Concern for disadvantaged students making poor NCEA choices

Media Release
Issued 2 June 2009

The Starpath Project at The University of Auckland has warned that many Maori and Pacific students may not make it to university because they are making ill-informed NCEA subject choices.

Starpath has released a study into how NCEA course choices are made by Maori, Pacific and students in low decile schools, and the effects of those choices. Titled Towards university: Navigating NCEA course choices in low-mid decile schools, it reveals many academically-able students are choosing, or ending up in subjects, that limit their chances of entering and succeeding in tertiary study.

Starpath researchers spent 12 months in low-mid decile high schools in Auckland and Northland interviewing more than 160 students, parents and teachers about NCEA subject choices, two-thirds of which were Maori and Pacific.

Starpath Director Dr Elizabeth McKinley says the study has highlighted a need for more informed adult guidance when students, particularly those from underrepresented groups, choose NCEA subjects.

“Parents need to get themselves educated about NCEA early on in their child’s secondary career, and that means by the end of their first year in high-school. If they leave it until Year 10 or 11 it is often too late,” Dr McKinley advises.

“Parents need better information tools to translate the complexity of NCEA, and schools need to engage parents and students to set high, but achievable, academic targets, and to review student’s achievements and goals on a regular basis,” she says.

The study reports anecdotally on students who aspired to tertiary education but chose vocational subjects instead of academic ones. It found parents did not understand NCEA so were ill-equipped to advise their children on subject choice, and the wide range of subjects available under NCEA meant students were being diverted from the narrow range of subjects which lead to tertiary success.

“NCEA is very flexible, which is good as it caters for a huge range of students. However this flexibility can work against you if students do not have access to good quality advice and guidance,” Dr McKinley says.

Although more Maori and Pacific are completing NCEA Level 1 and 2, the numbers completing University Entrance and NCEA Level 3 or higher are still worryingly low, McKinley says.

The study is one of a number of reports being produced by The Starpath Project to help design research-based interventions to raise educational achievement levels for Maori, Pacific and students from low-socioeconomic backgrounds.

Read the full report: Towards university: Navigating NCEA course choices in low-mid decile schools.

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