Giving credit where credit is due

One of the key findings of the Pathways and Transition suite of programmes at Manukau Institute of Technology (MIT) is that students who otherwise might find school hard reveal considerable talent and ability to learn when an early experience of applied learning triggers some inactive, inert ability that has not been released. The experience at MIT in 2015 suggests that given the different right stimulus, different learners will respond.

In sum, the total credits gained in the 18 classes across 10 different technical disciplines averaged out at 18 credits per student from a course that was the equivalent of one day in school. Two things stand out.

First, Māori gained on average 17 credits per student, Pasifika 16 credits per student and “other”, 20 credits per student. So success seems to be not displaying the same levels of discrepant outcomes that we are working to improve, it is more equitable.

Secondly, literacy and numeracy taught in the context of these 10 is such that progress seems not to be the hurdle that schools would have us believe. This is also the experience of students at the MIT Tertiary High School. The programmes that are done have literacy and numeracy embedded in them – you learn the skills of literacy and numeracy in a context where they can be applied.

It was therefore disappointing to hear the radio interview with the Principal of a large school claiming that NCEA Literacy and Numeracy was not working. He called for a return to having dedicated literacy and numeracy teachers – that would, he claimed, get the system back on track.

This would of course be taking the teaching of literacy and numeracy back to the 1950s where the notion of teaching in a context of use had never occurred to any one. This also characterized schooling in the 1960s but it received a jolt in the 1975s with the publication of James Britton’s A Language for Life. It was from this that the notion of “language across the curriculum” gained ground. The argument was simple – every teacher uses languages therefore every teacher is a teacher of a language.

Reading in Secondary Schools was a real focus of the late 1970s and into the 1980s. This was a good thing – you learn to read by reading and you also learn to write by reading – schools dabbled with reading sessions for all in one way or another.

The University of Waikato back then and on into the 1980s did pioneering research in Science that showed that students succeeded in science largely to the extent that they could master the language of science.

The evidence at the Tertiary High School, and in Trades Academies suggests that only in a few instances is specialist intervention in language/English and numeracy/mathematics needed. Of course, as happens in education, as soon as something is described as if it is a specialist task, an aura grows around it and the job is handed over to the experts. In the Tertiary Sector all lower level courses have literacy and numeracy embedded in them and the tutors are required to be trained to do so.

Embedded literacy and numeracy trumps literacy and numeracy for no obvious reason every time.

The education system has put on Edward de Bono’s seven hats ad nauseum but it doesn’t show. That is what is coming to the surface in secondary/tertiary programmes and not only in New Zealand. Early access to applied learning (e.g. trades, STEM, etc) develops cognitive skills in learners who have not until then been excited by learning. In other words, they become academic. A group of students who enter the MIT Tertiary High School because they are making worrying progress at school in Year 10 discover through the NCEA / Technical integrated programme that they can learn, and that they want to learn, and they carry on to get NCEA Level 3 and University Entrance. That is a small group but the rest of the cohorts achieve Levels 1 and 2 with some ease (and a lot of sound teaching!).

The NCEA results (as reported by NZQA) underline this. The 2014 results were NCEA Level 1  100%, Level 2, 94.4%, and Level 3, 83.3%. The 2015 results are similar – L1 – 80%, L2- 87.9%, L3 – 100%. (Remember that the L3 groups are small). Most schools would feel pretty good with results like this!

But wait, there’s more folks!

In addition to NCEA achievement the THS students also get a range of technical qualifications at various levels simultaneously.

Now this is not a competition between secondary/tertiary programmes and schools. It is simply evidence that multiple pathways that see education/school delivered in different ways, will get different results. We simply have to develop a level of comfort about those pathways and celebrate that it offers to many students better levels of success than they would face in the conventional school setting.

Programmes such as the THS and Trades Academies are making a contribution to the outcomes for many and NCEA is a wonderful vehicle that allows students to bring their achievements together.

Did I mention that MIT through its STAR courses programme allowed students to gain 40,914 credits (that is an average of 12 per student)? It couldn’t happen without NCEA.




Te Ara Whakamana is New Zealand’s largest forum dedicated to education and employment pathways and transitions.  Now in its sixth year, this event brings together educators from both secondary and tertiary sectors, industry representatives, policymakers, and researchers to share good ideas and practices, and to be challenged by different perspectives.

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