How NCEA changed a nation

I remember the torrential rain one morning at breakfast in the Cook Islands as we discussed a proposal that I thought would appeal to the Cook Island education officials. I suggested that Manukau Institute of Technology (MIT) would develop a Certificate of Technical Skills based on the New Zealand Qualifications Framework which the Cook Islands as a realm country shared.

On the one hand it would be based at Levels 1-2 and on the other would build into a programme the key characteristics of the secondary / tertiaryprogrammes that were showing good promise with asset of key principles:

  • Giving students options to experience technical grades at an earlier age;
  • Accelerating students who had weaknesses in learning skills through the completion more quickly – a key factor in successful remediation;
  • Having a strong element of mandated engagement;
  • Developing a clear line of site to a vocational pathway;
  • Using trades as the pathway of increased engagement in schooling generally;
  • Ensuring that basic skills were cemented well and truly as a sound basis.

At this time, the New Zealand Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade (MFAT) were developing a proposal for Partnership Programmes –providers across a range of business activities showing interest in such a way of working. MIT knew that it had a good proposal based on taking the trades to the secondary schools of the Pacific and was subsequently successful in its application. Meanwhile, for such applications take some time to reach a conclusion – MIT had continued to work with the Pacific Nations.

Finally, an agreement was in place, between MIT and MFAT and MIT was in a position we were in a to take the proposal out to the Pacific with Tonga absolutely keen to start straight away rather than wait and so started a remarkable story of the power of applied education to engage the disengagers and the possibilities that flow from teaching trades in an island nation.

Tonga has been totally positive and over the past few years the programme has been introduced into 14 schools. Students are introduced to four trades over two years and are awarded with Level 1 and Level 2 Certificates in Vocational and Technical Students. Since the NZ and Tongan Qualification Frameworks are aligned, students are potentially able to come into a programme at a New Zealand provider. But that has not proved to be the strongest pathway. As a result of the CVTS, enrolments of school leavers at the Tonga Institute of Science and Technology have grown as large numbers of the successful graduates of the CVTS (350 students graduate each year) enrol at their local tertiary provider – enrolments have doubled year on year.

MIT had supported TIST with significant staff development, equipment and generally with the delivery of this most important programme, now in its ninth year with MFAT support. NCEA and programmes flexibly based on it have been the fundamental basis of this Pacific success story. Lives are changed as young people overcome the difficulty of studying in a harsh environment. It is not too large a claim to say that in this instance, NCEA has changed a nation swell certainly it has had an impact!

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