One of the real strengths of the current Better Public Service Goals is that the target for 18 Year olds is expressed with some flexibility. To pin the target at “NCEA Level 2 or equivalent qualification” is both sensible and essential for a variety of reasons.
It will be a very long time before all 18 year olds will be achieving this target through the conventional approaches of the secondary school. NCEA Level 2 does not function as an effective school leaving target for all simply because the secondary school-based pathway is not one that is attractive to or effective for all students.
This is recognised in other school systems. In the United States the High School Diploma is the standard “school leaving qualification”. But many do not achieve this so an option is offered through the community college system in two ways. Study for other awards at the level of the diploma is recognised in the associate degree qualification or, where that study has been in general education subjects, often remediation courses, the qualification awarded is a General Education Diploma. This is “an equivalent qualification”.
When a student has not found success in the pathway through a school the appropriate response will neither be in a school nor will the appropriate qualification be one that is seen as a “school” qualification. A multiple pathways response will see the foundation level study wrapped onto other postsecondary programmes and the student who finds renewed interest and energy in different pathways will subsequently be successful not because of the Better Public Service Goal but because they have a line of sight to other postsecondary qualifications and the employment that goes with them. Achieving the Level 2 goal will merely be a station their train passes through on that journey.
Our education system has been dogged by two things in its history – the lack of connection between school and what comes after for a significant group of students and the fixation with a school-based qualification that has little connection with the qualification required beyond the gates.
The Qualifications Framework was a mechanism that would allow equivalence to be struck between different programmes and qualifications. “Equivalence” is not “sameness” and judgment is required in striking equivalence between dissimilar programmes and qualifications at the same level. Trying to bundle everything at Level 1 or Level 2 into a package is at best pointless and might even be counterproductive.
The Tertiary Education Commission insists only that programmes “offered through Youth Guarantee must be linked to level 1-3 qualifications on the New Zealand Qualifications Framework” and notes that “achieving level 2 qualifications should be the starting point for the learner, with tertiary education organisations encouraging and supporting Youth Guarantee learners to progress to higher levels of education” (see www.tec.govt.nz). This reinforces the principles of difference and equivalence. It also importantly reflects the importance of the Minister’s recent announcement that Youth Guarantee would apply to 19 year olds allowing level 3 programmes to become a realistic goal within a Youth Guarantee supported pathway.
Level 3 is important in that at that level entry into other industry-recognised qualifications becomes more realistic and suggests that level 2 is an important stage – essential but not sufficient for a secure future. And that is an important point.
The Ministry of Education (www.moe.govt.nz) notes that “foundation education at levels 1 and 2 on the New Zealand Qualifications Framework provides people of all ages who left school school without qualifications opportunities to learn foundation skills needed to progress to higher-level study and skilled employment.”
Current moves to wrap foundation education into continuous pathways that take young people to a higher and better place are to be welcomed but if they result in re-introducing the disconnection between foundation work and the real qualifications they follow then many of the gains made by Youth Guarantee might be lost and that would be a great pity.
If issues such as disengagement, NEETs, teen Mums and Dads, Maori and Pasifika achievement and so on are to be seriously addressed then level 1 and 2 must not become programmes based on new turf in its own right but a level of learning that is a genuine foundation on which the superstructure of higher skills can be placed. The two parts of this process are one and indivisible.
Effective delivery of levels 1 and 2 in a seamless and connected manner will be a key to success not only of programmes but also for learners – both those things are also the same thing!