Let Them Learn
Today outside the Ministry of Education was the third in a series of protests by young men and women left behind by NZ’s education system. These young people are all in their late teens to early twenties and many of them have not been inside a school building for five or more years. You know some of them; the lucky ones have managed to get jobs in retail and the service industry in their communities. However, the majority are living at home with their families, wondering what their future will look like.
In 2020 it was made mandatory for all new university entrants to have achieved at NCEA level 4. This change had been expected for many years prior and was finally pushed through by the Ministry of Education ten years ago. Since then the expectations of NCEA on students has risen and the workload has increased. With level 1 starting at year 10 and 30 credits per course now the average, even the most gifted high school students are struggling.
I had the opportunity to interview Maureen, a young woman at the protest. She was holding a sign that simply read “Let Us Learn.”
Why are you here today, Maureen?
I couldn’t stay silent any longer. I worry about my younger siblings in this system where everything is about tests.
Did you finish school?
No. I worked hard and made it to year 11, but after two terms of year 12 I was forced to leave school. My mom said they used to only expel students for bad behavior, but now all it takes is a couple of not achieved credits and you risk losing your place in school.
What about your friends that finished school? What are they doing now?
Most of them are at university still, but the ones who graduated recently are in job training or apprenticeships. Schools don’t teach any skills that employers actually need, so most kids end up having to start from scratch in internships and stuff. My dad is an engineer and said it’s pretty bad. He has had to budget money in his business for heaps of on-the-job training.
What about the global information and communication networks? Can’t you get access to school online?
We can, but it is usually aimed toward adults. When I was in school we were only allowed to use our devices when it suited the standards, so I’m not even sure how to do the whole “online learning” thing, and either way, your whole CV is based on the external exams, so a lot of kids just feel like they don’t fit into the system but don’t have any other choice.
It seems that the entire education system is blind to the needs of our society and the realities of our global community. The fact that nearly 30% of students are forced to leave school before the end of year 12 because of their academic record illustrates this; not to mention that the crime rate has risen parallel to this figure. Students are equipped with technology we never could have imagined twenty years ago and they have access to the globe’s information, but they now lack the skills to put these things to use in society. If our content-driven and standardised system continues down this path, we will experience a drop in skills so severe that some organisations may not be able to hire their next generation of workers.Creative and hard-working young people like Maureen are being left behind and if we don’t do something about it soon, we will all face the consequences.