Children Re-Build Democracy Block By Block – and Add a Petting Zoo!
This year’s New Zealand general election was one of the most hotly contested in recent history. The surprise announcement that Jacinda Ardern was taking over as Labour leader instantly transformed a predictable National win into a thrilling two-horse race.
Last weekend the votes were counted and … we still don’t officially have a government! Instead Kiwis were given the ultimate cliffhanger ending and were left with even more questions: Who will carve out the destiny of New Zealand? Who will be PM? Who will woo Winston Peters?
Meanwhile, a group of hard-working school children have been tackling political questions of far greater import. Should the Beehive have a petting zoo in it? Should the Beehive live up to its name and literally be filled with bees? Why just walk into Parliament when you could rollercoaster in?
These core political questions were tackled by three Wellington schools, who were invited to design their versions of democracy with Minecraft. Behind all the rollercoasters, bees, and sword wielding MPs, there was a serious goal of engaging children in democracy and technology.
The initiative between the Parliamentary Service and Microsoft was created to give pupils an insight into Parliament and how the democratic process works. Last month pupils from Waikanae School, Glenview School in Porirua and St Benedict’s School in Khandallah visited Parliament to discuss democracy. They were then asked to let their imaginations run wild and create models on Microsoft’s educational edition of Minecraft of what they envisioned democracy to be, sprinkling in their own magical details.
After a month of hard work, and intense Minecraft construction, the children returned to present their creations of Parliament complete with waterslides, a giant cake room and, of course, bees. Bees in the Beehive would create a full working democratic parliament that not only produces policies, but as a side line, produces some of the sweetest manuka honey in the world!
‘It’s such a fantastic way to engage kids with politics but also with technology,’ says Microsoft Public Sector Director Jeff Healey. ‘It fires up their imagination, but it is also great for encouraging team work and interaction with technology, preparing them for what will be an increasingly digital future.’
After the success of this pilot scheme, Microsoft intends to expand the programme in the hope that it will help improve digital literacy in schools. In the meantime, the nation awaits the final decision over who will govern New Zealand. And a group of Wellington school kids wonder if maybe, just maybe, the new government will build a rollercoaster, so politicians can more easily move from the debating chamber to the petting zoo.