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NCEA students play blame game

The attitude shown by Kelly Richards in his letter to the NZ Herald (7 July) reflects a sad trend in NCEA students. Faced with pressure, failure or whatever, they pass the buck onto a qualification which, to them, claimed their lives.

Kelly Richards felt that “the NCEA has affected [his] studying habits […] it never used to be good enough to just pass.”. His view was probably better summed up in a letter-in-reply, by Josh Addison, who said: “Who is [he] trying to kid? ‘Woe is me, the NCEA has made me too lazy to try harder’ ”. That’s the spirit—blame it on the system. Never mind that people have been “just passing” since the beginning of exams. Never mind that there do exist NCEA students that, unlike him, understand the value of excellence.

The blame game is played by almost all that find any challenge in senior high school. Oh, boo-hoo, I only got a merit—it must be this stupid NCEA. Oh, look, I failed this maths paper I thought I deserved excellence in—it must be this dumb NCEA system. I can’t be bothered going for merit or excellence—this stupid NCEA must have made me stop trying. Sob, sob, it’s too damn hard, NCEA’s made things so much harder!

Oh, please. Did you really think senior high school was going to be easy? The jumps from year to year have always been increasingly larger. It’s nothing new that self-expectations lower as students progress into their final schooling years.

Funny, isn’t it, how all the success stories in NCEA are of those that believe in the system? Critics, or should I say, blame-game addicts, would have us think that these are the would-be failures in the old system: their faith comes from their success. This is not the case. Consider St Cuthbert’s School, for instance, whose success continued from the old system to the new one. In fact, it is those who are willing to make the most of the system at hand—and to focus their attention on the things that matter—that are most likely to succeed.

This is not to say the system is perfect. It’s only four years old—of course it has flaws, and, granted, many. But the fundamental backbone of the system is properly in place. Assessment takes place against descriptive standards, not other people, and credit is given where and only where it is due. Rather than realise this, many students are inclined to note that their qualification is a political football, and blame any problem they have on the system’s deficiencies, or, in some cases, their misinterpretations of the system’s advantages.

In the case of the too-lazy-to-try-harder bunch, they fail to realise how valuable an excellence is on one’s record. Their minds, in some cases (like Anne O’Hagan’s), obsess with numbers—oh beloved, precious numbers—and her obsession is fulfiled only by her credit count. Never mind that credits represent the size of the module, not the difficulty or level of success in it. They want numbers, big numbers, and the pride of receiving the nice big "E" that many can only dream of is just not motivating enough.

Those who complain of failing an assessment even though they got excellence questions right should have, for goodness’ sake, got some more questions right. Even in percentages, getting only the hard questions right would not have earned so much as a pass, let alone a high mark. A student who truly deserves excellence would not be failing the achievement section. And for those who have yet to notice, a replacement mechanism exists to allow those who did manage to fall into that situation to pass.

Even where NCEA does fall, in for instance, some aspects of some assessment schedules, whining does not push a student any further. Like it or not, excellence grades do exist and a student who really wants excellence will, rather than sit and complain about how they can’t get it, take a look at the (flawed if it may be) schedule and realise how they can get around it. It may be an improper approach, but in some cases it will suffice for the meantime, until it gets fixed.

In the course of this rant I may have treaded a few toes or raised a few eyebrows. The trend, I realise, is not completely universal. Some will deny that this is the case. A significant number have better things to worry about. There are also some who have problems with the system in its fundamentality. I must admit here that, if I were given the chance, there are many things I would change about the NCEA.

However, it is neither correct, helpful nor wise to point the finger towards a new system. There is room for motivation and success in the NCEA, and while it is in its early stages, it does have potential. Those who would put their feet up and say “I can’t be bothered trying, it’s NCEA” are putting only their own qualification in jeopardy. The rest of us will happily receive our well-earnt certificates.

Related Links

  • NZQA: NZQA Considers Students’ Views of NCEA and NQF (4 July)
  • NZ Herald: NCEA cuts students’ drive to learn, says report (5 July)

    Kelly Richards was a correspondent to the NZ Herald, his letter published on 7 July 2006. Josh Addison wrote a letter in reply to Richard’s letter, published on 8 July. Anne O’Hagan was a correspondent and interviewee to the NZ Herald, her views published in the above-linked article.

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