Unlocking academic potential in a holistic education environment
If you had told my 15-year-old self the young adult she would become today, I wouldn't have believed you.
In early 2020, I came from Hong Kong to Wellington, New Zealand as a wide-eyed, self-conscious teenage girl. Three years later, I departed the city as a worldly and confident young woman who has won multiple selective awards, been featured in national newspapers and magazines, worked a software engineering internship right out of high school, and would soon be attending a top university with hundreds of thousands of scholarship money.
So, how did all this happen? How has the “coolest little capital in the world” enabled me, and thousands of other international students, to flourish and reach our full potential?
In my opinion, it comes down to three prominent qualities: quality education, multiculturalism, and youth-centrism. And here I want to talk specifically about quality education.
At Wellington Girls’ College, my alma mater, we study towards the NCEA (National Certificate of Educational Achievement) qualification, which is New Zealand's main secondary school qualification for students in Years 11-13.
In my opinion, the NCEA curriculum strikes a great balance between theoretical knowledge and practical application. As high school students, we have the opportunity to work on projects that simulate real-world scenarios after building a solid theoretical foundation.
For instance, in Media Studies, we first studied effective advertising through analysing successful commercials. We then moved on to producing our own advertisement from scratch. From storyboarding, scriptwriting, shooting to editing, I gained hands-on experience in the television commercial production process. At the end of the year, my demo advertisement for V Energy drinks helped me earn the first-in-class award for Media Studies!
Another example is Digital Technologies, which reinforced my aspiration to pursue a career in the technology sector. Not only did I master foundational programming concepts, like Object-Oriented Programming (OOP) and Data Structures, but I also learnt popular project management methodologies, such as agile methodologies and kanban. After learning the theories, we learnt to apply them to our own projects, using in-demand programming languages, including HTML, CSS, Python, and Java. This early exposure to real-world applications gave me a sneak peek into the various roles within a software development team, cementing my passion for the field and allowing me to plan ahead.
While I found the core curriculum relatively manageable, I never lacked the chance to seek challenges. For instance, I completed Level 3 Calculus a year ahead of schedule and was fully sponsored by my school to enrol in the AIMS (Advancing in Mathematical Sciences) STAR course at the University of Canterbury. By the end of the first semester, I had earned an A+ and gained university credits.
Another challenge I took on was "Scholarship exams", which are designed for high-achieving Kiwi students to showcase their academic abilities beyond the expectations set by NCEA. In Year 13, I enrolled in a Scholarship Statistics class offered by my high school and was thrilled to win a $500 scholarship awarded to the top 3% of students nationwide.
In addition to the wealth of opportunities, the New Zealand learning culture has fostered my growth to be a confident and independent learner. What struck me the most when I first enrolled at Wellington Girls’ was the level of student engagement and enthusiasm. Back in my old school, it was common for students to collectively avoid eye contact with the teacher, hoping not to be called upon to answer a question. In New Zealand, however, many students would eagerly raise their hands, vying for the opportunity to share their thoughts. In an inquiry-based learning model, there truly is a “no stupid question” (and “no stupid answer” for that matter) belief in the classroom. It was an environment where I felt comfortable voicing my opinions and ideas.
All in all, the hands-on curriculum, plenitude of academic opportunities, and interactive learning environment have brought the best out of me. During my final year at school, I received a number of academic awards, including the first-in-class award in Digital Technologies and distinction awards in Statistics, Physics, and English. Additionally, I was recognised as the top all-rounder in my graduating class, a testament to the growth I underwent with the comprehensive education I received at Wellington Girls’ College.
About the contributors
Born in Hong Kong, polished in New Zealand, Jasmine is an innovator, avid learner, adrenaline junkie, and woman in STEM. Follow her journey as she pursues a Computer Science education with the vision to solve tomorrow's problems through technology.