What's Flawed About New Zealand's Education System?


For all of its merits, everything has their flaws. What is NZ’s?

Inclusive of both High School and University.


As far as high school goes, NCEA is New Zealand’s main education system, so we can look at the flaws in that. Firstly, I completed NCEA and have to say that overall I absolutely enjoyed it - if I could go back to high school and choose a curriculum to study it would probably still be NCEA. Having said that, it of course has its drawbacks.

  1. Heavy focus on internal assessments.

Depending on the subjects you take, it is quite possible to get a large amount of ‘credits’ from your internal assessments. Noting that you need 80 credits to pass, many students can gain this without the need for their end of year final exams. While this takes the pressure off, it’s a little bit odd not needing final exams to pass, even with the highest grade of Excellence.

  1. Assessments for topics are very separate.

This could also be a good thing, but the fact that each topic has a separate assessment means that different schools will choose to learn different topics (eg for Chemistry a school may not do the topic on redox, which is pretty important in Chemistry, thus leaving students with a large knowledge gap, or a schools may choose to not do trigonometry in Maths). Furthermore, it gives students the choice in their end of year exams to only focus on topics that they are good at and leave the other one or two blank. There’s no real penalty for doing this except not getting the credits from that topic, but as said before, most students won’t need these extra credits anyways. This leads into

  1. There is no real incentive to do well and get more credits once you have reached the 80 credit goal, with 50 at Excellence.

The highest grade you can get for the overall NCEA qualification is an Excellence endorsement which is obtained with 50 Excellence credits out of a total of at least 80. Once you have this, there is quite little incentive to push yourself harder. This is partially counteracted in Year 12 and 13 by NZQA Scholarship examinations, but you have to elect to do these, so you are only really extended if you choose to be, which means that more relaxed students may not bother.

In regards to university in NZ, I only have about a year’s experience at the University of Auckland (which has been quite good overall), but I have found a few things that I think are potential flaws.

  1. Pre-requisites and pace

This will really depend on the degree that you are doing (eg pre-meds and engineers don’t seem to have this issue) but the pre-requisites and pace of some courses, mostly first-year ones, are a little bit odd. For example, a commerce degree requires no high school background in commerce, and the people that I know who did some commerce in high school were actually disadvantaged due to things being taught slightly differently. Instead of following on from NCEA in subjects like accounting, things are taught slightly differently, which seems weird since most students are coming from an NCEA background and you would expect a New Zealand university to continue on from NZ’s main secondary school curriculum. Anyways, taking a first year economics course and an accounting course, you don’t really learn anything new from secondary school, which is a little bit unfortunate and a bit of a waste of time. I imagine that if they wanted to let people in who didn’t have a secondary school commerce background they could have preparatory courses over summer or something instead of requiring everyone to sit foundation level papers.

  1. Length of degree and number of courses

This might be something that others don’t see as a flaw, but I don’t think a three-year degree allows you to gain deep enough subject knowledge and be exposed to a broad enough education. I do like how some universities offer longer, conjoint degrees, since these do allow for more breadth of knowledge, but having a 3-year degree as the norm does seem odd to me. At some universities, this can be gained by doing as little as 3 courses a semester or a total of only 18 courses.


I agree with many of the things above. I took NCEA and studied at both a NZ and Australian university, and also was a faculty tutor for one and a half years marking over 300 assignments.

I think the marking guide of NCEA is totally flawed. Teaching students to learn to a matrix doesn’t encourage them to actually learn, but to simply meet thresholds. NCEA also has very low standards of gaining numeracy and literacy, which translates VERY POORLY into university. Some students struggled with writing reports of 15 pages or essays of 3,000 words, which is often what’s required in a first year paper with no preparation or help. The other issue I’ve found is time management, and NCEA doesn’t encourage students to develop good study habits and look for extending themselves academically. As a tutor, it was SO HARD to get students to even open a textbook - why is this? Why don’t students want to learn more? Or just read for enjoyment? Are the uni papers seamingly easy? (They’re not, I gave out lots of Ds and C-s.) So why don’t students have a drive in them to learn and achieve and enjoy the learning process?


I agree with @a.tapper on this! I have found that the NZQA system lacks the ability to create academic motivation, drive or even sometimes engage students.

I went to a school where both NCEA and IB were offered. More often than not my peers doing NCEA, were often complaining about going to class, doing homework or completing assignments. They were simply going through the motions, knowing that they could do bare minimum and pass, sometimes even pass well! They had all chosen subjects, so surely they would have enjoyed what they were doing in class? I’m sure this was the case for a small minority who were genuinely interested in what they were learning. But isn’t it the responsibility of a examinations programme, more than just exams? Where is the enthusiasm and encouragement for learning?

On a personal note:

When I started my first year at Auckland University, I was beyond excited. This was until I sat in the first of each of my Stage 1 lectures. Each one of my 4 lecturers, felt the need to make comments such as ‘this isn’t NCEA, you don’t get second chances’ and even ‘what you learnt in NCEA, is not going to help you’.

Following this, I distinctly remember how offended I was that I then had to attend a compulsory tutorial on researching using the library website and learning how to reference. I asked the lecturer what the point of this was, she said, and I quote “NCEA doesn’t develop these skills sufficiently enough for the standard we expect”. My reply to her was, “well what if you didn’t do NCEA…”. Her and the departments reasoning was the couldn’t single out NCEA students, thus making everyone do the tutorial.