Students of all ages can now study wool

The Wool in Schools programme is expanding to maximise opportunities for primary-aged children, while new initiatives will include early childhood education (ECE) and introduce secondary education modules.

As temperatures drop and winter closes in, Campaign for Wool NZ (CFWNZ) is ensuring future generations of Kiwis more deeply understand the insulating, thermo-regulating, and moisture-wicking properties of natural, locally-grown strong wool.

Its Wool in Schools programme is expanding to maximise opportunities for primary-aged children, while new initiatives will include early childhood education (ECE) and introduce secondary education modules.

Of particular note, an exciting new tertiary study pilot programme called Wool Dynamics, which supports students to bring their own innovative ideas to the wool industry, fuelling real growth through architecture, product design and other vocation-specific programmes.

Developed by CFWNZ and authored by AUT’s Professor Frances Joseph from the School of Future Environments and Peter Heslop, MSc in Textile Technology, Wool Dynamics will launch across six major architecture and product design schools this month.

General Manager for CFWNZ, Kara Biggs, says the programme is a huge step forward for wool. “We’re answering the call of wool growers, who need consumers to better understand wool’s performance properties, as well as educators, who want pathways for learners passionate about the fibre, and our students, who value sustainable systems so highly when designing for the buildings, structures, products and textiles of the future.”

Victoria University, AUT, Ara Institute, Otago Polytechnic, and Massey University are first to trial the programme, which is accessible to them via a CFWNZ-hosted online education portal. Both students and academics can log in to the platform to view presentations, lecture material, research and case studies.

“The launch of this pilot represents an enormous amount of behind-the-scenes work for CFWNZ and the Wool Dynamics team,” Biggs says. “It’s a huge piece of work that, if successful, can be rolled out to a number of tertiary institutions across the country. It also creates a clear roadmap for students keen to be part of the wool renaissance, make a positive impact on our planet, or create using wool.”

Professor Joseph, one of the two co-developers, says she’s thrilled to see the pilot programme come to light. “Wool is such a wonderful material, and here in New Zealand we grow the best wool in the world,” she says. “Introducing architecture and product design students to the magical properties and potential of wool will really help continue the innovation trajectory for the wool industry.”

It’s all part of CFWNZ’s three-year strategy to make significant progress across its key pillars of education, promotion and advocacy. The not-for-profit, with King Charles III as its global patron, has led discussions with educators at every level on the best methods of leveraging the wool opportunity.

The hugely successful Wool in Schools programme, which traditionally relied on the presence of one of its two travelling wool-laden shipping containers to tell the wool story within primary schools, now offers a second option. “Very remote, difficult to access or smaller schools will be able to access all the learning materials from the containers via a classroom kit and pack of digital resources,” Biggs says. “These schools will be encouraged to hold a ‘Wool Week’, where pupils can spend time discovering the New Zealand wool industry and learning about the fibre. It’s a way we can ensure that all tamariki have the opportunity to interact with wool.”

Secondary level students will be able to apply their wool knowledge to a range of design, art, technology and science projects, the details of which are still being ironed out, she says.

And even our under-5s will enjoy a new wool-focused module, if a pilot programme for the ECE sector is adopted. “We’ll be giving the little ones simple play-based activities to learn more about where wool comes from and what it is – colouring-in sheets, counting, drawing and so on.

“Young Kiwis are increasingly becoming key wool ambassadors and influencers as the tide continues to turn on the use of synthetics, plastics and petro-chemicals,” Biggs says. “These strategic extensions to our CFWNZ education programme will serve to stimulate a greater appetite for change. We are so excited to see how tomorrow’s innovators grasp the enormous opportunity that a super fibre like wool provides when creating the homes and consumer products of tomorrow.”

Professor Joseph is already imagining how wool could play a role in reinvigorating local manufacturing and squeezing out cheaper imported building products. “I’m thinking of interior lining products that, unlike chipboard, have insulating qualities, for instance. Architects are only limited by the materials available to them. But there’s a lot of new technology coming onto the market that utilises the inherent properties of wool. I’d love to see New Zealand not only producing the best wool in the world, but manufacturing and using products made from the best wool in the world.”

CFWNZ will be monitoring and evaluating its tertiary pilot programme over 2024, and envisages a full roll out across New Zealand in 2025.

“We’re working really hard to serve our strong wool community, create opportunities and allow the next generation to imagine, innovate and make real progress for our strong wool sector,” Biggs says.  “We feel certain that it’s the next step in ensuring a truly exciting, productive and prosperous future for wool.”