Te Kete Ipurangi Navigation:

Te Kete Ipurangi

Te Kete Ipurangi user options:

Senior Secondary navigation


You are here:

Developing learning pathways in philosophy

Philosophy takes students on a personal journey that has as its object the gaining of a reflective understanding of a wide range of issues. By ‘doing’ philosophy, students learn to use reasoned arguments and to investigate issues from different perspectives. This equips them to be responsible citizens with the capacity to make sound judgments.

Philosophy, whether taken as a full-year course, a half-year course, a short course, or a course running over two or three years, will be a valuable part of a student’s total learning experience. It will help them develop core intellectual skills and encourage them to ask critical questions in other areas of learning, at school and beyond. Philosophy will also help them assess what is or isn’t worthwhile in the long term.

Learning philosophy at school

Studying philosophy connects students to the core questions raised in other areas of learning. It does this by exploring existentially important questions that students often want to ask, but in situations where there is no time to delve deep. These existential questions are the very questions that philosophers love to discuss. Philosophy breaks down barriers between subjects because it inquires into the depth dimension to be found in every field of learning.

Students who develop philosophical thinking skills are often successful in other learning areas, whether English, sciences, mathematics, social sciences, or technology, graphics, media studies, or the arts. The skills acquired though philosophical thinking enhance literacy and numeracy skills.

The range of courses taught in New Zealand schools allows for a cross-curricular approach to the teaching and learning of philosophy. The study of philosophy can significantly further the development of the key competencies.

Academic pathways and attitudes

Internationally, there is considerable educational interest in the benefits to students of learning philosophy. In New Zealand, even though philosophy does not yet have it own achievement standards, a growing number of schools are offering philosophy, both at the junior and senior levels. This groundswell of interest can be seen in the growing number of teachers taking up membership of the New Zealand Association of Philosophy Teachers (NZAPT) and building a stock of academic resources and assessments.

The Internet gives teachers and students access to a large number of high quality resources for studying many types of philosophical questions. These resources are available in different languages for a variety of cultures. This ready availability of resources allows year 11 students to research their own questions, year 12 students to tackle more difficult questions, and year 13 students to refine their personal philosophies. Beyond school, whether in tertiary study, at polytechnic, wānanga, university, or at work, students can use these same resources to inquire into a wide range of fascinating questions.

Schools offering innovative philosophy programmes

Innovative programmes can be found at:

  • Hagley Community College, where philosophy courses have been offered for 20 years.
  • St Peter’s College, where courses have been offered for 10 years under its Religious Studies programme.
  • Rangi Ruru and a number of other independent schools, where philosophy is taught via short modular courses for different year levels.

Auckland Girls’ Grammar School, Western Springs College, and Unlimited Paenga Tawhiti all have fast growing programmes for both junior and senior students. Students at these schools are currently gaining NCEA credits through standards ‘borrowed’ from other subjects. When achievement standards for philosophy become available, the benefits of studying philosophy can be made available to many more students.

Philosophy beyond school

'Philosophy deals with questions which arise whenever people reflect deeply on their lives and the world in which they live.'

University of Auckland, Undergraduate Handbook

Philosophy develops in students an unrestricted questioning, which is both self-reflective and universal, so philosophical thinking is open to everything, whether related to ourselves or the universe. In philosophical discussions there is often a meeting of minds that is intellectually stimulating and intensely enjoyable. Philosophers’ relentless drive to ask profound questions and understand difficult issues creates opportunities for new ways of thinking to emerge. Those who experience the creativity of philosophy and ‘get it’ often look for this type of creativity in other areas of learning and in their lives.

Tertiary pathways

Prior knowledge and learning in philosophy is an advantage when starting out on a tertiary level university degree or diploma in philosophy. By taking philosophy at secondary school, students develop many cognitive and affective skills, but it is the skill of developing reasoned arguments that most directly assists them to be successful in the transition to tertiary learning.

Career pathways

The study of philosophy develops skills that are useful for analysing and assessing complex ideas and organisations. These skills are important in any field, including, for example, in health, business, economics, law, politics, diplomacy, engineering, and architecture.

Many employers want staff who have the ability to analyse situations, reason carefully, express themselves clearly, and assess different points of view. Students who study philosophy at tertiary level are employed in areas as diverse as banking, business, computing, diplomatic services, government, research units and professional training (see the University of Auckland undergraduate handbook).

Some students of philosophy go on to become teachers or lecturers in their chosen field or to be professional writers or consultants. Because scientific and technical advancement means we have the capacity to do things that perhaps we should not do, hospitals increasingly employ consultants who have studied ethics, an important branch of philosophy.

Identity development

Perhaps more than at any other time in their lives, teenagers wonder about the meaning of life and ask questions about the nature of the universe and their place in it. They have a desire for philosophical thinking and begin spontaneously to form their own views and opinions. At this point in their lives, the study of philosophy can be particularly important because it gives them the skills and freedom to explore their own ideas, listen to others, and question conventional wisdom in a safe and nurturing environment. By discussing different ideas, students begin to examine their own beliefs and develop a mature sense of self.

UNESCO endorses the study of philosophy that ‘teaches the ability to question and to form rational and plausible arguments, particularly in the case of young people whose existential relationships to the self and to others are in constant flux’:

'Philosophy is in a unique position to nurture and strengthen the (innate) desire to find meaning in the world.'

UNESCO, Teaching Philosophy in Asia and the Pacific, Bangkok, UNESCO Publishing, 2009

Community involvement

The study of philosophy encourages open-mindedness, tolerance, and responsible citizenship. By teaching young people to be independently thoughtful and critical, philosophy equips them for contemporary challenges, especially in the field of ethics.

Philosophical discussions in classrooms contribute to the training of citizens by developing students’ capacity for rational judgment. See UNESCO Paris Declaration for Philosophy – Teaching Philosophy in Asia and the Pacific (PDF 534KB).

Last updated October 6, 2011