Tuesday, 28 November 2017

New Zealand's NCEA Education System

Cut Off and Adrift

We recently had the experience of reading a recent Level II English exam.  We confess that we were overwhelmed with a sense of pity for the thousands of students that have been subjected to the modalities represented in that exam.

For the record--NCEA Level II is supposed to be roughly equivalent to Form 6 (University Entrance Exams) under the "old" system.  What is so unsatisfactory about NCEA English Level II?  There are three papers (standards): 91099, 91098, and 91100.  So, we would reasonably expect that one paper might deal with the mechanics of the language: style, syntax, grammar, the use and abuse of English, and techniques of writing.  A second might deal with masters of the language: the authoritative corpus of novelists and poets who have shaped, not just the English language, but the world-view of the English speaking West.  The third, we would have expected, might have dealt with literary criticism and the use and abuse of the English language.

How revealing and confronting is the actual situation.  Students studying Level II English these days are being cheated--stolen from.  Instead of our expectations, what modern English students study at Level II is textual analysis at its most basic and boring form.  That's all.  Here are the headings for each of the three standards:

91099  Analyze specified aspects of studies visual or oral texts.
91098  Analyze specified aspects of studied written texts.
91100  Analyze significant aspects of unfamiliar written texts.

The overriding assumption is that students should study English in order to become skillful at techniques of writing.  No, that's too kind.  They are being taught to become skillful at the techniques of analysing writing (or the media of language).  This is akin to the study of food being reduced to an analysis of some of the ingredients of a dish without ever studying or experiencing the dish itself.  It would make one conversant with some the key ingredients in Beef Wellington, for example, without ever eating, let alone enjoying, this classic dish.

A committee of idiots has decided that at Level II English one must be focused upon preparing students for a career in writing.
  Therefore one needs to know and be examined upon the difference between a simile and a metaphor.  It would seem that English in our government schools is dominated by analyzing the techniques making up a text. 

This is what the NCEA system has created--a syllabus, teaching, and examination system focused upon how-to techniques, with a view to ultimate employability in careers as diverse as tiddlywinks and aircraft maintenance.  It is failing on all counts. 

When a modern high school student meets "a traveller from an antique land who said, two vast and trunkless legs of stone stand in the desert" he or she may be sufficiently well schooled to  have some vague sense of the "significant aspects" of that quotation (whatever that might mean), but he or she will remain ignorant of the author of those words, the time of its writing, the literary culture and political environment of his day, and the proposition that the poet was making so powerfully.  Consequently, he will likely miss its point, relevance, and warning to modern man.  He will not know--and, therefore, be unable to heed--the warning that this "traveller" was giving of the wreck now represented by our desiccated  education system.

In other words, the modern student studying NCEA English will know virtually nothing except the relatively trivial.  The modern student will not know how to think deeply and cogently about anything; he will have no depth of reflection, and no history in the canon of English literature and the civilisation it represents.

In other words, he will be a journalist.

What a plague we have brought down upon ourselves.  Our youth have been robbed and the government education system is the pillager.


aishah said...
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