The term uncertain times has taken on a whole new meaning for students appearing for NCEA Level exams on November 16.
Stress levels have hit a new high for secondary school students with repeated disruption caused by the last two lockdowns.
While some struggled with remote learning, reports of students being disengaged and dropping out of school to take on full-time jobs to financially support their families are not uncommon.
Relief came in the form of additional NCEA changes introduced last week for Auckland students – it includes an increase of bonus credits that reduce the number of assessments students need to complete.
Students earn bonus credits at a rate of one credit for every four achieved, up to a maximum of 16 at level 1 and 12 at levels 2-3.
The threshold for achieving Merit or Excellence endorsements has also been lowered from 50 credits to 44 credits for Auckland students.
The Times spoke to three principals of prominent colleges in east Auckland to find out how the students appearing for NCEA Level exams were coping with rapid changes caused by the pandemic.
Iva Ropati, principal of Howick College says that after a thorough analysis of student perception, staff feedback and student achievement/engagement data, what seems consistent is that many students are still very anxious about their future.
“We continue to see much anxiety from students who are rightly worried about the future.
“Most students feel they will achieve their NCEA qualification but not necessarily at the same high standard they had hoped to achieve prior to the disruption of Covid,” he says.
“Staff believe that the loss of face-to-face teaching time has resulted in some inability to delve as deep into topics as they would have normally done. This may impact on students seeking NCEA endorsement levels probably more than previous years.”
Michael Williams, principal of Pakuranga College points out that the impact on students studying for NCEA will be due more to the stress and disruption of routines that Covid-19 has caused, rather than online learning itself.
“There will always be benefits to face-to-face rather than remote learning,” he says, “but at this stage, our students are on track to be as successful as other years.”
Steve Hargreaves, principal of Macleans College, is equally confident of students being on schedule with Zoom and Google Classroom through lockdown.
As president of the Auckland Secondary Schools Principals Association, Hargreaves earlier pushed for the Qualifications Authority to increase the number of extra Learning Recognition Credits for Auckland.
He is happy with the government decision, saying it is fair and sensible.
“These credits acknowledge that students in some situations have been unable to study through the lockdown,” says Hargreaves.
“They have been disadvantaged compared to students in previous years. They will now be able to prioritise the assessments they complete and may be able to remove some assessments.
“They must still pass standards to be awarded the Learning Recognition credits. It allows Auckland students to be compared fairly against students from around New Zealand.”
Of the view that the increased number of recognition credits will have “some motivational benefit for those students who are considered at risk of not achieving their NCEA”, Ropati adds, “For most of our students who already achieve well over the minimum number of credits required for the qualification, it is unlikely to be the silver bullet that the government believes it may be. What it does do is ease some of the emotional angst for the most vulnerable students.”
Commenting on the model of students earning bonus credits at a rate of one credit for every
four achieved, Ropati says, “The risk here is an equity one. We are a decile-8 school with very different educational and social challenges from other schools in low-decile communities.
“My professional view is that needs of lower-decile schools have not been recognised enough and that is where the problem sits.
“In NZQA’s attempt to be equitable, they have dropped down a ‘one size fits all’ solution and in doing so have failed to equitably address the inequality between schools and communities.
“The most vulnerable kids will not benefit from a 16-credit bonus. They needed the time in class and, sadly, that has been lost. Perhaps a better option would see the distribution of recognition credits according to decile classification.”
As for the threshold for achieving Merit or Excellence endorsements being lowered from 50 credits to 44 credits for Auckland students, Ropati says, “This qualification is a difficult challenge for many students and the reduction will almost certainly be an incentive for students to aim higher. The difficulty as mentioned earlier is the lack of time to dive deep into topics that require excellence standards of understanding.”
Williams is of the opinion the lowering of the threshold will not impact the majority of students at Pakuranga College.
“However, for a minority who have been experiencing significant challenges and stress due to Covid-19, it will be welcome,” he says.
In terms of a support system for the wellbeing of students who may have lost motivation during these unprecedented times, Williams admits that the second lockdown was harder for everyone.
“The motivation was down slightly following that. We have been in constant contact with our students through both lockdowns and have been able to keep almost everyone engaged and focused on their learning.
“This has involved providing extra support and encouragement where needed for both students and their families.”
Hargreaves says Macleans College has been fortunate with the majority of students having excellent support from home and school.
“They have remained motivated and on track. For those who need extra help, we have layers of support through our counsellors and House system.”
Ropati adds that Howick College will remain focused on the wellbeing of students and will continue to support them.