Wednesday , April 24 2019

Reader opinion: ‘easy road’ rewarded by year 12 dux awards

How fair is the award system for year 12 students in Australian schools? One letter to our New Zealand editor got us thinking here at School News Australia. Our sister publication, School News, New Zealand received an impassioned letter to the editor last week from Filip Vachuda (‘almost dux of his school’), who says more weight should be given to academic subjects. He said that while he struggled under the rigours of physics and Calculus, the winning dux avoided all academia, instead opting for subjects like media and drama.

High school graduate, Filip Vachuda complaints were met with a stern caution about respect from his principal. Some schools in NZ, such as King’s College in Auckland using scaling to account for the difficulty level of courses. How do schools manage this in Australia? A quick survey brought up considerable variety. School News would be interested in reader comment on this! What is the fairest way to evaluate for ‘dux of the school’ in an Australian context?

Letter to the (NZ) editor: In defence of academic subjects

I,​ ​Filip​ ​Vachuda,​ ​won​ ​Proxime​ ​Accessit​ ​this​ ​year​ ​at​ ​an​ ​NCEA​ ​school​ ​in​ ​Central​ ​Auckland.

Not​ ​winning​ ​the​ ​Dux​ ​award,​ ​I​ ​suppose,​ ​was​ ​not​ ​exactly​ ​something​ ​I​ ​cared​ ​much​ ​about​ ​at​ ​face value.​ ​After​ ​all,​ ​the​ ​prize​ ​would​ ​only​ ​result​ ​in​ ​a​ ​small​ ​extra​ ​sum​ ​of​ ​payment,​ ​as​ ​well​ ​as​ ​me getting​ ​my​ ​name​ ​put​ ​up​ ​in​ ​the​ ​hall​ ​for​ ​bored​ ​kids​ ​at​ ​assemblies​ ​to​ ​emptily​ ​glance​ ​at.​ ​No,​ ​the​ ​fact that​ ​I​ ​had​ ​lost,​ ​having​ ​gone​ ​through​ ​school​ ​to​ ​the​ ​best​ ​of​ ​my​ ​ability,​ ​was​ ​nothing​ ​to​ ​be​ ​ashamed of​ ​or​ ​regret.

But​ ​upon​ ​being​ ​beaten,​ ​I​ ​could​ ​not​ ​help​ ​but​ ​notice​ ​a​ ​somewhat​ ​sobering​ ​fact.​ ​I​ ​had​ ​loaded​ ​my timetable​ ​with​ ​the​ ​most​ ​difficult​ ​courses​ ​my​ ​school​ ​offered,​ ​including​ ​Physics,​ ​Calculus,​ ​and doing​ ​Level​ ​3​ ​English​ ​a​ ​year​ ​early,​ ​passing​ ​a​ ​Scholarship​ ​exam​ ​in​ ​Year​ ​12.​ ​Yet​ ​it​ ​was​ ​my competitor,​ ​who​ ​had​ ​undertaken​ ​a​ ​curriculum​ ​completely​ ​free​ ​of​ ​Math,​ ​Science​ ​or,​ ​indeed, Scholarship​ ​exams​ ​or​ ​extra​ ​subjects,​ ​and​ ​instead​ ​filled​ ​with​ ​less​ ​academic​ ​subjects​ ​such​ ​as Drama​ ​and​ ​Media,​ ​who​ ​ended​ ​up​ ​beating​ ​me.​ ​Our​ ​quantity​ ​and​ ​quality​ ​of​ ​credits​ ​attained,​ ​all subjects​ ​being​ ​equal,​ ​had​ ​minimal​ ​differences​ ​between​ ​them.​ ​In​ ​the​ ​end,​ ​though,​ ​my​ ​tiny​ ​credit deficit​ ​was​ ​the​ ​only​ ​thing​ ​that​ ​mattered.

And​ ​so, ​ ​having​ ​experienced​ ​this, ​ ​I​ ​began​ ​to​ ​wonder: ​ ​why​ ​did​ ​my​ ​school​ ​not​ ​take​ ​into​ ​account my​ ​more​ ​demanding​ ​academic​ ​curriculum? ​ ​Was​ ​it ​even​ ​appropriate​ ​to​ ​say that​ ​certain​ ​subjects​ ​or​ ​pathways​ ​are​ ​more​ ​academically​ ​rigorous​ ​than​ ​others?

Well,​ ​whether​ ​or​ ​not​ ​to​ ​construct​ ​subject​ ​hierarchies​ ​is,​ ​as​ ​with​ ​infinitely​ ​many​ ​topics,​ ​an​ ​issue​ ​of utmost​ ​subjectivity. Nevertheless,​ ​in​ ​asking​ ​a​ ​variety​ ​of​ ​people​ ​in​ ​my​ ​school’s​ ​senior management​ ​about​ ​their​ ​perspectives​ ​on​ ​the​ ​situation,​ ​which​ ​was​ ​invaluable​ ​in​ ​trying​ ​to​ ​best understand​ ​such​ ​a​ ​subjective​ ​matter,​ ​the​ ​principal​ ​still​ ​found​ ​time​ ​to​ ​reprimand​ ​me​ ​for​ ​being ‘disrespectful’​ ​in​ ​doing​ ​so,​ ​and​ ​pointed​ ​out​ ​to​ ​me​ ​that​ ​the​ ​concept​ ​of​ ​subject​ ​difficulty​ ​is​ ​merely an​ ​’artificial​ ​construct’. Apparently,​ ​such​ ​an​ ​attitude​ ​and​ ​awards​ ​format​ ​was​ ​‘consistent’​ ​among the​ ​vast​ ​majority​ ​of​ ​NCEA​ ​schools.​ ​So,​ ​it​ ​was​ ​‘nuff​ ​said’​ ​on​ ​that​ ​matter.

What​ ​I​ ​did​ ​manage​ ​to​ ​discover​ ​in​ ​the​ ​end,​ ​though,​ ​before​ ​that​ ​untimely​ ​shutdown,​ ​is​ ​that hierarchies​ ​of​ ​classes​ ​are​ ​by​ ​no​ ​means​ ​unprecedented,​ ​in​ ​fact,​ ​quite​ ​the​ ​contrary.​ ​Schools​ ​in the​ ​United​ ​States,​ ​among​ ​others,​ ​have​ ​‘weighted’​ ​grade​ ​point​ ​averages,​ ​which​ ​take​ ​into​ ​account the​ ​difficulty​ ​of​ ​the​ ​classes​ ​you​ ​take.​ ​Rigor​ ​of​ ​coursework​ ​is​ ​a​ ​standard​ ​component​ ​that​ ​colleges always​ ​look​ ​at​ ​when​ ​admitting​ ​prospective​ ​students,​ ​and​ ​it​ ​is​ ​thus​ ​made​ ​clear​ ​in​ ​their​ ​academic records.​ ​Some​ ​New​ ​Zealand​ ​schools​ ​such​ ​as​ ​King’s​ ​College​ ​and​ ​Auckland​ ​Grammar,​ ​who employ​ ​systems​ ​outside​ ​NCEA,​ ​do​ ​in​ ​fact​ ​also​ ​weight​ ​their​ ​courses,​ ​at​ ​least​ ​in​ ​selecting​ ​their school’s​ ​top​ ​academic​ ​achievers.

But​ ​the​ ​majority​ ​of​ ​New​ ​Zealand​ ​schools​ ​-​ ​specifically​ ​those​ ​under​ ​the​ ​NCEA​ ​system,​ ​have​ ​no such​ ​provisions.​ ​And​ ​I​ ​had​ ​initially​ ​thought,​ ​upon​ ​almost​ ​deciding​ ​to​ ​spark​ ​‘Dux Gate’,​ ​that​ ​my school​ ​had​ ​had​ ​its​ ​priorities​ ​all​ ​wrong​ ​(even,​ ​for​ ​a​ ​brief​ ​moment,​ ​that​ ​the​ ​recipient​ ​had​ ​been ‘nepotistically’​ ​favoured!).​ ​In​ ​actuality,​ ​though,​ ​looking​ ​back,​ ​none​ ​of​ ​this​ ​was​ ​really​ ​the​ ​principal’s or​ ​school’s​ ​fault​ ​at​ ​all.​ ​In​ ​fact,​ ​the​ ​school​ ​was​ ​only​ ​giving​ ​Dux​ ​to​ ​the​ ​person​ ​who​ ​was​ ​seen​ ​as the​ ​most​ ​successful​ ​within​ ​the​ ​NCEA​ ​and​ ​university​ ​acceptance​ ​framework.​ ​A​ ​framework​ ​which rewards​ ​all​ ​achievement​ ​ruthlessly​ ​equally,​ ​no​ ​matter​ ​if​ ​in​ ​Calculus​ ​or​ ​Printmaking​ ​or​ ​Media​ ​or Home​ ​Economics,​ ​and​ ​ensures​ ​that​ ​the​ ​vast​ ​majority​ ​of​ ​subjects​ ​are​ ​university-approved​ ​(all four​ ​above​ ​are),​ ​giving​ ​them​ ​the​ ​same​ ​weight.​ ​Doing​ ​this,​ ​though,​ ​makes​ ​perfect​ ​sense-​ ​in​ ​all New​ ​Zealand​ ​universities​ ​barring​ ​the​ ​University​ ​of​ ​Auckland,​ ​there​ ​is​ ​no​ ​distinction​ ​made between​ ​subjects​ ​studied​ ​at​ ​high​ ​school,​ ​as​ ​long​ ​as​ ​the​ ​fit​ ​into​ ​the​ ​wide​ ​net​ ​of​ ​‘University Approved’,​ ​and​ ​there​ ​are​ ​not​ ​even​ ​any​ ​required​ ​high​ ​school​ ​subjects​ ​for​ ​any​ ​courses​ ​anywhere (these​ ​statements,​ ​notably,​ ​do​ ​exclude​ ​Engineering​ ​courses,​ ​but​ ​that’s​ ​it).​ ​All​ ​it​ ​ostensibly​ ​takes to​ ​get​ ​into​ ​most​ ​programmes​ ​nationwide​ ​is​ ​to​ ​study​ ​something,​ ​anything,​ ​and​ ​study​ ​it​ ​to​ ​a​ ​high standard​ ​-​ ​and​ ​so​ ​that​ ​ends​ ​up​ ​being​ ​what​ ​schools​ ​value.

And​ ​yes,​ ​it​ ​is​ ​easy​ ​to​ ​see​ ​why​ ​the​ ​NZQA​ ​has​ ​adopted​ ​this​ ​approach.​ ​Everyone​ ​has​ ​different strengths​ ​and​ ​skillsets,​ ​and​ ​this​ ​is​ ​what​ ​makes​ ​the​ ​world​ ​complete.​ ​Some​ ​can​ ​solve​ ​complex mathematical​ ​equations,​ ​become​ ​experts​ ​at​ ​understanding​ ​how​ ​the​ ​human​ ​body​ ​works​ ​or​ ​write stunning​ ​academic​ ​essays,​ ​while​ ​some​ ​are​ ​more​ ​talented​ ​at​ ​acting,​ ​painting,​ ​or​ ​building​ ​things. And​ ​of​ ​course,​ ​if​ ​you​ ​wanted​ ​to​ ​study​ ​these​ ​things​ ​further​ ​at​ ​university,​ ​these​ ​subjects​ ​must definitely​ ​be​ ​University​ ​Approved.

But​ ​saying​ ​that​ ​acting,​ ​painting​ ​or​ ​building​ ​things​ ​is​ ​somehow​ ​just​ ​as​ ​academic​ ​as​ ​Physics, English,​ ​History​ ​or​ ​Calculus​ ​is​ ​completely​ ​missing​ ​the​ ​mark.​ ​You​ ​can​ ​be​ ​completely​ ​illiterate​ ​and innumerate,​ ​yet​ ​still​ ​be​ ​an​ ​outstanding​ ​painter​ ​or​ ​actor​ ​-​ ​and​ ​excel​ ​in​ ​the​ ​multitude​ ​of​ ​NCEA standards​ ​that​ ​require​ ​only​ ​that.​ ​Granted,​ ​there​ ​are​ ​exceptions​ ​and​ ​always​ ​will​ ​be,​ ​but​ ​for​ ​the vast​ ​majority​ ​of​ ​students,​ ​quantitative,​ ​academic​ ​subjects​ ​such​ ​as​ ​math,​ ​science​ ​or​ ​even​ ​history are​ ​considered​ ​tougher​ ​than​ ​more​ ​artistic​ ​or​ ​vocational​ ​ones.​ ​And​ ​such​ ​a​ ​claim​ ​is​ ​evident​ ​in countries​ ​like​ ​the​ ​UK,​ ​for​ ​example,​ ​where​ ​exams​ ​aren’t​ ​graded​ ​on​ ​a​ ​curve​ ​like​ ​they​ ​are​ ​here, and​ ​achievement​ ​gaps​ ​thus​ ​become​ ​clearly​ ​apparent.​ ​It​ ​doesn’t​ ​take​ ​a​ ​statistician​ ​to​ ​notice​ ​that math​ ​and​ ​science​ ​students,​ ​for​ ​example,​ ​due​ ​to​ ​the​ ​difficulty​ ​of​ ​exams,​ ​regularly​ ​underperform against​ ​those​ ​in​ ​arts​ ​subjects.​ ​The​ ​notion​ ​that​ ​subject​ ​difficulty​ ​is​ ​an​ ​‘artificial​ ​construct’​ ​does​ ​not seem​ ​to​ ​hold​ ​true​ ​at​ ​all.

Equally​ ​as​ ​importantly,​ ​not​ ​only​ ​are​ ​there​ ​objectively​ ​more​ ​difficult​ ​subjects​ ​than​ ​others,​ ​but chances​ ​are​ ​that​ ​STEM​ ​subjects,​ ​or​ ​those​ ​considered​ ​most​ ​difficult,​ ​will​ ​be​ ​the​ ​ones​ ​that​ ​get​ ​you furthest​ ​in​ ​life.​ ​In​ ​one​ ​example,​ ​the​ ​five​ ​highest-paying​ ​college​ ​majors​ ​in​ ​the​ ​US​ ​were​ ​all​ ​some form​ ​of​ ​engineering​ ​or​ ​science,​ ​while​ ​the​ ​lowest-paying​ ​were​ ​all​ ​arts-based​ ​subjects-​ ​early childhood​ ​education,​ ​psychology,​ ​theology​ ​and​ ​the​ ​like.​ ​In​ ​New​ ​Zealand,​ ​performing​ ​arts remains​ ​the​ ​lowest-paid​ ​college​ ​degree.​ ​There​ ​is​ ​a​ ​clear​ ​disparity,​ ​yet​ ​again,​ ​between​ ​science and​ ​classically​ ​academic​ ​non-science​ ​subjects​ ​(such​ ​as​ ​Law​ ​or​ ​Commerce)​ ​and​ ​subjects involving​ ​Arts,​ ​or​ ​vocational​ ​skills​ ​not​ ​even​ ​taught​ ​at​ ​universities.

So,​ ​knowing​ ​this,​ ​in​ ​society,​ ​it​ ​is​ ​great​ ​that​ ​we​ ​acknowledge​ ​everyone’s​ ​potential​ ​and​ ​reward them​ ​for​ ​it,​ ​but​ ​should​ ​we​ ​not​ ​at​ ​least,​ ​in​ ​determining​ ​our​ ​top​ ​academic​ ​performers,​ ​recognize that​ ​certain​ ​pathways​ ​are​ ​more​ ​challenging​ ​and​ ​far​ ​more​ ​likely​ ​to​ ​actually​ ​be​ ​rewarding​ ​in​ ​the real​ ​world?​ ​NCEA’s​ ​system,​ ​which​ ​seems​ ​to​ ​have​ ​rubbed​ ​off​ ​on​ ​to​ ​universities,​ ​does​ ​not encourage​ ​or​ ​even​ ​really​ ​allow​ ​for​ ​that​ ​to​ ​be​ ​the​ ​case.​ ​And​ ​I​ ​think​ ​that​ ​is​ ​a​ ​grave​ ​mistake.​ ​We should​ ​be​ ​first​ ​and​ ​foremost​ ​encouraging​ ​our​ ​young​ ​people​ ​to​ ​embark​ ​on​ ​the​ ​most​ ​fulfilling,​ ​but also​ ​fruitful,​ ​careers​ ​possible​ ​for​ ​them,​ ​and​ ​appreciate​ ​when​ ​they​ ​go​ ​that​ ​extra​ ​mile​ ​to​ ​attain those​ ​goals.

One​ ​other​ ​qualm​ ​I​ ​have​ ​is​ ​that,​ ​yet​ ​again,​ ​even​ ​though​ ​I​ ​had​ ​taken​ ​it​ ​upon​ ​myself​ ​to​ ​study​ ​six Level​ ​3​ ​subjects,​ ​one​ ​of​ ​them​ ​a​ ​full​ ​year​ ​early,​ ​only​ ​five​ ​were​ ​to​ ​be​ ​counted​ ​in​ ​the​ ​awarding​ ​of Dux​ ​and​ ​my​ ​University​ ​Grade​ ​Point​ ​Average.​ ​If​ ​all​ ​six​ ​had​ ​been​ ​counted,​ ​I​ ​would​ ​have​ ​had​ ​a higher​ ​result​ ​and​ ​received​ ​Dux,​ ​but​ ​again,​ ​according​ ​to​ ​the​ ​institutionalized​ ​criteria​ ​New​ ​Zealand universities,​ ​only​ ​one’s​ ​best​ ​five​ ​are​ ​taken​ ​into​ ​account.​ ​This,​ ​on​ ​the​ ​other​ ​hand,​ ​is​ ​a​ ​glaring omission​ ​of​ ​the​ ​value​ ​of​ ​breadth​ ​and​ ​exceeding​ ​what​ ​is​ ​required​ ​of​ ​you.​ ​In​ ​New​ ​Zealand,​ ​we already​ ​study​ ​relatively​ ​few​ ​subjects​ ​at​ ​high​ ​school​ ​level​ ​compared​ ​to​ ​the​ ​rest​ ​of​ ​the​ ​world.​ ​Why is​ ​it​ ​appropriate​ ​to​ ​outright​ ​ignore​ ​some​ ​of​ ​what​ ​students​ ​have​ ​achieved,​ ​narrowing​ ​our​ ​scope down​ ​even​ ​further?​ ​Similarly,​ ​my​ ​English​ ​Scholarship,​ ​which​ ​I​ ​had​ ​earned,​ ​as​ ​with​ ​credits,​ ​upon sitting​ ​and​ ​passing​ ​a​ ​government-sanctioned​ ​exam,​ ​was​ ​not​ ​considered​ ​in​ ​the​ ​Dux​ ​ranking​ ​at all,​ ​being​ ​dismissed​ ​as​ ​an​ ​‘award’​ ​and​ ​not​ ​a​ ​‘qualification’.​ ​And,​ ​most​ ​perplexedly,​ ​at​ ​that​ ​same awards​ ​ceremony,​ ​a​ ​Year​ ​12​ ​girl​ ​who​ ​took​ ​it​ ​upon​ ​herself​ ​to​ ​take​ ​all​ ​Level​ ​3​ ​subjects,​ ​yet​ ​still performed​ ​to​ ​an​ ​exceedingly​ ​high​ ​standard,​ ​lost​ ​the​ ​Year​ ​12​ ​Merit​ ​Cup​ ​to​ ​someone​ ​who​ ​had​ ​a marginally​ ​higher​ ​Grade​ ​Point​ ​Average,​ ​but​ ​had​ ​all​ ​his​ ​credits​ ​at​ ​Level​ ​2​ ​-​ ​a​ ​full​ ​curriculum​ ​level lower​ ​than​ ​what​ ​the​ ​girl​ ​had​ ​had.

It​ ​seemed​ ​in​ ​these​ ​cases,​ ​and​ ​likely​ ​in​ ​the​ ​countless​ ​other​ ​NCEA​ ​schools​ ​that​ ​have​ ​‘consistent’ systems,​ ​that​ ​when​ ​students​ ​do​ ​choose​ ​to​ ​go​ ​above​ ​and​ ​beyond​ ​what​ ​is​ ​required​ ​of​ ​them​ ​to​ ​get into​ ​university,​ ​it​ ​is​ ​being​ ​treated​ ​as​ ​if​ ​it​ ​was​ ​all​ ​for​ ​nought.​ ​And​ ​while​ ​yes,​ ​you​ ​could​ ​argue​ ​it wouldn’t​ ​mean​ ​much​ ​in​ ​terms​ ​of​ ​university​ ​admissions,​ ​the​ ​fact​ ​that​ ​it​ ​does​ ​not​ ​should​ ​not​ ​mean that​ ​those​ ​accomplishments​ ​are​ ​any​ ​less​ ​impressive​ ​or​ ​valuable​ ​to​ ​one’s​ ​intellectual​ ​growth. Again,​ ​we​ ​must​ ​be​ ​careful​ ​that​ ​we​ ​are​ ​not​ ​failing​ ​our​ ​next​ ​generation​ ​by​ ​teaching​ ​them​ ​to​ ​only value​ ​the​ ​bare​ ​minimum​ ​criteria​ ​for​ ​success​ ​(what​ ​happened​ ​to​ ​’the​ ​sky’s​ ​the​ ​limit’?),​ ​which​ ​does nobody​ ​any​ ​favors​ ​in​ ​terms​ ​of​ ​attitudes​ ​towards​ ​achievement​ ​in​ ​any​ ​pursuit,​ ​academic​ ​or otherwise.​ ​It​ ​almost​ ​seems​ ​like​ ​we​ ​don’t​ ​have​ ​any​ ​faith​ ​in​ ​our​ ​education​ ​system​ ​and​ ​curriculum, if​ ​we​ ​are​ ​encouraging​ ​students​ ​to​ ​invest​ ​as​ ​little​ ​effort​ ​into​ ​it​ ​as​ ​necessary,​ ​aiming​ ​towards​ ​this ‘bare​ ​minimum’.​ ​But​ ​that’s​ ​touching​ ​on​ ​a​ ​whole​ ​another​ ​topic.

Now,​ ​you​ ​can​ ​agree​ ​or​ ​disagree​ ​with​ ​this​ ​as​ ​much​ ​as​ ​you’d​ ​like.​ ​You​ ​may​ ​brand​ ​me​ ​as ‘traditionalist’,​ ​or​ ​even​ ​as​ ​racist​ ​or​ ​sexist.​ ​There​ ​will​ ​always​ ​be​ ​those​ ​who​ ​point​ ​out,​ ​after​ ​all,​ ​that physics,​ ​mathematics​ ​or​ ​history​ ​tend​ ​to​ ​be,​ ​still,​ ​overwhelmingly​ ​the​ ​domain​ ​of​ ​European​ ​and Asian​ ​males.​ ​You​ ​might​ ​say,​ ​who​ ​am​ ​I​ ​to​ ​value​ ​those​ ​subjects,​ ​or​ ​any​ ​accomplishments,​ ​for​ ​that matter,​ ​over​ ​any​ ​others?​ ​Doesn’t​ ​that​ ​defeat​ ​the​ ​purpose​ ​of​ ​encouraging​ ​equality?​ ​Well,​ ​to​ ​me, an​ ​academic​ ​subject​ ​is​ ​one​ ​that​ ​can​ ​be​ ​constantly​ ​improved​ ​upon​ ​through​ ​further​ ​study.​ ​Many other​ ​writers​ ​who​ ​have​ ​formulated​ ​a​ ​definition​ ​have​ ​much​ ​a​ ​similar​ ​one.​ ​Even​ ​if​ ​all​ ​data supporting​ ​differences​ ​in​ ​difficulty​ ​is​ ​negated,​ ​surely​ ​any​ ​school​ ​that​ ​bills​ ​its​ ​Dux​ ​as​ ​the​ ​‘top academic​ ​achiever’​ ​has​ ​a​ ​duty​ ​to​ ​emphasize,​ ​well,​ ​academic​ ​subjects.

You​ ​could​ ​undoubtedly​ ​call​ ​me​ ​a​ ​bad​ ​sport​ ​or​ ​a​ ​bitter​ ​loser, ​ ​as​ ​well.​ ​Though​ ​I​ ​feel​ ​one​ ​aspect​ ​of good​ ​sportsmanship​ ​that​ ​is​ ​almost​ ​never​ ​mentioned​ ​is​ ​questioning​ ​the​ ​basis​ ​of​ ​a​ ​decision​ ​when you​ ​feel​ ​you​ ​have​ ​been​ ​wronged.​ ​After​ ​all,​ ​all​ ​it​ ​is​ ​is​ ​trying​ ​to​ ​deduce​ ​what​ ​the​ ​fairest​ ​result would​ ​have​ ​been.

However,​ ​throwing​ ​these​ ​statements​ ​at​ ​me​ ​would​ ​not​ ​address​ ​anything​ ​constructive.​ ​What​ ​I have​ ​found​ ​as​ ​a​ ​result​ ​of​ ​this​ ​exercise​ ​is​ ​that​ ​I​ ​cannot​ ​assign​ ​not​ ​only​ ​my​ ​award,​ ​but​ ​the educational​ ​system,​ ​any​ ​legitimacy.​ ​The​ ​young​ ​woman​ ​who​ ​beat​ ​me​ ​was​ ​spectacular​ ​at​ ​that which​ ​she​ ​did.​ ​She​ ​rightfully​ ​deserved​ ​all​ ​of​ ​her​ ​individual​ ​prizes​ ​in​ ​her​ ​subject​ ​areas.​ ​But​ ​I cannot​ ​accept​ ​that​ ​someone​ ​who​ ​completely​ ​forgoes​ ​Math​ ​and​ ​Science​ ​at​ ​the​ ​expense​ ​of non-academic​ ​subjects​ ​wins​ ​the​ ​award​ ​for​ ​the​ ​best,​ ​all-round,​ ​academic​ ​achiever.​ ​There​ ​are​ ​no benchmarks​ ​in​ ​NCEA​ ​beyond​ ​achievement​ ​at​ ​whatever​ ​it​ ​is​ ​you​ ​wish​ ​to​ ​do-​ ​it​ ​is​ ​so​ ​reluctant​ ​to assign​ ​greater​ ​value​ ​to​ ​certain​ ​courses​ ​or​ ​endeavors,​ ​that​ ​performing​ ​an​ ​entire​ ​curriculum​ ​level above​ ​your​ ​competition,​ ​as​ ​I​ ​have​ ​witnessed​ ​with​ ​that​ ​girl​ ​from​ ​Year​ ​12,​ ​has​ ​no​ ​weight​ ​at​ ​all​ ​in determining​ ​relative​ ​success.

As​ ​I​ ​see​ ​it,​ ​the​ ​“equality​ ​above​ ​all​ ​else”​ ​culture​ ​of​ ​NCEA​ ​seems​ ​to​ ​have​ ​really​ ​given​ ​rise​ ​to​ ​a baffling​ ​educational​ ​and​ ​societal​ ​shift​ ​in​ ​priorities.​ ​We​ ​should​ ​not​ ​give​ ​academic​ ​prizes​ ​to​ ​those who​ ​do​ ​‘their​ ​best’​ ​in​ ​easier​ ​subject​ ​areas,​ ​while​ ​giving​ ​into​ ​NCEA’s​ ​temptation​ ​to​ ​value​ ​all achievement​ ​equally.​ ​It’s​ ​a​ ​nice​ ​gesture,​ ​but​ ​it’s​ ​just​ ​unrealistic.​ ​Just​ ​because​ ​certain​ ​subjects offering​ ​wider​ ​opportunities​ ​breeds​ ​unequal​ ​outcomes​ ​in​ ​life​ ​does​ ​not​ ​mean​ ​that​ ​all​ ​needs​ ​to​ ​be turned​ ​on​ ​its​ ​head.​ ​The​ ​world​ ​can​ ​never​ ​be​ ​an​ ​absolutely​ ​equal​ ​place,​ ​and​ ​it’s​ ​time​ ​that​ ​this egalitarian​ ​fetish​ ​that​ ​plagues​ ​the​ ​New​ ​Zealand​ ​education​ ​system​ ​was​ ​eliminated.

Until​ ​then,​ ​I​ ​shall​ ​advise​ ​my​ ​sister,​ ​who​ ​has​ ​just​ ​finished​ ​Year​ ​11​ ​with​ ​the​ ​Girls’​ ​Merit​ ​Cup​ ​under her​ ​belt,​ ​to​ ​start​ ​loading​ ​up​ ​on​ ​her​ ​Photography,​ ​P.E.​ ​and​ ​Polynesian​ ​Dance​ ​if​ ​she​ ​wishes​ ​to continue​ ​being​ ​a​ ​top​ ​scholar.

-Filip​ ​Vachuda

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