Education Central is excited to bring readers Reimagining Qualifications, an in-depth, high-quality, ground-breaking feature series that looks at the history, the purpose, and the future of qualifications in New Zealand.

Against the backdrop of the Government’s NCEA Review, this series will examine the possibilities for changing the way assessment and qualifications work in New Zealand, both in secondary and post-secondary education. This is the third of seven feature and opinion articles.

Having endured two-and-a-half years of NCEA, I understand what works – and most importantly, what doesn’t.

Conducted by the Ministry of Education, the NCEA Review’s first improvement recommendation is to reconfigure Level 1 so that it better prepares students for their futures.

I believe that the scaffolding formed in Year 11 helps students to transition into Year 12 seamlessly; however, I also believe that Level 1, in which 80 credits are required, is a relatively useless year that provides little to no long-lasting practical skills and is fundamentally faulty. It piles on unnecessary stress and young people cannot succeed with poor mental or physical health due to a mountainous workload.

I say this with reference to the notorious end-of-year exams. I spoke to my Year 13 peers and found that most believe Level 1 students should continue to take the exams. This opinion is fuelled by the fact that they themselves were made to sit the exams two years ago and they don’t want future students to be excused from the suffering.

The changes to Level 1 would benefit students by giving them some insight and experience into options after school. The workforce is where we are supposed to end up, but there is currently such little support to get us there.

Relaxing the credits requirement and promoting a more practical project would allow a less strenuous transition from intermediate school into the NCEA system, while providing students with vital life skills to help them achieve goals after NCEA.

Some schools have already eliminated Level 1 exams and have found success in doing so. I believe the Ministry’s proposal to follow suit and action other changes would be widely beneficial.

There are also plans within the review to build requirements for work, study and life in Levels 2 and 3. As in Level 1, the curriculum presently focuses on students attaining as many credits and qualifications as possible; for example, University Entrance and endorsements.

The number of ‘excellences’ achieved in no way guarantees that a student will find success in a career – which, ultimately, is the purpose of an education. The curriculum focus lacks practicality and relevance, as it fixates more on the student’s current situation than their future development. Therefore, more focus on career and post-school life would be appreciated.

I welcome the proposed clarification of numeracy and literacy attainment requirements and hope to see it become a key part of NCEA. Currently, it seems that students and teachers alike are unsure of those vague ‘literacy’ and ‘numeracy’ requirements. They were only explained to me once, and not in a tone that suggested they were important. The requirements currently give students flexibility in their subject choices while preventing them from bypassing the core literacy and numeracy skills that everyone should attain.

Ensuring more awareness would result in transparency around which assessments students might need to achieve in order to meet base-level requirements, and allow teachers to provide more support in relation to this.

Proposed also is a reinforced ‘Record of Achievement’ system. I have never experienced issues with how my academic records have been stored; however, this reinforcement couldn’t hurt. It could potentially help students or teachers to keep track of progress, which is always useful.

All New Zealanders deserve access to an education. Nobody should be advantaged due to their financial solvency – or disadvantaged due to a lack thereof. I support the idea of ‘fees-free’ school, just as I support the ‘fees-free’ first year of university initiative.

Along with alleviating the financial strain on students and their families, the review proposes there be increased support for students, teachers, and schools in terms of programmes. This assistance would undoubtedly make life easier for teachers and students alike, increasing the quality of teaching and learning while reducing the stress.

I’m pleased to see that the New Zealand Government is taking student perspective into consideration. It is students who undertake NCEA, after all; we experience its impact first-hand. Therefore, it is appropriate for us to have a say in its function.

Alongside its NCEA Review, the Ministry of Education has initiated a ‘Make Your Mark’ competition, wherein students can create artwork, responses, consultations and designs that convey their ideas on the future of NCEA to the Ministry. Not only are these ideas considered, but there are also grants awarded to the winning contenders – rewards for student input: a fantastic idea.

Ultimately, NCEA has issues. It is a positive step to see that its faults are being recognised and that action is being taken to improve it.

The proposed changes in the review sound ideal, in theory. Now it is time to implement them and see the positive outcomes emerge.

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