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Why we’re determined to work with the government on the qualifications review

In building a qualifications system fit for the 21st century, we can’t afford to expend excessive energy on ideological battles, and we’re looking to the minister to introduce a properly collaborative process, writes National Party education spokesperson Nikki Kaye

In 2013 changes were made to the New Zealand Qualifications Framework to require a review of our qualifications system every five years. The first review of NCEA is due to be completed by the end of 2018 and depending on final decisions could have a significant impact on young New Zealanders now and into the future.

I have expressed a desire on behalf of the National Party to work cross party with the government on this review as we understand the importance of trying to ensure we have an enduring qualifications system that is fit for the 21st century. Simon Bridges and I have both been briefed and consulted as part of the process. National has also has members of parliament attending the education summits and we will engage with the proposed 30-year plan for education.

It is important, as much as possible, to reduce the political divide in our education system. We live in a fast-changing world with technology disrupting jobs. That’s why we need to continue to strive to reduce disadvantage through education – we can’t afford to be complacent or expending excessive energy on ideological battles that hold us back.

It can be tough to bridge the divide when some of the government’s policies appear to be largely ideologically driven – like its decisions to scrap partnership schools, cancel the Aspire Scholarships and remove National Standards. It worries me that these are driven by a view that is less supportive of diversity and the role of iwi, private organisations or not for profit organisations in our education system. We let freedom flourish in the tertiary and early learning sectors so it doesn’t make sense to have the different treatment at primary and secondary schools.

Despite these issues there are multiple reasons why the review of our qualifications system is something we must collaborate on. The changes proposed have a reasonable chance of needing to be implemented over successive governments, and they could have a big impact on students and their job prospects within New Zealand and abroad. In a world where we are competing for talent and human capital we need to make sure people have confidence that New Zealand’s qualifications system is robust, of a high standard and better reflects and recognises the skills needed for decades to come.

The recommendations from the review team are bold and I encourage a wide range of people to submit. Moves to strengthen functional numeracy and literacy are crucial and our ability to lift the standards in these core areas can massively change the life course of many young people. We are broadly supportive of these changes. While we have seen massive lifts in achievement for Māori and Pasifika students there is more to do to ensure that all students leave school with stronger foundation skills. Some people have expressed concerns about potential changes to NCEA level 1 and I will be reading the submissions closely to understand the different views on this.

One area where we will push hard for a greater focus is about ensuring young people can become better skilled in digital technologies. National laid the foundation with a more than $700 million investment in providing schools with fast connections with uncapped data. We also progressed a package around changes to the digital technologies curriculum to require all young New Zealanders to learn computational thinking from year 1.

It is crucial that our qualifications system better recognises that in order to have high paying jobs in the future, young New Zealanders will need to not just be users of technology but creators. One of the current opportunities identified in the NCEA review is around requiring credits to be based on new career pathway opportunities. If this progresses we will be wanting to see that these pathways are in a diverse range of areas and that businesses and industries are consulted and active partners in how this can work.

We can also see value in the review looking at how we can reduce the workload of teachers. The balance needs to be better struck between ensuring accountability within our education system but also doing whatever we can to ensure that teachers are not over burdened with paperwork. It will be difficult for the review to resolve these issues without investment in better digital platforms so that we don’t still have a reliance on paper based resources.

Another important opportunity is ensuring that records of student achievement are able to tell us the full extent of a student’s extra-curricular activities or community work. I have previously progressed proposals in this area through the Ministry of Youth Development through the concept of a social record. The opportunity identified in this review to link it with our qualifications system is a positive development. The idea that future employers and tertiary organisations could have better information about a young person’s community involvement and achievements will be welcome by many. There are many young people making a big contribution to their community and if we progress this proposal and get it right we have the opportunity to raise the value of how young people are perceived by all New Zealanders.

Over the coming weeks I will be aiming to get clarity from the minister of education about his plans for the final decision making process on the review. We want to work together but the process matters. It needs to be fully collaborative otherwise there is a risk that changes are not enduring.

In my time as a member of parliament I have visited hundreds of schools and I have sensed a real desire for there to be less disagreement on the big issues in education. While we have a role in opposition to hold the government to account we also have a strong moral obligation to work collaboratively on policies like this review to make New Zealand a better place.


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