Thursday, January 20, 2011

My $0.02 on the CIE vs. NCEA debate

I was in Year 10 when the government pulled the plug on Bursary and my school seniors back then were the first hatch of guinea pigs fed to the burgeoning monster called NCEA. The principal of the school I went to at the time was one of the chief architect of NCEA. The other high school in the area up the road reacted by offering Cambridge International Examinations, to which the chief architect (who unsurprisingly works for NZQA now) made some rather personal and unpleasant attacks in front of the entire school during an assembly. Although NCEA formally starts at Year 11, we were given plenty of mock assessments in order to prepare for the real deal.

With a twist of fate, I ended up in the other school and took up CIE for the next three years. Hence I feel qualified to speak for the pros and cons of both.

One persistent criticism of NCEA from parents is that it is "too easy" compared to other "tried and true" systems. This is more of a misconception. Well, every system has loopholes that can be exploited to make academic load as light as possible without compromising an UE. The curriculum is actually similar and CIE is hardly more advanced than NCEA in terms of content.

Like this editorial have judged correctly, the consistency issues NCEA had has largely been fixed. Schools resent NCEA because of the sheer amount of internal assessments to manage and process. The issue is more acute in schools offering alternatives to NCEA since two details of staff must be maintained.(Initially teachers taught both, however it was soon found to be unpractical)

A more serious problem is that once the student population start going to separate sets of classes, they effectively split into two cliques, with the NCEA kids accepting some baseless inferiority. Some subjects such as art or PE maybe taught in combined classes, where the division turned into open hostility as the two groups blame each other whenever something went wrong. The bipolar-ness even seems to take precedence over the usual socio-economic or lingo-ethnic lines.

On the other hand, the real risk of taking CIE is the development of bad studying habits. Since everything that matters is this one big exam at the end of the year, it is not too hard to slack off for most of the time. Once at university, many papers have a significant proportion of marks allocated to in-course assessments, which took me almost two years to actually adjust to. 

Putting things in context, the early- and mid-noughties were such a good time when the economies were soaring, the All Blacks seemed invincible and Sister Helen ruled the nation with a firm hand. Republicanism was also flying high. The shift to NCEA happened concurrently with the vote in Parliament to abolish rights to appeal to the Privy council, not a coincidence. Therefore, it is not difficult to understand why Auckland Grammar, the most reactionary of public schools out there, to ditch the blighted national standard, with many whitebread high schools rallying under the same banner.