How do we reinvent NCEA so that the emphasis is shifted from assessment and accumulating credits to deeper contextualized learning? How do we harness the flexibility of NCEA so that it keeps students’ options open while also providing them with a robust qualification? How do we remove the inequities that have crept into NCEA over time and make it a qualification that truly serves all learners?

These were just some of the questions thrashed out in an animated panel debate on the NCEA Review held last night at NZME Wellington for Education Central’s inaugural Chalk Talk.

Teachers, parents, union leaders, academics and Education Ministry officials were among the audience who participated in what proved to be a wide-ranging discussion about the future of New Zealand’s major secondary school qualification.

The panel included Associate Education Minister Tracey Martin, National’s Education spokesperson Nikki Kaye, Victoria University’s Dr Michael Johnston, University of Auckland’s Dr Melinda Webber, Industry Training Federation CEO Josh Williams, PPTA Vice-President Melanie Webber, and Mana College principal John Murdoch.

The panel broadly agreed on NCEA’s limitations as teacher and student workload, over-assessment and the ‘teach to the test’ mentality that has crept in with the focus on attaining credits. There was a range of thoughts on how to change the qualification so it addressed these concerns.

There was the suggestion that NCEA should be revised into a system whereby a student emerges with a final qualification based on their top credits, thus allowing for deeper learning and less emphasis on assessment and credit accumulation. The panel was keen to see a departure from the rigid three-year structure of NCEA, which has become the norm in most schools, despite the qualification’s flexibility.

Questions from the audience and Education Central readers helped flesh out discussions around how to make NCEA more equitable, so that all learners – including Maori and Pacific learners, those from low-socioeconomic backgrounds, gifted learners, and those with a disability or learning support needs – could achieve a qualification that provides them with rich and relevant post-school opportunities.

It was agreed that the scope of the NCEA Review was much bigger than the six big opportunities provided by the Ministerial Advisory Group. While discussions covered some of the nitty-gritty of the proposals on the table, including the necessity of Level 1 and the merits of curriculum integration and 20-credit projects, the feeling on the panel was that NCEA was only part of some much bigger issues with education.

To that extent, discussions spanned student wellbeing, school leadership, funding, and inequities in the wider system.

Education Central editor Jude Barback, who moderated the debate, felt the discussions demonstrated real eagerness to improve the current system.

“I think we could have easily continued our discussions until midnight!” says Jude, “While there were opposing views about some aspects of what NCEA should look like, there was also broad consensus on many issues. I’m really looking forward to collating some of the thinking that emerged last night in the hope that it helps inform the outcome of the NCEA Review.”

With consultation on the NCEA Review ending on 19 October, timing was perfect for the discussion. The panel and audience felt it was a useful exercise and one that should be repeated, with calls for another Chalk Talk on the Tomorrow School’s Review.

Keep an eye out for clips and stories relating to Education Central’s first Chalk Talk – we’ll be posting soon!

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