EDTalkNZ: What constitutes student success?

Colleen Young, Administrator of the Centre for Studies in Multiple Pathways is today’s guest writer.

Years ago, when attending teacher professional development sessions, the topic of student outcomes was rarely discussed. During the late 1970s and through to the mid 1980s, the majority of students either progressed to tertiary educational institutions, went straight into an apprenticeship, or found low-skilled work. 

These days, while New Zealand continues to educate our youth with the “one-size-fits-all” education system, and while there continues to be an increasing number of students remaining in our senior secondary school with no intention of progressing to university, more questions need to be asked around the notion of student success.  For example, we know that every student requires a certain standard of numeracy and literacy to be able to work in the current and future workplace.  We know that critical thinking and problem solving skills are paramount learning tools which assist students in becoming successful in their future. We know that the creation of multiple learning pathways makes sense for a large group of students who will not attend our universities – so what are we doing to encourage this group of students to improve their success?  Does student success have to be all about passing the three sciences, English and maths?

I would argue that it doesn’t.  Student success can be, and should be, determined by student interests and what is best for the student, so they can progress to each next step until they reach a successful career outcome suited to them.  Once a student has an opportunity to “try before he/she buys” student success ought to follow. In other words, when a student finds a course that they can be passionate about, usually they are more engaged in the learning process and success follows. But how does one know what they want to do if they have no idea what that task feels like to do, how long it takes and where the task leads to further down the track? 

The School of Secondary Tertiary Studies (Tertiary High School) is one such form of schooling which allows its students to try different courses at the Manukau Institute of Technology, while also studying for their senior schooling NCEA Levels 1, 2 or 3 at the same time.  Effectively that means that if a student doesn’t like fabrication after six weeks, they can try catering and hospitality or early childhood and so on.  Some of them may even be fortunate enough to like several courses and they end up having to make a choice! The point is that instead of students doing bits and pieces of tertiary courses while still at secondary school, it makes more sense to enable students to try different courses of interest to them whilst demonstrating the need for numeracy and literacy for any future career they may take. I should point out that some secondary schools are already actively doing this.  However, for students to become successful citizens, it is also important for schools to provide accurate and useful careers advice, student social support and extra academic support if required.  

It is commendable to see the Ministry of Education continuing to promote and implement the Youth Guarantee Scheme alongside Trades Academies and Service Academies in New Zealand. For youth searching for alternative educational pathways other than university, these new courses provide a range of opportunities for students at risk of disengaging and dropping out of school.  

Let’s continue to create rigorous and challenging pathways that re-engage our youth, challenge the “status quo” for senior secondary school students who do not wish to go to university and watch our student failure rates fall. Students want to succeed.  Therefore, it is up to us as politicians, educators and policy makers in New Zealand to listen to the students needs, make decisions to reallocate funding streams at the senior schooling level to provide greater student choice,  so all students now, and in the future will learn what it feels like to experience student success.

Colleen Young

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