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Kiwi students hold their own census

What are Kiwi kids’ most common food allergies? What time do they go to sleep at night? How long can they stand on their left leg with their eyes closed?

Thousands of students aged between 10 and 18 (Year 5 to Year 13) are due to start answering these questions – and a host of others about their lives – when the online CensusAtSchool 2013 begins on Monday, May 6, the first day of the new term.

So far, 466 schools have registered to take part. Co-director Rachel Cunliffe says that teachers will administer the census in class between May 6 and June 14. The 32-question survey, available in English and Māori, aims to raise students’ interest in statistics and provide a fascinating picture of what they are thinking, feeling and doing.

“A good way to engage students in mathematics and statistics is to start from a place that’s familiar to them – their own lives and the lives of their friends,” says Cunliffe, a University of Auckland-trained statistician and owner of several internet enterprises. “Students love taking part in the activities and then, in class with their teachers, becoming “data detectives” to see what stories are in the results – and not just in their own classroom, but across the country.”

Students are being asked for the first time about food allergies to reflect the lack of data on the issue, says Cunliffe. “Students will be able to explore the dataset to compare the prevalence of self-reported allergies for different ages, ethnicities and sexes.”

CensusAtSchool, now in its sixth edition, is a biennual collaborative project involving teachers, the University of Auckland’s Department of Statistics, Statistics New Zealand and the Ministry of Education. It is part of an international effort to boost statistical capability among young people, and is carried out in Australia, the United Kingdom, Canada, the US, Japan and South Africa.

Andrew Tideswell, manager of the Statistics New Zealand Education Team, says our statistics curriculum is world-leading, and CensusAtSchool helps teachers and students get the most out of it. “By engaging in CensusAtSchool, students have an experience that mirrors the structure of the national census, and it encourages them to think about the need for information and ways we might use it to solve problems,” he says. “Students develop the statistical literacy they need if New Zealand is to be an effective democracy where citizens can use statistics to make informed decisions.”

Westlake Girls High School maths teacher Dru Rose is planning for about 800 Year 9 and 10 students to take part. She’s keen to see the data that will emerge from questions about how many hours of homework students did the night before and how many hours sleep they had. “It’s real-life stuff,” she says. “We’ll be able to examine the data and see if there are any links.”