies, values, and guiding principles.

Dr Kerry Lee, senior lecturer in technology education at the University of Auckland, explains, “This project develops employability skills for future generations including communication, collaboration, problem solving, critical thinking, creativity, citizenship and innovation.”

Regarding learning outcomes, Kerry says ākonga will have the opportunity to learn about health and safety, take responsibility for their actions, develop team-building skills, gain confidence and self-esteem, and construct a substantial structure using simple methods.

Kerry breaks down the NZC links as follows:

  • Science – construction and engineering (technology) including forces, patterns and trends, earth systems, sustainability, environmental impacts, energy.
  • Technology – all strands of the technology curriculum, nature of technology, technological knowledge, technological practice and general principles such as research, design, problem solving, innovation. 
  • Mathematics – measurement, shape, position and orientation, transformation, probability.
  • Literacy – planning, sequential and instructional writing, reading, speaking, presenting, viewing.
  • Social sciences – links to Aotearoa New Zealand and the world, historical viewpoint, impact on geographical environment and society, economic activity, relationships, and connections.
  • Arts – visual art, design, sketching, developing ideas, observation, ideation, communicating and interpreting.
  • Te Ao Māori – links to Māori culture and viewpoints, mātauranga Māori and te reo Māori.
The Bridges to Schools programme has clear links to The New Zealand Curriculum through the key competencies, values, and guiding principles.

The Bridges to Schools programme has clear links to The New Zealand Curriculum through the key competencies, values, and guiding principles.

Gamifying sustainability

ICE is also working with kura on another project, this time utilising the strength of both engineering and Māori wisdom to promote sustainability. A collaboration with Technology Education New Zealand (TENZ) and the Ministry of Education, the project will involve Māori and Pacific engineers and educators working with ākonga to co-design games of sustainability. Understanding of production processes and materials to design and develop the game, link to many technological areas, eg, materials, digital, DVC. All games will be within Māori medium.

“Within New Zealand, we have a unique opportunity to draw upon the cultural concepts of our Indigenous peoples, elevating the conversation beyond engineers and into the wider community,” says Kerry.

The message does not need to be limited to the effects that practising engineers can have on the climate crisis, it’s an opportunity to spark reflection.

“This co-designed game needs to be fun, competitive, re-playable and, above all, engaging.

 “To be truly genuine to the Māori worldview, we believe that this game needs to be developed from a Māori perspective, with Māori cultural input and linguistic concepts from the start, not translated as a final step. As such, a fundamental aspect of this task is to develop the game in te reo, coordinated with mana whenua at all stages.”

 During the design process ākonga will play a variety of games to give them an understanding of how games work, then design their game and measure its success using key performance indicators. For example, one game encourages 10 local families to recycle whereas another game encourages 50.

 “Rangatahi Māori will have an opportunity to exercise agency and leadership co-designing projects around kaitiakitanga and any other areas of interest,” says Kerry.

“By the end of the journey we hope that not only the students and family members themselves are more sustainable but the wider community. We also hope that students will have opportunities to contribute to society with a focus on kaitiakitanga and our rangatahi Māori will be inspired to undertake STEM subjects and become engineers.”

You can request a visit from Bridges to Schools by emailing

BY Education Gazette editors
Education Gazette | Tukutuku Kōrero,

Posted: 9:32 am, 21 July 2022

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