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Beating the clock!

Stuart Middleton


12 June 2017


There are only two kinds of institution in which time served is of critical importance – one is an educational institution and in the other you get time off for good behaviour.


So, what is going on with the practice that defines “learning” in terms of the time that has been spent? It’s everywhere it seems. With NCEA you do Level 2 only after you have done 10 years in school, a degree can be described as a three-year degree or a four-year degree. Tertiary gets itself into the arguments about what is direct or face-to-face teaching and what is “self-directed learning”. It is not an exaggeration to suggest that education is controlled by time served.


NZQA used to have a little booklet called Learning and Assessment and it said that “Framework assessment is about standards of performance achieved, not how learning occurred.” It even went on to say that “there is no requirement for prior course attendance, work experience or time served.” Wait a minute! Does this mean that students could get a qualification if they passed the assessment before even attending the course? It does but then the booklet says it gets called “Recognition of Prior Learning’!


If it is good enough to recognise prior learning on occasion, why is it not good enough to recognise it as an ongoing feature of assessment generally? For instance, one way would be to allow multi-level assessments in schools – one programme could lead to awards being made at different levels as a result of multi-level assessments being used. Perhaps students could nominate the level at which they wished to be assessed. Or there could be a flexibility in assessment.


Let’s use the example of the Drivers Licence Test – a good example of standards-based learning. You know in advance what you need to know. You can practice as much as you like. You can sit the assessment when ready. You pass or fail on the basis of an assessor’s judgment. Except for the actual driving of the car of course. But the rode code knowledge could be assessed on line.


Just as the knowledge and therefore competence of Justices of the Peace is now measured in order give them the “Accreditted” tag in New Zealand. Actually the JP test is even more daring as the accreditation test can be taken any time, you need to reach a certain score of correct answers, if you do not you fail but have the right to come back straight away and have a further go at the questions you failed. In short, the question asked in most secondary and tertiary institutions – How much time have you spent on this? – is never asked.


Think how different education could be if freed from the artificial constraints of time. A colleague used to frequently say that “God created time so that everything didn’t happen at once!” And, perhaps, to allow education to run according to the clock.

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