The NZ Initiative does a lot of great work and we should be grateful for a think tank as smart as they are. It’s good to question and challenge status quo, it’s good to dig deeper, they’re pros at that, and I admire them for it.The other day, in light of the governments extensive review of education, the NZI made some salient points on the sector, namely in regards to NCEA.
Their point roughly, was that NCEA was designed to be inclusive, therefore it had to be flexible, and by default, thus lost its demand for exacting standards. In other words, NCEA serves the lowest common denominator. Bespoke subjects beyond a core curriculum were suddenly on offer.. meat processing, surfing, dance - you get the drift. These are subjects broadly falling into the category of, ‘not academically challenging’.
But what if your child is not academic? I fully appreciate that our children should leave school with the best tool kit possible for the world, to be literate and competent and sharp as a tack.
But what if they’re not? What if they’re a child who struggles inside the broadbrush one-stop shop learning environment that is school? What if their capabilities lie elsewhere? What if they’re a kid whose never going to go to University or to practice law, or run an accountancy firm? Surely we need something for them? Why should they struggle and feel alienated for all those years of High School? What does that do to their mental health and sense of wellbeing? Their self-esteem and sense of purpose?
You see, we need to think about it beyond just the parameters of learning and academia. We need to take a holistic approach and think about what sort of people we’re churning out. Do we want robots, or individuals who were empowered to be themselves? It’s interesting that we can install unisex transgender toilet blocks, and embrace the diversity of the person at school, but when it comes to embracing the diversity of the brain power, we seem to have less grace. Why?
Think about how often we cite difficulties and see poor stats and obstacles for teenagers in terms of mental health, anxiety, suicide, depression, and yet so much of that is encountered and played out during their high school years. Why should study, exams, academic pressure and all the stress that goes with that, be added to the heap? To what end? Impressive national stats around scholarships and high pass marks? So what. How many of those kids are strung out, exhausted, pressured ticking time bombs with mental health issues?
One of the ongoing criticisms of NCEA is that it offers too much choice. However, I don’t hear ‘too much choice’ being bandied around as an argument when kids who take subjects like PE and Outdoor Rec win medals at Olympics or represent their country. We don’t sit around watching that success and saying, ‘Gee, I wish they were better at maths'.
Everyone has a talent, everyone learns differently, everyone is unique. We hear that message never more than nowadays, so why don’t we apply it to schools too?