Schools from all over Auckland will gather next month for the 41st ASB Polyfest, performing speeches, kapa haka, traditional Pacific dance and, increasingly, routines from Asia, the Middle East and Africa.
It's the largest Maori and Pacific Island performing arts festival in the world and it started at Otara's Hillary College (now Sir Edmund Hillary Collegiate) with four schools. Last year, more than 10,000 students from 64 schools took part.
Robin Staples, principal at Mangere's Southern Cross Campus, says the four-day event is one of the most important on his school's calendar. It gives pupils a chance to express themselves, learn about their cultures and showcase them with pride.
With more than 40 years teaching experience, Staples is a firm believer in the value of arts in education. He says they teach young people goal-setting, planning, practical and hands-on skills, teamwork, critical thinking, resilience and problem-solving as well as being fun and providing a way to succeed outside of more traditional academic subjects.
"Often part of the creative process is about making something which doesn't work so you have to go back and think why it didn't work, maybe start again and that's good because it's from those failures that kids start to build resilience."
Southern Cross Campus has invested in performing arts spaces, bought 3D printers for its design and technology department and encourages pupils to perform at the Polyfest. But Staples is mindful of the need to boost literacy and numeracy, just not at the expense of wider learning opportunities.
"There has to be a balance and it's part of my job to ensure there is," he says. "When we look to the future - employment trends and what's happening around the world - it's the creative side of human endeavour where the opportunities will be."
While no one denies the importance of learning fundamental skills like maths, reading and writing, local researchers and teachers fear we're getting the balance wrong.
Professor Martin Thrupp, of Waikato University, co-led a three-year study into how primary schools have implemented National Standards.
Research Analysis and Insight into National Standards (Rains) concluded the move toward an assessment-based system, with its focus on literacy and numeracy, meant there wasn't as much time for subjects like visual and performing arts, social studies and, in some cases, science learning outside the classroom.
The study, commissioned by teachers' union the NZEI, ended in 2013; Thrupp says there's been no further research.
"The alarm bells were ... starting to ring, but because there's been no more formal research we have to rely on anecdotal information," he says.
"I've heard of recent graduates with arts backgrounds not being able to use those skills because there's no time, stories of specialist positions being disestablished and of timetables [changed] so art subjects are done in the afternoon - kids are supposed to be at their peak in the mornings - which sends a clear message the arts are not highly valued.
"There was a belief that even though the focus was on numeracy and literacy, teaching of those could be introduced to other subjects. However, in some schools, particularly lower decile ones which really struggle to meet the standards, there simply isn't time for much else."
Peter O'Connor, from the University of Auckland's Faculty of Education, says young people - especially in a fast-changing environment - need more than words and numbers to understand the world.
"We've got an education system that came out of the Industrial Revolution," O'Connor says, "and now we're in a totally different era. We've got misguided policies which regard schools as having only one function: prepare future workers, but the world of work is rapidly changing and the sorts of skills needed are broader than what's being taught."
And what do the "kids" say?
When Charlotte Hawkins, 21, asked her secondary school careers' adviser about jobs in the arts and cultural sector, the adviser suggested teaching could be a possibility.
Hawkins, who's doing postgraduate Museum Studies at the University of Auckland, says there's nothing wrong with teaching but she hoped for a wider range of options.
"I don't think people understand the arts and cultural sector well enough and all the choices that are out there," she says. "Vocational pathways are well promoted but wanting to work in the creative industries seems to mean you're left to figure it out on your own."
Fellow 15 to 24-year-olds on the Urbanlife Summer Youth Programme at Auckland Museum agree with her.
For those who completed the 2016 programme, open to 18 young Aucklanders interested in museums, taonga, culture and the arts, it was a rare chance to discover more about the so-called Glam sector (galleries, libraries, archives and museums) and the opportunities it offers: directors, registrars, curators, educators, graphic designers, exhibition designers and preparators, public relations and publicity, business development, buyers and brokers, archivists and co-ordinators, and support staff.
Hassaan Mirza, 17, from Mt Roskill Grammar School, and Georgia Hughes, 15, from Pinehurst School in Albany, say while there's more talk about the "creative industries", it's not widely promoted. In addition, there's a perception you need to be "good at art" when, in reality, there's a wider range of jobs.
David Leone, 22, now studying at the University of Auckland, says knowledge of the wider opportunities sometimes depends on how much your art teacher knows and the value your school puts on them.
Then there are issues convincing parents that a career in the arts and cultural sector is viable. Seini Latu, 23, and Melaia Mahina, 22, are studying at the University of Auckland and say Pacific Island parents emphasise the importance of subjects like maths and English in getting jobs that are professional and practical.
"They're just trying to protect us because they think we won't find a job or the pay will be too low," says Seini, "but there are good opportunities in this field."
• 69,790 Year 11 - 13 students taking visual and performing arts in 2014
• 10,000 and 250 choirs - the approximate number of secondary school kids and choirs in The Big Sing Choral Competition
• 21,000 the number of school kids going to Pop up Globe
• 46,000 the number of people Auckland Council would like to see employed in the creative sector by 2040
Music hits right notes for kids' development
In the school holidays, there was just one place Waina Wiperi, 9, wanted to be: Otara Music Arts Centre. So Dad, Wayne, drove her home from camping in Kaiaua to join around 300 children at the Auckland Philharmonia Orchestra (APO) summer school for Sistema Aotearoa.
Offering free tuition, Sistema uses orchestral music-making as a model for social development so every child has the chance to become "an asset" to their community.
The New Zealand programme, introduced as a two-year pilot in 2011 and now well-established, is based on El Sistema, a Venezuelan enterprise and one of the world's most successful music and social development initiatives.
Children start at 6, learning violin or cello at regular after-school lessons and holiday programmes. As they progress, they can learn other instruments and a range of music genres.
Wayne says since joining, Waina is more confident and focused and is doing better at school because she's no longer reluctant to participate in classroom discussions and activities.
Waina agrees she talks more than she used to and says she now knows what she might want to be when she grows up: a professional musician, playing with an orchestra.
New research supports what Wayne and Waina say about the link between music education and achievement, both personal and at school. A report for the Ministry for Culture and Heritage and the APO looked at how Sistema Aotearoa contributes to educational, relational and social outcomes for children and their families.
The Sistema Aotearoa Outcome Evaluation concluded there were a range of positive outcomes linked to Sistema. While the report cautioned it can be difficult to link music education to academic success, it says Sistema children seem to be achieving higher maths and reading scores than peers not involved.
Children are increasingly taking part in and performing at cultural events such as church and family events. That's true for the Leleifi family, where four out of the five children are part of Sistema.
Mum, Lesini, says the children regularly play at family and church events, making her feel extremely proud.
Sistema Aotearoa becomes a charitable trust this year so it can seek additional funding to continue its work.