Scrap National Certificate of Educational Achievement

I have never been a fan of National Certificate of Educational Achievement. Whilst it was intended to replace a system that did not work for many students I think that there are remedies that with a bit of tweaking would adequately fill in the short comings that existed.

The major short comings in N.C.E.A. are:

  1. That some of the courses, such as Year 11 English and Mathematics were 100% assessed on the last exam. Despite having numerous assessments throughout the year, they did not account for anything, and were only used in the event that a student could not sit the School Certificate examination (which I think should simply be called Year 11 Maths.
  2. Unit Standards were intermixed with more conventional assessment methods on traditional courses like history, which I believe were better assessed using conventional methods – my experience on this is based on consecutive years failing Year 12 history in part because of the emphasis on Unit Standards in a subject I honestly did not believe was suited to that.
  3. A Unit Standard has an overly simplistic marking regime – one can FAIL/PASS or be NOT YET COMPETENT. This was perhaps my biggest gripe as that tells me nothing about my overall performance. Did I do really well and get the equivalent of 90% or something like that? Did I get a bare minimum 51% or was it a total catastrophe in the order of 30% or less?

My solution is not new. But it will provide a robust assessment regime for all students and give those who might not be so strong at exam time an opportunity to show their ability through assignment work and tests.

I recommend going back to to the old framework which will be renamed Year 11, 12 and University Certificate. All courses will have a 1/2 internal assessment component that will test their ability to through practical and theoretical tests as well as examinations. The old scaling system will be removed. What you score is what you get. The only cross marking that will happen will be to make sure all students get subject to the same rigour of assessment.

The option for six subjects will be available to the most able students in Years 11 and 12 if a parent/teachers meeting recommends it. There will be partial scholarships (half annual fees) available to students who get a B average or better (325/500 (5 courses) or 400/600 points (six courses))and full scholarships (full annual fees) for those who achieve an A average or better (400/500 (five courses) or 480/600 points (six courses)).

Perhaps alongside this for those who want to go through a private system, those schools able to afford it might offer their students the opportunity to sit Cambridge or Oxford examinations for high performing students. The Cambridge International Examinations programme is offered at a range of schools in New Zealand by the Association of Cambridge Schools in New Zealand Inc.

Most important to me though would be ensuring that all students in this system or N.C.E.A. are able to participate and not held back by the financial situation of their family.

Second firearms overhaul announced

The Government has announced the impending second tranche of firearms legislation. The announcement was made following the second of several gun amnesty collection days to recover firearms that had been made illegal in the wake of the 15 March 2019 terrorist attacks.

When the Government announced its plans for dealing wit New Zealand’s arsenal of military grade automatic and semi-automatic weapons, it was intended to happen in two phases. The first, immediate phase, would quickly end the legality to own weapons such as the AR-15 which was used in the Christchurch terrorist attacks. This was the emergency legislation that was pushed through Parliament at speed in March and was enforceable by the end of the same month.

Because a lot of New Zealanders are unaware of Parliamentary process there was a perception that the Government intended to confiscate peoples firearms without whim or reason. This was despite the government being clear that it was intended to be a temporary stop gap measure whilst more comprehensive legislation was drafted. The perception, which was rumoured to have been enabled by American firearm lobbyists, was coldly met by politicians from both sides of Parliament with the exception of A.C.T. Member of Parliament David Seymour.

It would be followed by the much more comprehensive and permanent legislation that would set in law a tighter regime around the acquisition and ownership of such firearms. In the meantime there would be amnesty days up and down the country where people with firearms that had been banned could be surrendered to the Police at drop off points. The owners of the guns being surrendered would be given an indication as to how much they would receive in financial compensation for handing them over.

The Police acknowledge that there are many guns that they probably do not know about. An estimated 200,000 to 300,000 potentially illegal firearms are thought to be circulating within New Zealand.

The new laws will target those with criminal histories; people with mental health issues including those who might have tried to use a gun to kill themselves. Those who are espousing open violence against society or particular individuals or groups of individuals are also likely to be seen as a red flag to Police when issuing gun licences. A firearms register will be established by the Police, and the cost of maintaining the firearms licencing office will be better offset by changes in the cost of licencing. New offences and the matching penalties are also likely to be added.

This time there will be a select committee period lasting three months. There will be substantial time for firearm advocates and firearm safety advocates to get their messages into submissions and prepare for hearings in front of the Select Committee. This was, contrary to the honest beliefs of some, always intended to happen – there was never any intention to block the permanent tranche of legislation from public scrutiny.

Mid-term report card for Government

We have reached the mid way mark in the first term of Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern. In 18 months full of challenges, babies, feminism as one of the youngest female leaders in the world takes to the stage, Ms Ardern has certainly been kept busy. Some tough challenges not foreseen have had to be met head on, such as the mosque terrorist attack on 15 March 2019. Other issues have included the climate emergency, housing crisis, mental health, a middling economy, the need for education reform after nine years of destructive National Standards and a skyrocketing road toll. Most or all of these issues will need to see some major progress in the next 15-16 months.

EDUCATION: Bold moves are afoot by Minister of Education Chris Hipkins following the National Standards experiment and growing questions about National Certificate of Educational Achievement (N.C.E.A.) to realign the system. Tomorrow’s Schools, the blueprint for New Zealand education released in 1989 is 30 years old. Is it still current today?

Grade: C+

HEALTH: As always concern continues to bubble up around where to find all of the funding that is necessary for New Zealand to maintain a 1st world health system – if we look at how much damage alcohol and drugs cause, we see clear cases can be argued for changing legislation around both. Also concerns about making sure mental health patients are adequately cared for without compromising nursing or other staff safety

Grade: C+

HOUSING: Probably the single biggest issue for the Government and the most damaging one. Housing has so far not been the game changer that the Government had hoped for. The initial Minister of Housing, Phil Twyford has been removed the portfolio. Whilst not yet admitted, the Government is probably going to have to completely restart Kiwi Build or kill it.

Grade: E

CRIME: A deterioration of conditions in jails is leading to a generation of harden criminals who will come out with a monumental grudge against society; the failure to have police ascertain how many military grade semi-automatic and automatic weapons existed before the Christchurch mosque attacks; the explosion of synthetic cannabis and fentanyl has lead to an ongoing problem with armed hold ups – these are just a few of the problems. Progress needed before the election to stop this becoming a D.

Grade: C

SOCIAL WELFARE: The best way for this to be improved is to have the Social Welfare Act completely rewritten. Staff at Work and Income and Ministry of Social Development are struggling to provide the best solutions for their clients under a straight jacket framework that is simply not designed to do what we expect of it. But I do not think that the Minister responsible Jenny Salesa has figured this out yet. She needs to soon.

Grade: C

ENVIRONMENT: Whilst some good things around climate change and conservation have been announced by the Minister for the Environment, Eugenie Sage, there is a profoundly disturbing lack of urgency in tackling waste, fresh water quality, among others. Some of the potential solutions do not need reviews or inquiries to make them work – they are already existing and just need the Minister of one of her Associates to give the order.

Grade: B-

ECONOMY: Before Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern took office, the economy was slowing. It was and possibly still is a bit too soon to see the effects of new policies, but signals from the Reserve Bank suggest further cuts in the interest rate are coming soon. Given the moves to get oil and gas out of our economy, one might have expected funding announcements for potential green jobs to be created, but that does not appear to have materialised. Policy implementation announcements are going to be necessary before the election to stop this being given a D.

Grade: C

TRANSPORT: One of the few bright spots in a very ordinary report card mid way through this Government’s first term. The reopening of the railway line to Wairoa and the announcement of improved investment in railways across New Zealand, will provide good alternative transport for freight and help get big rigs off our most delicate roads. Also welcome is news of a proposed tax on older vehicles that have reached a certain age.

Grade: B

Youth politicians the new big thing

As schools prepare for the start of a new term, teachers and students alike will be looking at the calendar and wondering when the next climate strike is going to fall. The protests which have been a rallying point for young people, too young to vote, have drawn both criticism and praise for what they are trying to achieve. And as their confidence at protesting grows, so it appears are the number of people who think that they should still be in school (despite the last two weeks being official holidays).

Youth politics and youth politicians are not new. Since about when I started voting there has been a Christchurch City Councillor named Yani Johanson. Cr. Johanson first started as a youth board member advocating for things like a new skateboarding rink for youths to take their wheels after complaints about their behaviour in public places. Another one who turned to politics early on was young Auckland lady Chloe Swarbrick who came into the public eye for trying to moderate an argument between a pair of fellow Mayoral candidates. A year later in 2017 she entered Parliament as one of New Zealand’s youngest ever Members of Parliament on the Green Party list.

New Zealand has a healthy – I will not say proud – reputation of having a Youth Parliament every two years, which debates issues important to them. They are school students with an interest in history, politics and current affairs who are selected by their local Member of Parliament to represent them in the Youth Parliament.

Thanks to social media, and politicians in Parliament and increasingly the large city councils recognizing the need to champion youth issues, youth politics and politicians are on the rise. At the up coming local government elections a 26 year old lady named Louise Hutt is standing for Mayor of Hamilton. A few years ago a young man named Sam Broughton took over the Mayoralty of Selwyn District in Canterbury.

Knowing that this is just the beginning it is time for society to acknowledge the following things:

  • The generation currently in high school and the generations that follow will have to deal with the effects of our hugely unsustainable appetite for resources and climate change
  • They understand that simply declaring emergencies will in itself not solve the problem – the idea is to raise awareness
  • Thanks to the social media we accuse them of being addicted to they are substantially more clued up to as to what is happening than we are willing to give them credit for

But some seem slow to get the message as those who challenged South Waikato District Council earlier this week found out. S.W.D.C., which has responsibility for an overwhelmingly rural part of Waikato, where the major industry is dairy farming, objected to the challenge lodged a climate change activist group dominantly populated by students and young people that it should declare a climate emergency. They were reacting to a challenge by Extinction Rebellion. One of the councillors even went so far as to call them terrorists.

Perhaps S.W.D.C. was more concerned about the elections looming large in a few months time and did not want to be seen to be turning against their rural mandate. Perhaps they have never considered climate change to be an issue that they need to deal with. Whatever their answer to the question of why they were so negative, it struck a jarring note when numerous other councils have been wanting to appear environmentally responsible and – even if they did not declare an emergency – acknowledge the concerns of young people.

It is time to acknowledge the rise of the youth politician because young people as politicians is a phenomena that is only going to grow in strength and popularity.

Statistics New Zealand’s potential Census emergency

Some time ago I made mention of a major failing of Statistics New Zealand in their internal operation and failure to successfully run the 2018 New Zealand Census. In April 2019 the Chief Statistician Liz McPherson admitted 1 in every 7 New Zealanders failed to complete the compulsory survey that happens every 5 years and is essential for planning government services, spending priorities and performance targets.

At that time it was discovered that the agency responsible for collecting statistical data on New Zealanders had filled a hole in its finances by funnelling $10 million from insurance payouts and capital. Upon realising that it was short, S.N.Z. asked for another $20 million for the 2019-20 financial year, which was to fill in a funding short fall of 15%.

Now it has been found out that S.N.Z. actually needs considerably more money – between $33-$43 million more each year for subsequent years. As a result the Minister for Statistics, James Shaw is having to ask the Treasurer Grant Robertson for millions more in funding that no doubt both of them would have hoped they would not have to fork out.

If the money is not stumped up, S.N.Z. has a list of ten products it was going to cull or severely restrict. They included surveys for research and development, land occupancy/transfers, energy use among others. This would affect planning and spending priorities for a multitude of agencies and items in the budget.

Allowing it to continue suggests lax responsibility by the Minister of Statistics in overseeing the agency. It suggests that the incompetence of Ms McPherson is going to be tolerated. Sure it might not be the biggest mismanagement crisis we have had in a New Zealand government department, but after telling the Government a second time in less than a year that its financial problem is worse than it thought, can we really be expected to trust Ms McPherson and her senior S.N.Z. staff to know what is going on?

Ms McPherson is contracted to S.N.Z. until the end of 2021, but one has to ask whether that should still be the case. If priority targets were set and closely monitored with the threat of sacking hanging over her head, could we rely on Ms McPherson to display the necessary honesty when she originally tried to hide the issue? I am not wholly sure we can.

Mr Shaw needs to make a couple of tough decisions and he needs to make them quickly. The first one is whether Ms McPherson is worth the risk that goes with forking tens of millions of dollars more in terms of making sure that they do not end up being wasted. The second is – assuming the full extent of the problem has now been revealed – whether the data provided from the Census by those who did manage to complete is enough to fend of an emergency Census.

Drastic? Yes. Unnecessary? I hope so, but if agencies on whose well being people depend such as M.S.D. and the Ministry of Health suddenly find themselves unavoidably short on critical data, do we have a choice?

Possibly not.