A pretence of learning

Dr Michael Johnston
Insights Newsletter
19 August, 2022

Everyone knows the expression, ‘you have to be cruel to be kind’.

A suggestion to shorten the school holidays might well be perceived as cruel. But the Ministry of Education’s notion of kindness is crueller still. For the third year in a row, the Ministry has announced a discount on the number of credits required to get NCEA certificates and University Entrance (UE).

Their justification in 2020 and 2021 was the loss of school time due to COVID lockdowns. In 2022, it is that students and teachers have missed school when they, or one of their household members, has had COVID.

For every five credits gained in assessments, students will gain a bonus one, up to a maximum of eight. In typically Orwellian fashion, the Ministry is calling these learning recognition credits. Unfortunately, the learning they are purportedly recognising hasn’t actually occurred.

From a political perspective, it’s easy to understand why the Ministry is doing this. It appears to be kind.

Educationally though, fake credits make no sense. The Ministry is pretending that students have completed more learning than they have.

Lowering educational standards to allow more students to pass a requirement is always false kindness. UE is set for a reason – to ensure that students who gain it are prepared for university study. Many students who relied on learning recognition credits to enter university over the last two years did not fare well. A large proportion failed all their courses.

The Ministry allowed them to undertake study for which they were not prepared. Many wasted their time and had a demoralising experience. They also wasted much of their ‘fees free’ allowance for tertiary study. Not so kind after all.

A student without UE can enrol in a provisional entry programme. There, they would learn the academic writing, logical thinking and life skills they need to succeed at university. But a student with UE cannot be required to undertake provisional entry.

Extending this year’s third school term by a week might have been a better approach than learning recognition credits. Teachers would have to be paid generously, but the investment in young people would be worth it. Students not struggling to meet UE requirements could opt out.

That way the Ministry could have recognised actual learning rather than pretend learning. Not much fun for students, but undoubtedly better than failing at university.

Sometimes, to be kind, we have to risk at least appearing to be cruel.

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