Education Review asks six new student leaders to reflect on their New Zealand education as they approach the end of their secondary schooling.

Hayley Becht, 2012 Head Girl, Mount Albert Grammar School, Auckland

The opportunities I have been offered at Mount Albert Grammar School (MAGS) over the past four years continue to amaze me. The range of choices available to students in New Zealand schools enables the younger generation to grow and adapt to the 21st century.

Apart from the core subjects, my school and so many others throughout the country provide a significant variety of arts and sports subjects along with extra-curricular programmes. These programmes teach students the importance of working with others and provide a good balance for the individual. In my case, I have greatly benefited from the wide range of sports that are on offer at MAGS. Since attending the school I have participated in cross country, athletics, swimming sports, Duke of Edinburgh (bronze and silver awards), netball, volleyball, the Hillary challenge and more. Compulsory physical education classes in Years 9 and 10 created a pathway to new sports that I was keen to try. It also helped me realise the importance of participating in physical activity, and subsequently persuaded me to study the subject at a higher level in both NCEA Levels 1 and 2.

As a student in the New Zealand school system I have always felt that the NCEA system has never failed me. Over the past two years I have been pushed to give all standards my best shot and have found that the time and support from teachers has helped me achieve to my highest ability. The access of past papers, exemplars and textbooks for all subjects has also assisted me. New Zealand education caters for all individuals while also highlighting those who achieve great things. This can be seen in the Achieved, Merit and Excellence markings that NCEA created.

My school’s friendly environment makes it a safe and comfortable place for students to go. We are pushed to excel and are treated with respect as long as we give it back to others. The teaching staff at MAGS is a talented group who we, as students, depend on to guide us through our college years before we enter the “real world”.

New Zealand’s education system has definitely improved since my parents were at school. I will be interested to see how much it develops over the next 40 years.

Keneti Ah Kuoi-Atmore, 2012 Head Boy, Mount Albert Grammar School, Auckland

Next year will be my final year at school. I have thoroughly enjoyed my time at Mount Albert Grammar School (MAGS). There are many aspects of my education and life at MAGS that have contributed to my enjoyment of school and personal success. MAGS provides endless opportunities for my personal development and also creates a culture and environment that is built on success and achieving an individual’s full potential.

Throughout my time at MAGS I have been given many opportunities. MAGS provides an extremely wide range of subjects to choose from. I have been given the choice and freedom to study all areas in which I am interested. I have also been provided with many opportunities to participate in extra-curricular activities. For example, I have just arrived back from a three-day tournament in Hamilton, where I was able to participate in the National Secondary Schools Touch Tournament. MAGS allows students to thrive physically, intellectually and culturally by giving the students opportunities to express and develop themselves further in these areas.

A very important aspect of my personal development and education at MAGS is our school culture. There is a strong sense of pride at MAGS and it is referred to as “MAGS Pride”. Pride in my school is something I hadn’t experienced at either primary or intermediate schools. It involves having pride in yourself and being proud of your school. Pride in yourself comes from striving to do your best both in

academic areas and other pursuits. Pride in the school comes from belonging to a school that has a tradition of success – the Honours Boards in the school hall remind us all what is expected of us and what can be achieved. We openly celebrate and reward success in sport and all other extra-curricular activities. The sporting, arts and ethnic culture groups within MAGS are especially strong. The opportunities provided within these areas create an environment where everyone feels compelled to participate. At MAGS we hold the attitude that “No matter what your talent is, there is something for you”. The strong culture and MAGS pride creates a sense of unity within the school and a feeling of belonging.

Academically, MAGS creates an environment in which everyone is pushed to excel to the best of their abilities. Enrichment and accelerate programmes work to motivate and encourage students to achieve their full academic and intellectual capacity. These programmes challenge students; I have personally benefitted from the challenge of pushing my understanding and application of maths and physics. We celebrate academic success openly and we are constantly told not to accept mediocrity, which creates an environment where everyone strives for excellence.

The physical environment and surroundings at MAGS also help to create an atmosphere that is friendly and welcoming. In New Zealand, we often take for granted the large open fields and spaces throughout our school – we even have a farm for those students studying horticulture and agriculture! The latest additions to our facilities include a new recording studio and a new state-of-the-art the gymnasium. Importantly, the students feel safe and this helps to create a stimulating environment for learning.

In future, I hope that our education system will continue to offer an extensive range of opportunities for students. I believe it is important for students to be stimulated by a range of different activities and also to be able to express themselves and their talents. I believe that having a strong sense of pride, unity and culture within the school is also vital to creating a safe and cultivating environment for students. It helps them to be confident in expressing their individuality and talents. In this fast-changing world we must maintain the ability to adapt quickly. I believe a school must develop an environment where students are challenged and pushed to excel to the best of their abilities. Finally, and probably most importantly… schools should be enjoyable!

Jack Keown, 2012 Head Boy, Marlborough Boys’ College, Blenheim

Through the four years I have spent at Marlborough Boys’ College I believe I have learned what it takes for boys to reach their potential and aspire to be the best they can be. It is not just through solely academic pursuits but through an all-round educational effort, including a range of activities from cultural, sporting, leadership and academic opportunities. This approach and endeavour leads to well-rounded and educated young men.

At my school we are encouraged from the outset of our college lives to become involved in whatever we can and to pounce on opportunities presented. Active involvement leads boys to experience a wide variety of life lessons that educate them for their life ahead. That is the great thing about New Zealand education – rather than being bound to books and intensive academic study only, we experience a wide range of subjects, learning styles and vocational pathways. We are offered and in fact encouraged to be creative, to put ourselves out there and accept challenge.

What makes boys tick? I believe, and have learned through my own experiences, that boys have a strong desire for competition and a will to do well and win! At Marlborough Boys’ College many of us have taken what we have learned on the sports field and in cultural pursuits and applied it to our academic studies. We push and compete with each other to achieve better and reach the results that we should be achieving.

The great thing about education in New Zealand is that we offer an environment for everyone, no matter their social or cultural background. We create schools that give people a chance to succeed, and have teachers who are willing to go that extra mile to further our education and develop us as young men. This is something I know that we, as students, enjoy and really appreciate from those teachers, although we may struggle to show it at times!

As I anticipate my next step to tertiary education, I do have concerns about approaching student debt and general accessibility to ongoing education for all. I also worry about what opportunities will be out there for some of my mates who choose not to take an academic pathway.

Something that every boy grows and really thrives on is added responsibility. No matter the background or ability, every boy can benefit and strive to achieve results if given a chance to have some responsibility in anything they see as important. This is key in developing young boys, especially boys with unrealised potential. Some boys need lots of mentoring and help to do this. Boys need chances!

I have come to learn these things about quality education in New Zealand, through my time at my school. They lead to the development of great young men, ready to reach for the stars and be the best they can be. A sense of pride is formed through a good school. You feel you belong and are a part of it, like I do at my school, Marlborough Boys’ College.

Lily Ng, 2012 Head Girl, Hutt Valley High School

The Good

When asked what they considered to be the highlight of their years in the New Zealand education system, an overwhelming majority of Year 12 students responded, very simply, “Primary school.” As true as it is vague. Primary represents ‘the golden years’ for many students, and with its unique and comforting environment, it isn’t hard to see why. At no other point in your life will it be possible to hand in a crayon-covered title page as homework, and get a scratch’n’sniff sticker. It will never again be permissible to heap up freshly mown grass from the playing field and throw it at your peers. Mum-made lunches, immunity to peer pressure and carefree recesses dwindle exponentially from this point onwards. It’s all uphill from here.

Further up that hill, top-rated aspects of secondary education include opportunities for success and good classroom environments. This is credited to the extra help and effective methods employed by teachers who “really want you to pass” and those who possess demeanours slightly more “bearable” than the average teacher’s. At this point it may be worth noting a certain grudging respect was also afforded to teachers with the best ‘growl’: “There’s nothing worse than a teacher that can’t control a class because they’re too scared to give someone a growling”. In addition to this, specific subjects were often named as highlights (common ones being workshop, food technology, IT classes and textiles) as well as getting hands-on learning experiences.

The Bad

Although it seems national standards are pretty sugar-coated nowadays – resits, cross-crediting and derived grades are very much appreciated – there is still a (rather large) minority of students who are struggling. Almost 20 per cent of school leavers do not meet literacy standards, and employers in trades industries are astounded by many young people’s inability to do simple mental arithmetic. While I think it is ridiculous to state that these students have been failed by the school system, it does make you wonder what their perspective on their ‘education’ is, one that has left them without the skills to even address the matter (let alone a letter). We want children to succeed, and yet we don’t prepare them for a world where they might not.

While not necessarily ‘bad’, I hope scholarships that target specific races should at least raise some controversy. While it’s fantastic the Government wants to see more Maori and Pacific Island students in tertiary education, the plethora of grants and subsidies don’t really promote equal opportunity. I feel horrifically guilty at the amount of funding available to me as a student with Pacific Island heritage, that isn’t available to my equally intelligent, equally deserving friends. This discrepancy between supposed constitutional beliefs and what happens in our schools seems to be a common factor in most complaints about the education system.

And lastly, everyone I’ve talked to hates that almost as soon as they enter high school, they are forced to make subject choices that ultimately limit their career options. How can a 13-year-old be expected to decide what kind of job he or she may want, when they can’t even decide whether they look better in hi-top or low-cut Chucks?

The Interesting

Now think back to what students said they value most about their education. It’s the “hands-on” stuff: actually being able to get out there with the creative licence to feel up some cow ventricles, make an ester, combust something. It tricks you into thinking that what you’ve just learned in 5th spell science actually has a real-life application. However, a loud complaint from employers is that students are unprepared for their respective fields. Their theoretical knowledge is simply not enough when they have no practical experience – and this is apparently supremely irritating. “School teaches kids they are equal to their superiors [bosses]. They think the world owes them a living because they have a qualification.” So how is it that students see their limited field experience as a treasured privilege, yet employers think it’s about as useful as teats on a bull?

Well, a wonderful elderly lady I interviewed had a theory on the demise of today’s youth (don’t they all?). Mrs Smith* believes that the biggest mistake government has ever made was to remove religious education from schools. She states adamantly that if any singular faith is too politically incorrect to feed to the nation’s young, then the least the government can do is to reinforce aspects of religion that are beneficial to society. “Integrity Education”, she calls it, “a crash course in morals”. I approached some local youths with the idea, and received mixed reviews. There was the expected horror at the infringement of personal freedoms: “This isn’t a dictatorship! You can’t pick someone else’s morals for them.” But, on the other hand, there was some serious consideration: “Yeah but… at least it’d be better than accounting.”

*names have been changed

Olivia Sheat, 2012 Head Girl, Marlborough Girls’ College, Blenheim

After living in the same house and in the same town my whole life, I admit I have in no way experienced all aspects of the New Zealand education system. What I have seen, however, are passionate teachers willing to go the extra mile, clean and modern facilities and a system that caters to all levels, races and ages.

I believe that the New Zealand education system is among the best in the world. Students are offered a huge range of options and New Zealand schools accommodate students from all socio-economic areas, meaning that every child has a chance to be educated. Over the years, I have also come to realise that the most important aspect of my education is a healthy student-teacher relationship. Teachers who gain the trust and respect of their students are successful in passing on their passion and enthusiasm for learning. I have encountered teachers like this who care about my future and who have inspired me. A real challenge for schools is to assist teachers in professional development and to keep them inspired in their jobs.

As society changes, the role of the school has broadened. I think at times schools are unfairly left to correct society’s failings and the education system now provides services that students may not receive at home.

We are fortunate to have mentoring programmes and extra support for at-risk students in New Zealand schools.

My hope for the future is that education is still available to all students, no matter what their circumstances. It is important that gifted students are not forgotten, alongside the focus placed on educating students who are at risk. This is why I firmly believe that schools must provide systems that cater for all students.

Next year, I will be planning for my tertiary education. It seems the step between Year 13 and university is daunting and the cost of studying for a long period will certainly ensure I have debt. However, I realise how fortunate I am that I can take up the opportunities available through New Zealand’s world-class education system.

Thomas Wardhaugh, 2012 Head Boy, Otago Boys’ High School

I feel privileged to have had the education I have had during the past twelve years. I am proud to be Head Boy at Otago Boys’ High School for 2012. Otago Boys’ has given me fantastic opportunities to learn and develop over the last four years. It has been in recent years that I have realised just how lucky we are with the quality of education in New Zealand. From the day I started school through to now I have experienced well-resourced classrooms, highly trained, motivated and enthusiastic teachers and a wide range of extra-curricular activities in sporting, academic and cultural fields, as well as outdoor education. These extra-curricular activities have contributed to my broad, well-rounded education.

Otago Boys’ has offered me a huge number of extra-curricular opportunities, one of the highlights being camps at the school’s lodge in the Mt Aspiring National Park. These have been wonderful experiences, taking me out of my comfort zone and challenging me to try new things. Dedicated teachers, who are willing to give up some of their own time for their students, facilitate these extra activities; I have been fortunate to have had many of these teachers as positive role models.

At Otago Boys’ I have been constantly challenged and supported by staff. The school encourages excellence, and it celebrates those students who are performing highly and to their potential by recognising achievements throughout the year, awarding blues for academic, sporting and cultural success and recognising special talents with prizes at the end-of-year prizegivings. This recognition motivates students to strive to succeed and excel.

Throughout my education I have been given a number of opportunities to take on leadership roles, from captaining sports teams at intermediate to being selected as Head Boy. These opportunities have all allowed me to develop as an individual as well as academically.

Through the years there has been an increased emphasis on self-directed learning. I hope this continues and that schools continue to encourage students to be self-motivated and strive for excellence in all fields. Advances in technology have been very apparent in my education and I hope this is ongoing, ensuring students have the very best opportunities and equipment with which to learn. NCEA has been a good system for me as the internal assessments help me to retain focus throughout the year. I hope that a similar system is kept in place for the students of the future.

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