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Gordon Campbell on UE pass rates & university dropout rates

Gordon Campbell on UE pass rates and university dropout rates

Houston, there is clearly a problem with (a) the plunge in pass rates for University Entrance qualifications, which has been especially steep among Maori students and also a problem with (b) the failure rates for Maori students among those who reach university. Reportedly, almost a quarter of Māori students drop out of university in their first year.

Unfortunately the two problems seem related. The solution re university dropouts - which involves ensuring students are better equipped to cope with the academic challenges they face when they get to university - seems to have caused the problem of the plunging pass rates for UE. Supposedly, the tweaking upwards of the UE standards was expected to cause only a small decline in UE pass rates. Only a 5% change would result, NZQA jauntily predicted back in 2011.

Instead, the roof has fallen in:

Qualifications Authority figures show that in 2013, 70 percent of Year 13 students nationally gained UE, but that percentage fell to 40 percent for Māori in 2014.[58% overall] The figures also show rural kura did even more poorly. The organisation said the figures could have been a lot worse, but for the 16 per cent overall who gained UE through catch-up credits or resubmissions over summer.

The mechanism for the UE changes can be found here.

Fortunately, the cohort of students involved has not simply been abandoned.

Universities have been receiving unusually large numbers of admission requests this year from students lacking formal admission criteria – and have been admitting some. As mentioned, catch up classes and other remedial steps are also being taken, with university administrators claiming there has been no dropping of standards. Yeah right. Clearly, an already hard-pressed tertiary education system is coming under intense pressure to cope with domestic students reaching university with literacy and numeracy problems on top of the usual social challenges that arise during the first year of university life.

The abilities of international students – whose fees are crucial to the funding of New Zealand education at all levels, but whose English language skills are in many cases, below par for the demands of tertiary learning – pose a further set of problems. Do you admit them, take their money – and then struggle to have them achieve the results on which New Zealand’s long term reputation as a desirable educational destination is based?

Unfortunately, Tertiary Minister Steven Joyce has his own literacy and numeracy problems with this sort of thing. Systemic stuff of this complexity is just too boring and too hard for Joyce. Basically, if he can’t get a headline piece of good news out of one of his responsibility areas, he tends to simply ignore it. (Minister of Everything, master of nothing.) Maybe what’s needed is more operational funding, starting at secondary level…. And better resourcing overall – especially for a tertiary system that’s increasingly being called on to do remedial work with its student intake : and that goes for Maori, pakeha and international students alike.

Fat chance of more funding in this year’s Budget, though. Charter schools have been the only part of the education system at which the Key government has been willing to throw money.

Old School

Well, no one said it would be easy. Over 60 years ago, Chuck Berry told us about the hassles involved in learning American history and practical math on “School Days.”

School can also be fun (even when it isn’t) as in these two prime pieces of Old School rap by Young MC, from circa 1990.


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