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Liberty Belle: The Cambridge High School Furore

Deborah Coddington's Liberty Belle

The Cambridge High School Furore

If there's one thing the Cambridge High School furore has demonstrated it's that education policy in this country is going to hell in a handcart.

This is the school, remember, that handed out NCEA credits for picking up litter in the playground. Ooops, I mean, for the Interpersonal Communications Unit, Level 1. This is the correct name given these days to picking up litter, as described by Associate Education Minister Steve Maharey in Parliament.

Asked a Patsy by Labour's Helen Duncan - "Can the Minister tell the House what specific skills are tested through the Level One unit standard, Interpersonal Communications, that assesses participation in a team or group to complete a routine task?" - the Minister replied:

"Mr Speaker - Yes, people credited with this unit standard are able to identify team roles and responsibilities, gather ideas and information from other members, clarify their own and other people's positions and achieve consensus in reconciling differences. So long as the task used in the course of the assessment is routine, and can be planned and executed by a team, the subject of the task is not highly relevant."

Well, presumably the same irrelevance applies to the Minister's job.

But this airy-fairy nonsense doesn't stop at secondary school. The Open Polytechnic of New Zealand has, since 2003, offered a "LifeWorks" programme - a home-based life skills course.

"It's an innovative 12-month journey about you, your life and your future", the promotion literature says. "LifeWorks helps you look at all aspects of your life, your job, your educational and employment choices, your health, your finances, your housing, your future business ideas and your relationships. Each kit will be a stepping-stone on this journey. This journey is all about your life's work and can lead you to complete a National Certificate in Employment Skills from the New Zealand Qualifications Authority.

"And remember," the blurb shouts in upper case, "LifeWorks is free!"

Well that's a lie. In 2003 taxpayers forked out $8.2 million for 1,557 fulltime equivalent students in the Lifeworks programme.

What on earth, I hear you ask, would entice anyone to enrol in such a course, which undertakes to help you "look" at various aspects of your life? Why would I want to look at my finances and my relationships?

Wait for it....a free prepay mobile phone!

Naturally, if you don't complete the course you're required to give the phone back. However, the Minister can't tell me what happens if the phone gets lost, or sold, or traded in, because that's a matter for the Polytech. So we hand over Other People's Money and accountability goes out the window.

For the 2003 year there were 50,924 "enrolment events" (as Steve Maharey calls them) in the seven courses that make up the LifeWorks programme - and note, one student enrolling in each of the seven courses would constitute seven enrolments. (By the way, if these figures don't add up, don't blame Liberty Belle. They are exactly as provided by the Minister in answer to my Parliamentary Questions.)

Of the near-51,000 enrolment events, a total of 8,367 enrolment events resulted in "did not completes". Perhaps these "did not completes" can enrol in a LifeSucks programme and get another mobile phone.

Cynicism aside, I believe it's outrageous for the New Zealand Qualifications Authority to be accrediting this nonsense. It's all part of the current Government mentality that sees merit in herding the entire adult population off welfare and into some kind of tertiary education. It's 'never mind the quality, just feel the width' stuff. It's a waste of taxpayers' money.

Instead of counting heads and funding institutions according to bums on seats we should be looking at what people are actually learning. Are they graduating from these, or any, courses with greater skills, knowledge, advanced learning? Or is education these days more about touchy feel-good navel gazing?

There are thousands of people in tertiary education learning little of value, doing scam courses, racking up debt. They'd be better off if we brought back traditional apprenticeships and got them into jobs, learning while they're earning, creating wealth and paying tax.

When I was at school picking up rubbish was what you did on detention. To have it now officially sanctioned by the misnamed Qualifications Authority suggests it's high time the Minister himself was put in detention.

Or, better still, given six of the best.

Yours in liberty,
Deborah Coddington


Liberty Belle is a column from Deborah Coddington, Member of Parliament for ACT New Zealand. If you would like to subscribe to other ACT New Zealand publications, please visit our web site at This message has been brought to you by ACT New Zealand.

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