The Government has raised high hopes with an "education summit" that has encouraged 800 people to dream of their ideal schools and preschools. Now its challenge will be translating values into practical changes.
Even Education Minister Chris Hipkins admitted that he was worried when he asked his officials two weeks ago for a programme for the Christchurch summit - the first of two aimed at kick-starting a national "education conversation". The second event will be in Auckland this coming weekend.
"When I got here yesterday morning and asked for a programme and they said, 'Sorry Minister, that's not the way we're doing it,' I was even more worried," he said.
French-born master of ceremonies Philippe Coullomb, who runs Sydney-based collaboration facilitators Wheretofromhere, replaced a normal programme with "hubs" in which people sat in small groups and tried to answer broad questions such as what values they wanted our education system to be based on.
Out of 476 people who each chose 10 values from a list of 38, the top answers were: hauora/wellbeing 286, creativity 245, family/community/whanaungatanga 223, respect 251 and belonging 212.
Summaries on whiteboards from the group discussions talked of valuing every student no matter what their culture or learning needs.
"I came here as a cynic," said one high school teacher. "But as it went on, I got drawn into it. There is a lot of hope, which is a reflection of the fact that teachers in general have become quite jaded. These ideas have been floated in staff rooms for ages but can't really go anywhere."
"It feels empowering but I feel I could be let down," he said.
The broad ideas from the two summits, and from an online survey asking the public to answer four broad questions such as "If you were the boss of education in NZ, what would you do first?" are supposed to feed in to task forces and working groups that are reviewing early childhood education, school governance, learning support, vocational education, tertiary education and the National Certificate of Educational Achievement (NCEA).
An over-arching advisory group headed by Children's Commissioner Judge Andrew Becroft has been set up to make sure the ideas from the summits and the "conversation" don't get lost in translation.
Secretary for Education Iona Holsted promised that "that authentic clear statement of integrity of what is said here and in Auckland gets fed through to the work programme".
"For example, we have a revised tertiary education strategy due by 2019. The strategy will be drafted with the language that you have been using here," she said.
She said sometimes the ministry would make mistakes but that would not be evidence of any conspiracy.
"I undertake to have somewhere on our website that you can go to every day and be clear about where we are at with the process, and where you can keep in touch," she said.
In a final panel, Pasifika educationalist Mele Wendt said she heard "lots of conversations around racism" at the summit.
"There is blatant bias happening in our education system," she said. "There is a lot of pain and trauma, for example someone shared about 33 youth suicides in Invercargill a couple of years ago with Pasifika and Māori youth.
"We have to acknowledge that this trauma, this pain, this racism and a whole lot of other awful stuff exists and we are going to have to get beyond it.
"But on the positive side, I'm really, really touched by the general support and encouragement and people saying, 'This pain and this hurt exists, what can I do to help?"