OPINION: When New Zealand's universal, free secondary school education was first introduced we lived in a very different time.
Young people could still leave school with basic qualifications and walk straight into a job. If that job didn't work out, you packed up your things and started over; knowing one way or another, there would be work for you.
Today, our school leavers face a very different situation. Entry-level positions aren't that easy to come by, and the competition is fierce.
On top of the basics, employers today are looking for school-leavers who have excellent interpersonal skills, communication skills, creativity, adaptability, time management, and resilience. Standardised testing based on an ability to memorise facts and figures isn't going to serve students in the modern workforce.
Our education system, and the people who work in it, understand this, and day-to-day schooling has changed as a result.
The introduction of NCEA heralded a new approach. Instead of setting arbitrary hurdles for kids, teachers and schools are now focused on identifying what each student can do and where they need to improve. NCEA has provided more opportunities for schools to customise programmes to bring out the best in every student.
Under the old system, a number of students passed and failed each year, and exam results were scaled accordingly. That meant those that did poorly were characterised only by their failure, not by the aspects of course work that they had understood.
NCEA isn't about dumbing down education, it's about recognising that what a student knows or doesn't know is more complex than a pass or fail grade. An employer isn't interested in what you can't do; they are interested in what you can.
Kids learn different things at different rates, and NCEA allows schools to focus on bringing out the best in each of them, rather than labelling and "standardising" them.
Today, students are told that, with the rate of innovation, the jobs they end up in may not even exist yet. Just look at the success iPhone app development has spurred. Savvy students are carving our careers for themselves from their laptops at home.
Creative thinking, innovation and a thirst for learning are the hallmarks of modern schools. That's because it is the power of our ideas that will determine our future prosperity.
New Zealand is a small set of islands at the far end of the world. If we are to succeed on the global stage it is our innovative ideas, not a standardised ability to compete, that will get us there.
Classrooms are no longer square boxes with a teacher up the front: the walls are quite literally coming down. Today classrooms are collaborative spaces where learning is about searching out knowledge, not having it dictated to you.
Understanding how to filter information has become more important than learning where to find it. Critical thinking skills trump rote-learning.
NCEA, based on our world-leading curriculum and its competency-based approach, recognises that. Students certainly need to know how to read and write, but they also need to be self-starters with perseverance, curiosity, and social skills.
What can easily be measured must not become the sole measure of success. Learning in the 21st century is personalised, it's interactive, and it's social.
In the next ten years students will excel not by comparing themselves to their classmates, or to neighbouring schools, but by being empowered to exceed their own expectations of themselves.