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A summary of the main themes from Dr Nicholas Parkin’s keynote on day 3 of the Step up to the World | Tū Māia ki te Ao forum 2023.

Dr Nicholas Parkin

Dr Nicholas Parkin is a teacher at Auckland Montessori College in Panmure, Auckland. The college’s main objective is to develop internal and external peace and aims to equip school leavers with the ability to think about, interpret and analyse problems and create solutions with confidence, flexibility, humility and morality front and centre.

Dr Nicholas Parkin

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In his keynote, Nik talked about how teaching and learning philosophy can help with addressing global issues and attaining peace. An overview of his talk is summarised below.

Brief overview of philosophy

Nik described philosophers as people who use reason and rationality to challenge societal foundations in a number of ways. For instance, academic philosophy involves making and defending a position through dialogue. Communal philosophy can be achieved through Socratic seminars, talanoa, wānanga and other methods of shared group inquiry.

Nik explained that philosophy is about thinking for the sake of thinking and lends itself well to metacognition, ultimately supporting students to understand how they learn. A major focus of teaching philosophy is also critical thinking – supporting students to:

  • plan, strategise, analyse and evaluate, and identify problems and innovative solutions

  • evaluate their own actions and actions taken by others

  • challenge social, political and economic concepts, positions and inequalities.

Benefits of learning philosophy

According to Nik, when students engage in philosophical thinking, they enjoy increased confidence and wellbeing, improved social emotional development and self-esteem and reduced dependency and anxiety. He suggested that learning philosophy helps children to resist attempts at indoctrinating them such as through advertising, schooling and society in general. Crucial to this is encouraging students to always ask questions.

Nik believes that, because philosophy helps students to develop their ‘soft skills’, it generally doesn’t target academic performance, meaning that all students can enjoy success in their learning. At the same time, philosophy in schools facilitates success because it connects across all learning areas and aligns with all of the key competencies. Philosophy aligns with  the aspirations of the New Zealand Curriculum, particularly supporting its principles, values and key competencies. It promotes inclusion and equality.  

Philosophy in the classroom

Nik acknowledged that, despite its many benefits, philosophy is not often taught in schools in Aotearoa New Zealand, and he suggested some interrelated reasons for this:

  • There is no one NCEA philosophy subject or relevant achievement standards and, in a credit-driven achievement system, NCEA philosophy courses are cobbled together using standards from a range of subjects.

  • School curriculums are often already crowded so adding in philosophy is problematic.

  • Aotearoa lacks enough teachers with philosophy expertise.

In reflecting on this dearth of philosophy in school curriculums, Nik pointed out that education is not a benign power structure and curriculums are actually a political choice. Decisions about what to include and what to leave out impact on who benefits and who is disadvantaged. Whether knowingly or not, schools can perpetuate power systems, social patterns and social inequalities, and we have yet to address the ways in which educational outcomes are impacted by economic and social factors.

Philosophy and global citizenship education

Nik pointed out that philosophy education supports students to develop their sense of responsibility, a key factor in global citizenship. To maintain a focus on global citizenship, Nik’s teaching requires his students to explore a sustainable development goal each week and submit a project about their learning. Through exploration of ethical reasoning, understanding and moral virtue, students become prepared for citizenship in the wider world. Developing creative and critical thinking through self-reflection and a focus on individual wellbeing means students are better positioned to engage with their community’s values and see value in their extended community. 


How do critical maths and critical literacy, as outlined in the Common Practice Model, support or align with aspects of philosophy?

The Science Learning Hub explores ethical frameworks for the classroom in terms of biology. How might you introduce ethics in your subject area or student inquiry?

Reflect on how you encourage your students to ask questions. What questioning techniques do you explicitly teach? How often do you seek questions from your learners? What are they asking about and what do their questions tell you about their learning?

Useful links

Take a look at Nik’s forum slides: click here to view

Nik's keynote address is on YouTube: click here to view

You can read a blog about philosophy written by Nik that summarises his 2022 paper: Offering Philosophy to Secondary School Students in Aotearoa New Zealand.

Find out more about Auckland Montessori College: click here to see its website

TKI has philosophy teaching and learning guidelines and links to other supporting resources: click here to view

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