An outsider's take: A case study of the New Zealand Qualifications Authority to theorize the need for change towards a qualifications framework for the organization of the Eastern Caribbean States
Frederick, R. (2005). An outsider’s take: A case study of the New Zealand Qualifications Authority to theorize the need for change towards a qualifications framework for the organization of the Eastern Caribbean States (Thesis, Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)). The University of Waikato, Hamilton, New Zealand. Retrieved from https://hdl.handle.net/10289/12889
Permanent Research Commons link: https://hdl.handle.net/10289/12889
This thesis has set out to theorize the need for change towards a qualifications framework for the Organization of the Eastern Caribbean States (OECS) based on a qualitative case study of the unique experience of the New Zealand Qualifications Authority (NZQA). The main role of the qualifications systems of the OECS is that of sifting, sorting and selecting its citizens into the 'best' and the 'rest' for life chances. To fulfil this summative role, it marginalizes and condemns a large proportion of learners to relative failure, as is substantiated in the less than 5 per cent of the 18 to 30 age group enrolled in higher education. Driven by the exigencies of a global world such as the discourse of managerialism, the OECS' quest for international competitiveness and economic advantage based on a qualified and skilled workforce makes a compelling case for this research on changing its qualifications system. Notably, however, qualifications are seen as a means to an end and not an end in themselves; and undoubtedly it is the learning that creates the distinction and not the qualifications (Smithers, 1997). Hence, assuring the quality of learning and assessment is part of the role of qualifications frameworks. Arguing therefore that underlying the need for change and the nature of the change in qualifications systems are two loose groupings of discourses, namely managerialism and education theory of learning and assessment, this thesis undertakes a theoretical exploration of these two discourses. It is demonstrated that both discourses were influential in driving the need for change and the establishment of the NZQA; and that both discourses have tendencies to inform change in the qualifications system of the OECS. Case study findings affirm too, that although the discourses are surgically separated at the theoretical level, they are inextricably linked at the implementation level; and that neither the discourse of managerialism nor the discourse of education theory of learning and assessment in isolation provides a blueprint for informing change and the nature of the change in qualifications systems. Any attempt to sever the two discourses in the analysis of qualifications frameworks therefore tends to weaken explanations of the role of qualifications frameworks. The dominant discourse which drives the need for change and the nature of the change, however, is that of managerialism derived mainly from scientific management and economic models. The discourse of learning and assessment, as an education discourse, has receded into the background. Consequently, the need for a better balance, between the discourses of managerialism and education theory of learning and assessment than presently exists is suggested. An empirical outcome is derived through a qualitative case study of the successes and challenges of the NZQA in translating its legislative mandate into practice. Within the epistemology of the social construction of reality and the qualitative interpretive paradigm, grounded theory methodology is used to derive discursive themes. Key themes of the two discourses and the extent to which they manifest in the establishment and the nature of change in the case of the NZQA are investigated. Views of OECS participants regarding the influences and deterrents to change (in the OECS) were also sought to elucidate the theorizing. Multiple methods of document analysis, attachment and the interview were employed to elicit meanings, and crystallize evidence. Altogether 38 participants selected through network (snowballing) sampling provided data for the study. In theory, the NZQA has fulfilled its legislative mandate. At the implementation level, findings revealed that the NZQA in itself is a learning organization, which is evolving in its role. Changes have had to be made and continue to be made to meet the complexity of the certainty of change, which also encompasses the demands of varied stakeholders - chief among whom are educationists. The NZQA has made changes. These changes point to a unified system within which there is a 'dual structure' - a national qualifications framework (with eight levels) alongside a Register of Quality Assured Qualifications (with ten levels) - each with different building blocks, namely standards (unit and achievement), and outcomes, respectively. There are lessons to be drawn from the NZQA experience. In establishing the need for change in the OECS qualifications system, it can be concluded that the reasons for change in the qualifications system of the OECS, a developing sub-region with a population of 500 OOO, are not very different from the reasons why New Zealand, a developed country with a population of about four million, pursued this end. The New Zealand experience is widely applicable to the OECS, and there are critical aspects from the New Zealand experience which can be adapted to suit any change towards an OECS qualifications framework. Drawing from the experience of the NZQA, and the drivers and deterrents identified in the context of the OECS, an all-inclusive framework appears to offer the best solution for the OECS. While modifications and adaptations are necessary as a consequence of eccentricities of context, one coordinating council with different departments with precise roles is a theoretical and practical strategy for interfacing the discourses of managerialism and education theory of learning and assessment; and for addressing theoretical issues such as the principles of difference in epistemologies of knowledge. An all-inclusive framework, which takes into consideration vertical and lateral learning, appears to provide the only solution to momentarily avoid potential pitfalls, while allowing for regulation, monitoring, flexibility, portability of qualifications, accreditation and international benchmarking. It has been clearly demonstrated, however, that each assessment approach has its advantages. Therefore, the OECS should utilize a mix of assessment approaches (internal/external; criterion/norm; unit and achievement standards) depending on the purpose of assessment, instead of applying a carte blanche approach to all learning and assessment. Two of the key deterrents in the OECS context were seen as being the lack of political will and resources. As regards qualifications frameworks in general, the major dilemma tends to be the need for levels and comparability of different fields of learning, and the implications of theory such as the epistemologies of knowledge and the arbitrariness in deciding on levels, credits, equivalencies and comparability. These issues have not been identified as being dominant in the critiques of the NZQA (with the exception of NZVCC, 1994). Rather, interview data in the New Zealand context pointed to difficulty by educators in making the paradigm shift to considering demands of the discourse of Managerialism. Also from participants' viewpoints, it was believed that tensions arose because a seamless framework appeared to challenge non-egalitarian principles through the democratization of qualifications, widening access, enhancing participation and providing recognition (certification) for all learning. It was a question of only the 'right' people (doctors, nurses, pilots, for example) should be recognized for their achievements. This research provides a platform for change in the OECS qualifications system. Future areas of research identified include the need for an investigation into the cost (social and economic) of the present OECS qualifications system. Research is needed into the 'right' mix of assessment approaches (norm / criterion; internal / external; unit standards / achievement standards, for example) in awarding qualifications. Also, in a germane sense of quality, how can qualifications be developed to reflect the changing trends in societies and the new developments in learning and assessment such as Information Communications Technologies and non-site based learning? How can qualifications be indicators of learning to learn, dispositions towards learning and the recognition of collaborative or shared learning? All these developments and trends present new challenges to the traditional conceptualizations of reliability and validity of assessment or what Black (1998) refers to as having "confidence in the results" (p. 37). Such issues are still left unresolved in the development of qualifications frameworks. Research on these issues is needed so as to inform the operational principles of qualifications frameworks such as the way in which qualifications are valued and awarded.
The University of Waikato
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