High school students Hunter Connon and Mrinali Kumar and primary school pupils Olivia Kelly and Rozy Hming are a glimpse at what today's school children are like, according to a recent children's census.



The world today is changing at a frantic rate and modern society looks very different from 10 years ago, let alone 20

So what do today’s average New Zealand school children look like?

A survey of more than 18,000 school kids has revealed that gone are the days of wooden desks you could scratch your name into with your compass, the rote learning of times-tables, an exercise book for every subject that you never kept neat and a social life spent working out your thumb by text messaging.

Instead the digital natives have taken over with kids today heading home and logging into Facebook, using computers for their school work, carrying bags that rarely hold textbooks and capturing life moments on Instagram or Snapchat.

However, some old-fashioned values are still considered important to Kiwi kids, including family time.

The long-running CensusAtSchool project has spent 11 weeks surveying kids from 391 schools around New Zealand.

The seventh round of data, collected from year 5 to 13 students, has revealed a snapshot of today’s children and while much of it was consistent with previous censuses, there were some surprising differences, census team member and Otahuhu College teacher Anne Patel said.


Olivia Kelly is a typical primary school pupil according to the children’s census.

The year 6 Kahurangi School girl was born in New Zealand, speaks only one language, is righthanded and travels to school in a motor vehicle.

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She also sat in the majority camp for favourite subject with art at the top of her list.

“You get to draw and paint and create things.”

A creative endeavour is in her future as well, as she dreams of being an author when she grows up.

The census revealed that the average primary school child carries a 2.5-kilogram bag and goes to bed between 8pm and 10.30pm.

Year 5 and 6 teacher at Kahurangi School, Claire Brown said the census had been a great teaching tool for her class and she was surprised to see that many things remained the same as when she as a girl.

Pupils typically only carried their lunch and a few personal items in their bags and that was the same as what she had done.


The average secondary school student doesn’t look that different to those in primary school, but here are some differences that show the older kids’ growing independence.

Secondary school kids are also mainly born in New Zealand and right-handed, but most travel to school by bus, enjoy health related subjects over art, and go to bed between 9pm and 11.30pm.

Year 13 Wellington High School student Hunter Connon ticked most of those boxes, but said the average weight of a teenagers backpack, 4.1kg, sounded too heavy to him.

All that is in his is an exercise book, a pen – when he remembers – and his lunch and water bottle.

“When I was in year 9 I would have a [netbook], charger, books and a pencil case, but I was getting quite a sore back from carrying it around. Also I got lazy and couldn’t be bothered!”

Girls carried more than boys and always remembered their pens, he said.


The rise of technology has continued in schools, with more kids connected in more ways, census team member Patel said.

It’s hard to believe there was a time that Facebook was not the king of social media.

Data collected from kids in 2009, the first time social media was a question in the census, showed that Bebo was the top site for secondary school kids, with 60 percent on it. That was compared to the lowly 30 per cent for Facebook.

But Facebook was the top site two years later and remained that way in 2015 with 80 percent of secondary kids on it. Even 23% of primary school kids said they had Facebook despite its rules stating it was for 13-year-olds and above.

But the biggest difference is not in the type of platform being used, but how many.