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2019 Early Career Research Excellence Award for Social Sciences: Can education create active citizens?

Dr Bronwyn Wood, Victoria University of Wellington, has received the 2019 Royal Society Te Apārangi Early Career Research Excellence Award for Social Sciences for her research that deepens our understanding about how today's young people engage as citizens – especially in the school context.

How do we ensure a thriving democracy and how can the education system encourage young people to become engaged citizens? This is the question that Dr Wood has been exploring since she completed her PhD in 2011, which confirmed young people's interest in taking social action.

Based at the Faculty of Education, Te Puna Akopai, Bronwyn was awarded a Teaching Learning and Research Initiative research grant ($200,000) in 2014 to lead a team of five teachers and four academics to explore the implementation of new ‘personal social action’ assessments for NCEA.

The curriculum initiative, introduced in 2013, requires learners to undertake 'personal social action' in their social studies learning.

The research looked at whether students' social action within this initiative had the potential to be 'critical and transformative’, beyond the mainstream 'safe' activities of social action typically taken in school such as recycling, fasting or fundraising.

The results, published in 2018, revealed the challenge of focusing on critical and transformative social actions given the assessment context, but found that when teachers focused on citizenship learning through affective and cognitive domains, students were more likely to experience meaningful democratic engagement.

The paper’s findings were of high interest to the teaching community – over 300 teachers attended eight conferences and workshops over 2016 and 2017. Findings were presented in Parliament, and the research garnered wide media interest.

A second area of Bronwyn’s research is the 'civic gap' she has observed between students from different school communities and backgrounds. In 2016 she was awarded a Marsden Fund Fast-start research grant to study youth citizenship in multicultural neighbourhoods.

She has also been a strong advocate for lowering the voting age to 16 in New Zealand alongside enhanced civics education in schools.

In addition to publishing extensively, Bronwyn has rapidly established herself internationally by contributing to the broader development of ideas in her field through postgraduate student supervision, journal reviewing, thesis examinations and serving on the editorial board of the journal Theory & Research in Social Education (Taylor & Francis).

Bronwyn said she was “extremely honoured” to receive this award. “It has been such a privilege in my research to work together with fabulous teachers, researchers and students to find ways to enhance the possibility of young people cultivating citizenship skills in New Zealand schools.”

In 2016 she was awarded a Research Excellence Award from Victoria University of Wellington. In 2019 Bronwyn was made a member of the Ministry of Education’s Civics Education Working Group and she regularly provides media commentary and advice on citizenship education, curriculum policy and youth engagement to government and community organisations. Her research has attracted worldwide interest, resulting in her being invited to give three international keynotes in 2019.

Early Career Research Excellence Award for Social Sciences:

For emerging researchers in social sciences research in New Zealand.


To Bronwyn Elizabeth Wood for her research which has helped deepen our understanding about how today's young people engage as citizens, especially in the school context.