Hard to believe we are in the position of once again defending the Health and Physical Education Curriculum as a LEARNING area of the New Zealand Curriculum, but thanks to the ignorance of Labour’s Education spokesman Chris Hipkins, that is where we find ourselves.
An independent report written for the Tertiary Education Union, has found that despite meeting the minimum NCEA standards, many school leavers do not have adequate literacy or numeracy skills.
This has prompted some to speak out about their disapproval of the NCEA system, including Avondale College Principal Brent Lewis who said “The day that youngsters can get literacy without doing English… we have an issue here.” His argument is that “To have it (English) running across the curriculum… while you can argue that literacy does exist and is relevant… the teachers of those areas are not qualified to judge what literacy means and I think that’s where the problems start because they may just read for meaning and not for functional literacy.”
He also said, “In fact you could get all the literacy credits from doing Physical Education… right there is the heart of the issue.” Now to be fair he had also highlighted that literacy credits could be gained from many areas of the curriculum, but Chris Hipkins appeared to jump on the quote about PE and so that is what ended up in the media headlines.
I do not wish to debate the validity or otherwise of the literacy requirements for NCEA, however as a Physical Educator I do feel compelled to speak out in defence of our rich learning area, and in particular voice my dismay at the use of ‘just PE’.
Physical Education is about learning – learning in, through, and about movement. The ways in which evidence of that learning is made visible is tenfold, but without doubt by Level 1 NCEA or Level 6 of the Curriculum students will need to articulate their learning in a way that requires a degree of literacy. Level 6 of the HPE Curriculum (from where students would gain their Level 1 literacy credits) requires students to investigate, evaluate, plan, implement, analyse, compare and contrast, acquire, apply and refine, demonstrate. By Level 8 of the curriculum students are required to critically evaluate, critically analyse, devise, apply and appraise strategies, and justify. In an e-mail dialogue my friend and HPE colleague Jayne Dunbar had this to say – “We do assess the literacy skills, certain literacy standards are selected by NZQA because they require lit/num skills to be demonstrated in order to gain A,M,E – we might not assess how to spell or write an essay (well actually I do teach that – it’s not in the marking criteria though)… but we do require students to be testing, refining, explaining, evaluating, focussing, exploring, generating, making sense of content and processing it in order to present it back in an assessment or even better – take action in response to it. Those are academic thought processes that require a functional use of literacy skills.“
Jayne and I agreed that there is a large difference between Level 1 Literacy, and the literacy requirements for University Entrance (UE), and that as secondary educators we are not preparing students for every possible specific literacy and numeracy demands that they might come across in life. Level 1 literacy is not incredibly complicated, nor should it be, it is a basic functional level, and it is targeted at 15yr olds.
Jayne pointed out that in the same week as this debate is going on, another international study has revealed that New Zealand is among the top five literate countries in the world.
I believe that English on its own becomes a very redundant concept, however English in the context of other curriculum learning areas, including Physical Education, suddenly has meaning, relevance and authenticity. We need to ensure that this debate surrounding literacy does not provide yet another barrier towards providing rich and authentic learning experiences for our young people at secondary schools.