Relevant qualifications for the future world



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Dr Karen Poutasi says NZQA is focused on ensuring qualifications and assessments are relevant and flexible in a fast-changing world.

Dr Karen Poutasi, Chief Executive, New Zealand Qualification Authority (NZQA)


Dr Karen PoutasiWhat is the future of New Zealand education? What part will NZQA play in this future?

As the guardian of New Zealand’s qualification system, NZQA is uniquely positioned to help learners gain qualifications that will be meaningful for them both now and in the future.

We are acutely aware that this is not just an option – it is a necessity. In fact, we have an official ‘beacon’, or aspirational forward-looking statement, right underneath our logo, which reads ‘Qualify for the future world’. To support learners, we have devoted an entire programme of work to what we call ‘Future State’.

Future State is about how we, as an organisation, will respond to the education reality that we now live in a global, digital, connected world. It’s about ensuring that New Zealand qualifications remain credible and relevant in an increasingly borderless, global and connected environment.

Today’s young people are growing up with technology. It’s an integral and very natural part of their lives. Teenagers don’t know a world where information isn’t at their fingertips in one way or another. Digital pedagogy is becoming commonplace in the classroom. That means it makes sense that current learners, and those in the near future, should also be assessed using digital technology.

Already, many schools are using digital processes for internal assessment and submitting assessment to NZQA digitally. By 2020 NZQA will offer a wide range of digital assessment. We are taking small and considered steps towards this goal, running trials and pilots to ensure we get it right. And we are very aware that we need to take everyone within the education system with us.

An example of a 2015 pilot was this year’s revamped e-MCAT assessment. The MCAT is a paper-based algebra assessment that Level 1 NCEA students sit each year. Last year, a very small number of students took part in an electronic version of this assessment; however, this year it involved approximately 11,000 students, from 146 schools.

We expected there would be some challenges in taking an examination designed for paper and putting it online, and some of the feedback from schools and students reflected those challenges. We are analysing this feedback and will incorporate it into our thinking as we move forward.

NCEA students are New Zealand’s future workforce, and schools are preparing them to excel in jobs that may not yet exist. These skills are not always best assessed in a three-hour, handwritten, paper-based examination at the end of the school year. One of the advantages of a flexible qualification like NCEA is that there is room to assess higher order skills.

Today’s office workers sit in front of computers with access to any information that they need, when they need it. Employers are less interested in the ability to remember and recall facts and figures, and more interested in what their staff can interpret, analyse, problem solve, debate and apply critical thinking to.

We know technology is infiltrating all aspects of modern life. We also know that with this our world is becoming increasingly borderless. That means more of New Zealand’s students will gain qualifications overseas and more students coming from abroad will need to have their qualifications recognised for employment or immigration purposes. By 2020 NZQA will have qualification recognition arrangements with at least 50 countries.

We are also developing a Universal Record of Achievement. That is an accessible, comprehensive and authoritative record of a learner’s qualifications that augments the current Record of Achievement.

Another future focus, which sits outside the online focus, is on improving Māori student achievement. Specifically, NZQA is partnering with other education system agencies to support a 50 per cent lift in Māori student achievement at NCEA Level 3, in one or more STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) subject related areas by 2020.

This is a challenging and exciting time to be involved in education as we work to ensure we remain responsive and relevant to the demands of the future. We look forward to continuing to work with learners, whānau, teachers, educators, iwi and industry so that all New Zealanders can qualify for the future world.

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