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Maxim Real Issues No. 169

Maxim Real Issues No. 169, 11 AUGUST 2005

NCEA overhaul expected

David Lange larger than life

Constitutional change cautious

Nzvotes.org - new sections go live!

NCEA overhaul expected

The New Zealand Qualifications Authority (NZQA) has announced significant changes to the NCEA, following the second report by the State Services Commission into the implementation of the national assessment system.

The changes include making it clear on pupils' result certificates where they have failed a subject (under the NCEA this is termed a "not-achieved" rather than a "fail") and ensuring better communication with parents. Currently under the NCEA, schools are not required to report failures on results slips sent to parents at the start of each year.

Real assessment must provide a realistic and accurate analysis of a student's strengths as well as their weaknesses - the decision to begin to report failure to parents is an important step in the right direction. It is also a good start towards providing parents with the best information about their child's schooling. This is essential because parents are ultimately responsible for their child's education and need a clear picture of how their child is doing, so they can take action if necessary.

There is, of course, some irony in the fact that the Ministry of Education spent $44 million on information provision in the year ended 30 June 2004 and yet parents will only be informed about something as basic and crucial as whether their child has failed a subject once the proposed changes to the NCEA have been made.

David Lange larger than life

David Lange as Prime Minister was larger than life. Even in his present illness he echoes that largeness. He was, and is, a big articulate man with a compelling sense of humour. "Even on a bad day", says Dr Michael Bassett, "he was entertaining." There is no doubt Lange is engaging and likable. But was he a great politician? Possibly not. He did not enjoy being Prime Minister.

In his memoirs just published, he describes many members of his former cabinet as "terrible". Rather than an initiator of policy, Lange seems to have been manipulated by more doctrinaire colleagues. Certainly the development of New Zealand's nuclear free policy was a game of engagement and avoidance of issues and the need to make decisions. The dismantling of the ANZUS alliance, for example, seems to have taken Lange by surprise.

It is unfortunate that what was probably Lange's greatest achievement, Tomorrow's Schools (1989), appears to have been forgotten, perhaps because the present government is busy dismantling it. Tomorrow's Schools attempted to streamline educational administration. Education Boards were disestablished along with the Department of Education. The NZQA was created to supplement a new lean Ministry of Education. Schools were governed by elected Boards of Trustees and given a new-found and high degree of autonomy.

But freedom and choice was too much for subsequent governments inspired by equality. Schools are increasingly being directed from Wellington. The number of staff employed by the Ministry, for example, now exceeds 3,500, and 60 percent of the increase in the 2005 education vote went to the bureaucracy rather than teachers.

Constitutional change cautious

The Constitutional Arrangements Select Committee released its report on Wednesday, saying any changes should be cautious. The Committee says New Zealand tends to use a pragmatic process when dealing with constitutional issues, as we are reluctant to change something which is working well simply for ideological reasons. This approach relies on the understanding that the current constitutional arrangements have been reached by an evolution over time.

The Committee was established to conduct an inquiry into the suitability of New Zealand's existing constitutional arrangements. Its report concludes that there is no acute problem that needs addressing at present, but that constitutional issues will arise from time to time. It has recommended that the select committee process may be one way to examine such issues.

There were 66 written submissions to the Committee and "The issue that attracted the most comment from submitters was the relationship of the Treaty of Waitangi to the constitutional arrangements of modern New Zealand." Overall, the Committee and most submitters felt that any changes to our constitutional arrangements should be cautious. "There is a natural tendency to want to open up reform discussions-change is always more interesting for the policy community and politicians than the status quo."

The Select Committee said it became apparent during the course of the Inquiry, that many New Zealanders do not understand our current constitutional arrangements. Perhaps the most significant recommendation the Committee makes is the need for increased education in citizenship and civics.

To read the Committee's report, visit:

Nzvotes.org - new sections go live!

Two new sections went live on nzvotes.org this week. Educational resources for schools and candidate profiles were added to the site, greatly improving its value for voters this election.

Candidates standing in electorates around the country were asked to answer several questions, including how they might vote on possible conscience issues which may arise during the next term of parliament. To learn more about the candidates in your electorate, visit:

The educational resources section features lesson plans on different aspects of democracy and voting, designed for pupils in all levels of schooling. If you are a teacher, principal or parent, please visit: http://www.nzvotes.org/index.cfm/education_resources/education_home.html to check out the lesson plans.

A DVD explaining MMP is also available free to community organisations. To request a copy, email: info@nzvotes.org.

THOUGHT FOR THE WEEK - Ambrose Bierce (1842 - 1914)

Education is that which discloses to the wise and disguises from the foolish their lack of understanding.

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