In its editorial (20 May 2016), the NZ Herald was concerned about NCEA because “nearly half” of teachers surveyed were concerned.
The editorial provides a neat summary of what NCEA set out to do and notes that the moderation of the assessments has “worked well.” Then it notes that schools and parents get concerned when the “league tables” are published. Well, who publishes those tables?
NCEA is the most liberating innovation in New Zealand education for decades, and certainly since World War II. At long last, students are able to get credit for what they know and can do, rather than be punished for what they cannot do.
A parent that cares can see progress and, if the time is taken, can understand the skills that their young person has. The student knows what they have done successfully and what they need to do to build on that success. An employer has the potential to get more information about school success than ever before.
But most employers aren’t looking for whether a student can pass a test. They are looking beyond NCEA, for further qualifications that indicate the skills required to be work-ready and to understand the basics of the profession. And this is where NCEA has proved a winner.
Historically, our education system has been weak in helping students transition from secondary to post-secondary education and training, beyond the traditional high school to university track.
With NCEA being a portable qualification – where students are able to generate credit for knowledge and skills demonstrated in different places – education takes on a whole new meaning. It means these students, who never saw the purpose in what they were doing especially, now see the point of education and how it can be practically applied to their lives.
Since 2010, the Youth Guarantee scheme has seen the development of a variety of new approaches.
The Manukau Institute of Technology (MIT) Tertiary High School catches students judged by their schools at Year 10 to be in danger of disengaging (or as the US calls it, “dropping out”). Four years later, we see a very different story. Our students are gaining high levels of NCEA and simultaneously completing vocational and technical qualifications that are industry recognised. For those that like the league tables: NCEA results as reported by NZQA are for 2014: Level 1, 100%; Level 2, 91.4%; and Level 3, 83.3%. In 2015 the pattern was repeated: Level 1, 80%; Level 2, 87%; Level 3, 100%.
The innovation of Trades Academies into schools is more conservative but equally as successful. Students go to a tertiary provider (a small number of schools do provide their own Trades Academies supported by tertiary providers) – for example, MIT provides Year 12 students training opportunities across 10 vocational and technical areas. Each student on average gains 18 NCEA credits that they are able to add to the credits they have gained at school.
But the gains go beyond this credit transfer, they develop a purpose for learning and they improve across all of their schooling as a result. They develop a line of sight to the world of work. And they also develop an understanding that education and training matters. A significant number of students involved in Trades Academies return to school to complete Year 13.
None of this would have been possible without NCEA. It allows for flexibility, it allows for closer connection between students and the purposes for pursuing an education. It is in essence an educational currency that accumulates to a point where they have the entry price to a great future. It allows for students to develop an understanding of how their learning can be applied to the real world.
It’s not NCEA that is at fault in creating too much work for teachers. It is the simple fact that our education system for the past 70 years has greatly over-assessed students. Even the old examination system was characterised by too much assessment. It’s what teachers do! We need to change how we measure success – do we value test results, or do we value real-world learning that leads to life-long skills in the workforce?
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.
Wellington, 28-29 June 2016