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Cultural diversity

This section draws together research, digital resources, and examples to support schools as they consider the cultural diversity principle.

About the cultural diversity principle

The curriculum reflects New Zealand’s cultural diversity and values the histories and traditions of all its people.

The New Zealand Curriculum, p. 9. 

Cultural diversity is one of eight principles in The New Zealand Curriculum that provide a foundation for schools' decision making. The principle of cultural diversity calls for schools and teachers to affirm students’ different cultural identities, and incorporate their cultural contexts into teaching and learning programmes.  

A 2012 report by the Education Review Office notes a close link between the cultural diversity principle and the inclusion principle. The report states that both of these principles require teachers to value students as individuals and celebrate the diversity that they bring. Schools are encouraged to consider whether their inclusive practices include valuing the cultural diversity of all individual students.

Adrienne Alton Lee in Quality Teaching for Diverse Students in Schooling (2003) recommends that teaching is responsive to diversity within ethnic groups, for example, diversity within Pākehā, Māori, Pasifika, and Asian students. Alton Lee also acknowledges that ethnicity is just one characteristic that contributes to diversity. She recommends that teachers recognise "the diversity within individual students influenced by intersections of gender, cultural heritage(s), socio-economic background, and talent."¹

In these videos, Dr Rae Si’ilata, lecturer in biliteracy at the University of Auckland, shares ideas about the importance of the cultural diversity principle. She provides advice to teachers and some starting points for discussions. 

The cultural diversity curriculum principle »

Cultural diversity in the classroom »

Cultural diversity and priority learners »

Why is the principle of cultural diversity important?

New Zealand is a linguistically and culturally diverse nation and students need to acquire knowledge, skills, and attitudes that equip them for life in a multi-cultural world. Teaching for cultural diversity involves helping students understand and respect diverse viewpoints, values, customs, and languages.

Research shows that students learn best when their cultures and languages are recognised and reflected in school and classroom curricula. Quality Teaching for Diverse Students in Schooling: Best Evidence Synthesis (2003) reports that there needs to be a closer matching between the cultural contexts of home and school. One of the ten research-based characteristics of quality teaching derived from this synthesis advocates that "effective links are created between school and other cultural contexts in which students are socialised, to facilitate learning.²"

"Is the valued knowledge of the home and of communities being represented in the valued knowledge of school? That's a really important question and critical inquiry that school leaders need to have with their teachers to ensure that there is not one perspective being presented through the curriculum that they are teaching at school."

Dr Rae Si’ilata, lecturer in biliteracy – Pasifika, at the University of Auckland.

What does the cultural diversity principle look like in schools?

In 2011 the Education Review Office gathered data from over 200 schools to evaluate the extent to which the principles of The New Zealand Curriculum were evident in the interpretation and implementation of schools’ curricula. The resulting 2012 ERO report describes how the cultural diversity principle can be enacted in school and classroom curriculum. You can use these statements to reflect on your own practice.

In schools and classrooms where cultural diversity was acknowledged and celebrated:

  • teachers were aware of students’ different cultural identities
  • students’ cultural contexts were incorporated into teaching and learning programmes and into the classroom environment
  • teachers provided practical opportunities for all students to be proud and share their languages and cultures through cultural groups, special events, and school festivals that celebrated cultural difference
  • all students experienced learning contexts from multiple cultures 
  • there were clear expectations in schools’ charters for celebration of diversity, stating the right of all children to feel culturally safe
  • boards that had developed such charters sought representation from all the cultures of their school community, and staff were representative of many cultures.


¹Quality Teaching for Diverse Students in Schooling: BES, 2003, p. v.

²Quality Teaching for Diverse Students in Schooling: BES, 2003, p. 32.

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Updated on: 26 Mar 2019