NCEA has been a hot topic in the news lately, thanks to the Government’s review. Endless opinions have been offered up from teachers, from principals, from employers, from parents, from the government. However what seems to be missing, as is usually the case, is the voice of young people – the voice of students like myself, who are going through this system right now. So from the perspective of a learner, my number one frustration with NCEA is that we don’t learn for knowledge – we learn to pass.

The system of credits has propagated a culture of teaching and learning to the assessment. Throughout the year, internals and practice externals are constantly thrown at us. It’s a mind numbingly repetitive cycle – we spend a few weeks in class cramming in the learning, memorising facts, and figuring out just the right key words to say. The assessment comes, we regurgitate the content, then promptly forget all of it and move on to the next assessment. This quickfire, test-focused system means I don’t have the time to commit any of this information I’m learning to my long term memory.

Last year, at level 1, I got 142 excellence credits. On paper, according to NCEA, I’m a fantastic, intelligent student. However, I don’t think I could tell you any of the information I used to get those credits. Certainly not at an ‘excellent’ level. That’s because I’m not particularly good at math or english or science or any of the subjects I boast excellence credits in – I’m good at NCEA. I’m incredibly fortunate that I have a brain that works in the way that NCEA rewards. I can play the game well – I know exactly what to write, I know what the examiners want to see. At the end of the day all NCEA does, is teach students how to pass NCEA. We’re rushed through topic after topic, collecting credits but never meaningful information or skills that will stick with us past the assessment.

Basically, our hands are tied – we have no choice but to play into this system, to play the game of NCEA. To do anything else would be to fail, to not get those 80 credits and those endorsements. And at the end of the day, those things are what employers and universities and scholarship judges are looking at. It’s in no way the fault of the teachers either – they are forced to put aside their creativity and their zest for the subject, to teach us exactly how to pass a standard. I’ve met several teachers that are frustrated by this and want to explore topics with the students in their own way – but we’re all bound by the need to chase credits. I have teachers that will spend each lesson teaching us exactly how to answer exam questions, and going through the past papers and marking schedules to make sure we know precisely what is wanted. They’re by no means bad teachers – they just want us to succeed, and in the NCEA system success means getting those credits, getting that excellence grade. Unfortunately, it comes at the cost of true, deep learning. I don’t learn to draw my own conclusions – they are spoon fed to me. Solutions to problems are handed to me on a silver platter. This allows me to pass – but it isn’t useful for much else.

I hate this, this system of learning to the assessment, because I want to learn. I have a genuine desire to learn new things, to discover the world around me, to gain knowledge. I want my teachers to be able to be excited about their subjects again and excited to share their knowledge with me. I want to learn to think critically and to problem solve, not to memorise and regurgitate information. Most of all, I want to be able to explore topics that spark my interest, to learn for the sake of learning.

This review of NCEA brings me hope that change is coming – but change will only be achieved if the government listens to and takes on board the opinions and frustrations of students – and recognises that we truly do want to learn.

Kate is a Year 12 student from Canterbury. She enjoys music, languages, sunny days, and a good book.


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