Up to 57,000 teenagers will return to school under level 3 lockdown 2021, to “prepare for end of year exams and complete their NCEA assessments”. Putting aside debates of virus infection rates within schools, TOP questions the fundamental purpose of sending these students back to school. Yes, some need to return for mental health or social reasons, like seeing friends, which is important. However, exams and assessments, with their associated pressures and expectations shouldn’t be the driving force of returning to school. Perhaps instead of preparing them for exams, we should be preparing them for their disrupted future?
Given the vastly different schooling and lockdown experiences of students across New Zealand in 2021, is it even fair to measure these students against each other, or against the world? Many students won’t return to school at all, as they have taken jobs to support their families or are looking after younger siblings. How do we ensure those school leavers remain ambitious about their opportunities in life?
Fundamentally, what is the purpose of examining and assessing these students? Where has the purpose of learning gone? If returning to school is more a question of social wellbeing than meeting academic achievement outcomes, then teachers could be focusing their time on student wellbeing and social /emotional learning instead of assessments. This could have been a time to pivot towards 21st century life skills, which can’t be measured or taught in a standardised or prescribed way. Skills such as the 6Cs of education (collaboration, creativity, communication, critical thinking, character/connectivity and culture/citizenship).
Of course, we are so late into the year, and many school-leavers want to complete the exams and assessments they’ve been working towards all year, and unexpected event grades are available as an alternative. But TOP says the Government has missed an opportunity to carry out an overdue overhaul of our education system.
Education does not, of course, stand alone in society, and the learning of individual students is influenced by life circumstances. These circumstances affect examination performance and assessment, as well as learning itself. Examples in New Zealand include: Unaffordable housing leading to students changing schools; welfare and tax systems that privilege the wealthy and drive inequity; a democratic system that allows politicians to make sweeping changes with little accountability; and an early years sector that devalues the role of parents and community in the education of children. Solutions to these issues are available and would significantly impact the social and emotional wellbeing of students.
In the meantime, TOP urges teachers to relieve this undue pressure on students who have had such a disrupted and stressful year, and consider ditching exams and assessments for students who won’t be leaving school this year. For the rest of 2021, secondary teachers should be supported by the Ministry of Education to offer learning environments (especially outdoor environments) that will better support their emotional and mental wellbeing, trust them to learn in a different way, and to restore their natural curiosity, imagination, creativity and connectedness. Experiences that empower them to develop social / emotional intelligence. Where the teacher becomes an observer and facilitator of learning; “from sage on the stage to guide on the side”. This approach will be just as important for the thousands of primary school students returning to school this week. TOP is calling for a change in the system, to prioritise teaching and learning over regulation and compliance.
The impacts of this pandemic mean these fundamental changes are needed now, more than ever. Sometimes, disruptions allow us to suddenly pivot, then reflect and innovate. There’ll be plenty of time for pressure, judgement and performance evaluation for these students later. It’s time to offer them a transformed education system.
This blog should be read in conjunction with Do assessments kill learning?
By Dr Naomi Pocock (Education & Child Development Spokesperson for The Opportunities Party)
TOP’s other education blogs include: