‘Disappointment and frustration’ over NCEA Level 1 subject changes

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Classics teachers say they are disappointed by an announcement to drop the subject from NCEA Level 1, and cut Latin from NCEA entirely.

Small ancient greek lekythos decorated with groups of concentric

Small ancient greek lekythos decorated with groups of concentric Photo: 123rf.com

Minister of Education Chris Hipkins announced a series of changes to NCEA level 1 yesterday to address what he described as an increase in “specialisation”, which was causing students to narrow their options too soon.

The changes, which are expected to come into effect in 2023, follow a review into NCEA and consultation with thousands of New Zealanders, from within and outside the sector.

However, New Zealand Association of Classical Teachers president Rob Griffiths told Morning Report the consultation was “mere tokenism”.

“The decision had obviously been made before the consultation even started. That’s what really drives our disappointment and frustration.”

Some of the considerations the ministry says it gave to the changes were whether the subjects provided broad, foundational learning, and preparation for advanced study.

Griffiths argued that was contradictory because classical studies at Level 1 covered a range of areas, including literature, arts, religion, philosophy, and politics, which couldn’t just be ticked off in other subjects.

“Latin is essentially the base of the English language, but more importantly, it’s a subject which teaches the skills of mental processing, analytical reasoning, critical thinking – it’s exactly what we try to develop in our students.

“They say it’s not broad or foundational, I don’t think they even know quite what they mean by foundational. They celebrate the fact they’re reducing the number of subjects in an attempt to make it broader, how does that make sense?”

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On the other hand, the ministry said Latin was being removed due to low and declining enrolments.

“Less than 200 students from around 10 schools study Latin per year, with only 25 students continuing through to Level 3,” it said.

Griffiths said relegation of national qualifications was compromising students’ learning.

“The issue is that they’re effectively going to lose a year of learning in Level 1 with this proposal, and so when they go to study their Level 2 and 3 subjects, they’re not going to have that foundational knowledge and that conceptual understanding.

“Our international measures in educational performance are totally on decline.

“I actually think this is an example of an educational system in crisis. We need to increase academic rigour, we need to have higher expectations of our students and we need to push them, stretch their minds. Most importantly, we need to put knowledge back into schools and our subjects rather than takes it out.”

In the announcement yesterday, Hipkins said these amendments would support students to gain the skills they needed before moving to specialised learning at Level 2.

“These subject changes are carefully designed to give students a broader foundation at the start of NCEA and more pathways for their learning, as well as reducing workload for teachers and students.”

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Hipkins said it marked the beginning of a series modifications that would be made gradually over the next four years.

The number of subjects offered for assessment will also be reduced by 10 to 32.

In addition to classical studies, art history, media studies and psychology will also no longer be offered at Level 1.

Chemistry and biology are being combined into one subject, and physics combined with earth and space science.

The ministry said this would provide for more coherent learning, and reduce the number of standards from 41 to 16.

Agricultural and horticultural science will have new standards developed.

Māori Performing Arts is a new subject at Level 1.

Hipkins said the ministry continued to develop the subjects derived from Te Marautanga ō Aotearoa (TMoA), the Māori medium curriculum. These subjects include Pāngarau, Hauora, Pūtaiao, Te Reo Rangatira, Tikanga-ā-iwi, Hangarau and Ngā Toi.

No changes were proposed to those subjects during public consultation on the provisional subject list, the ministry said, and final confirmation of TMoA subjects was expected in early 2021.

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