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SocietyFebruary 21, 2020

Cheat sheet: What is happening to NCEA?

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The Ministry of Education is proposing a number of changes to NCEA Level One, including the merging of several subjects to be phased in over the next five years. Felix Walton looks into how, and why, these changes are happening.

Why are they changing things now?

They aren’t changing things now, per se, these changes won’t be fully implemented until 2023 at the earliest. The Ministry of Education has been itching to change NCEA since at least May of last year. Some of the changes it proposed back then include eliminating fees, including for scholarship subjects, and reducing the number of credits required to pass. It’s part of a new push to make NCEA more accessible. The government has only just given the MoE the go-ahead to start looking into these changes.

What if I don’t like the changes they make?

Don’t sweat it! As a first step, the Ministry of Education has released a provisional list of NCEA Level One subjects, which is what all the buzz is about right now. That list is available for public comment for another couple of months, and the ministry will be taking feedback into consideration. If you don’t like something, you can blast them about it right here.

So what’s on that provisional list, anyway?

Here you go. Remember, these are only proposed changes to NCEA Level 1:

  • Art History is gone, zapped. However, it can still be examined within History.
  • A new arts subject will be added, Māori Performing Arts.
  • Health and Physical Education are no longer separate subjects.
  • Home Economics will be replaced with “Food Science.”
  • Latin will no longer be a language option.
  • One of the biggest changes: Physics, Chemistry, Biology, and Space Science will all be absorbed into a single chimeric “Science” subject (this is already the case in a number of schools).
  • Classical Studies will be absorbed into History.
  • Economics, Business Studies, and Accounting will be rolled into a singular “Commerce” subject.
  • Media Studies and Psychology will be absorbed by Social Studies. This is easily the most puzzling change in my humble opinion.
  • Technology will be “integrated through new technology subjects,” their words, not mine.
  • Construction and Mechanical Technology will be “Materials Technology.”
  • Processing Technologies will be absorbed into Food Science, a development that is sure to surprise everybody by revealing that “Processing Technologies” existed in the first place.

Remember none of these changes are final, and they won’t necessarily impact how these subjects are treated in NCEA Levels 2 & 3.

What does Psychology have to do with Media Studies?

That’s a good question, and I don’t have an answer. While specialised Science subjects like Physics and Chemistry have already been combined into “Science” in a lot of secondary schools for years, Psychology, Media Studies and Social Studies have always been treated as completely different subjects until now.

And what will happen to NCEA Levels 2 & 3?

The Ministry of Education hasn’t shared many specific details just yet, but we do know that while NCEA Level 1 is being made quite broad, NCEA 2 & 3 will become more “specialised.” At least that’s what the Ministry is saying, but we won’t know for sure until it gives us more info. Right now NCEA Level 1 is still optional, so if you were planning on heading straight into Level 2 you may find that these changes won’t impact you much.

I’m a fan of Classical Studies and Art History. Will History give me what I crave?

The unfortunate answer is: probably not. The Ministry of Education has stated that Classical Studies and Art History will only be supported as “possible contexts within history to a low degree”. That means it’s up to your individual school whether or not you cover Renaissance art or Greek literature during your time studying History. The same is also true for Media Studies and Psychology within Social Studies, sorry kids. You’ll have to wait for Level 2 before you can specialise.

What other changes can we expect in the future?

A lot of the changes proposed by the Ministry of Education are unequivocally good, such as a more straightforward process for Special Assessment Conditions like enlarged text and braille. It also plans to change some assessment standards to avoid making assumptions based on language, culture, genders, identities, sexualities, and disabilities. Currently, none of the announced changes to NCEA Level 1 include English and Mathematics subjects, but the MoE has shown a lot of interest in improving literacy and numeracy standards. One of the changes it’s thinking about includes an additional 20 credit package for literacy and numeracy that students can do at any point after year 7. These plans were announced earlier last year, well before the government green-lit any changes, so expect them to look a little different when they eventually resurface.

The final word:

You can expect a lot of changes to be made to NCEA standards over the next few years, but it’s worth remembering that nothing is final and it’s going to be a long back-and-forth process before it’s all settled. If you’re in secondary school now, it’s very likely that you will never see any of these changes. If your child is entering secondary school in the next few years, it might be worth looking into what the Ministry is planning while you still have time to object.

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