Dr Melinda Webber, Associate Professor at Te Puna Wānanga/School of Māori and Indigenous Education, University of Auckland.

Dr Melinda Webber (Ngāti Whakaue, Ngāpuhi, Ngāti Kahu) is Associate Professor at Te Puna Wānanga/School of Māori and Indigenous Education, University of Auckland. She is a Rutherford Discovery Fellow, MRSNZ, and University of Auckland Director – Atlantic Fellows for Social Equity. She was a recent director of The Starpath Project.

Here we ask Melinda what she hopes will emerge from the discussions around NCEA and our qualifications system.

Education Central (EC): What are some of the major findings from the Starpath Project about pathways for Māori and Pacific learners?

Melinda Webber (MW): Authentic whānau and school relationships are crucial – they must be premised on clear communication about how the qualification system is structured and how families/students can navigate it meaningfully. A one-off session at the beginning of the year does not work.

Effective systems and processes around NCEA and UE are essential – particularly data utilisation, achievement tracking and academic mentoring.

Students need multiple opportunities to learn and achieve – that is, extra tutoring, additional opportunities for re-assessment, further catch up assistance when work was missed, and additional opportunities to experience exam-style assessments. NCEA is premised on “being flexible” but it isn’t in reality, it is school timetable-centric and subject to the time restraints of teachers.

Tracking and monitoring Year 9 and 10 students for UE is important – particularly in literacy. Perhaps a cross-subject inquiry project – with a strong literacy and numeracy focus – could actually begin in Year 9 and 10. Research has repeatedly shown that it is in Y9-10 that our M&P students need the most wraparound help with understanding how to craft their writing (literacy) and make associations between their mathematical skills and solving real life problems (numeracy).

There was a consistent theme in the data about the low expectations teachers hold for both M&P students and their whānau.

EC: Do you think our current NCEA system is suited to the needs of Māori and Pacific students? Why or why not?

MW: Many teachers do not know the academic or post-secondary school aspirations of their Māori and Pasifika students and their whanau. This is critical to M&P disengagement from learning. We need better 1:1 academic mentoring based on students long term academic goals, and sound data utilisation, tracking and monitoring – with UE as the ultimate goal.

EC: In 2017 you were awarded a Rutherford Discovery Fellowship to tackle an important question facing educators: ‘How can we foster cultural pride and academic aspiration among Māori students?’ Based on your research, what could we do better or differently?

MW: Ensure schools have curriculum that recognises and celebrates Māori knowledge – particularly with regard to science and technology. We also need better resources celebrating Māori role models (living or dead) who have been exceptional and successful – our children do not currently see people like them celebrated in the school context.

EC: One of the Six Big Opportunities of the NCEA Review focuses on dismantling barriers to NCEA. In your opinion, what is currently the biggest barrier to NCEA for secondary students?

MW: A lack of academic mentoring – tailored to their specific goals and aspirations. It doesn’t matter what qualification system you put in place – if you don’t arm students and their families with the skills and knowledge to navigate it, they are unlikely to thrive. We must design academic advising systems that are less teacher-centric and more student-centric. We must also teach ALL teachers how to utilise data more effectively in their practice. We also need a better, and perhaps a nation-wide, single student management system.

EC:  As a panellist for our first Chalk Talk, what do you hope emerges from the discussions around NCEA and our qualifications system?

MW: I hope the audience and participants come away with the idea that they cannot design a new system, or refine the old one, without working alongside M&P students and whanau to do so – particularly those whanau and students who attend kura Māori, or rural, isolated, hard-to-staff schools. We must start with their needs first.

Got a burning question for the panel?
Given that this is such a BIG topic but we only have space for a small number of people to attend, we’re opening the floor to our readers all over Aotearoa. So if you have a question for the panel about the NCEA Review or the future direction of our secondary school qualifications system, we’d love to hear it.  Please share on our Facebook page or get in touch with editor@educationcentral.co.nz.


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