A kid born into a stable, affluent family with professional parents has better life chances, on average, than most. But there are more than enough success stories of kids born into working-class families who made it big in the professions or in business to pour cold water over the deterministic assertion that birth is all that matters, particularly in countries such as NZ which many early European migrants went to precisely to get away from the restrictive social class structure of the ‘old country’.
The State’s role in meritocracy is the provision of equality of opportunity – the proverbial ‘level playing field’. The phrase ‘equality of opportunity’ has, like many, been hijacked by the social engineering clique and redefined so as to focus on outcomes for arbitrarily defined ‘groups’, but to us non-lefties it continues to mean treating people as individuals equally, without regard to whatever ‘group’ they belong to. In the all-important context of education, it translates into a ‘blind’ assessment and evaluation process at critical junctures such as the transition from school to university. This in turn brings in the importance of external examination systems – examinations that are devised, administered and processed by bodies outside the schools themselves. The tradition of having such exams leading to school exit qualifications began with the reforms of French education in the early 19th century that brought in the modern Baccalauréat in 1808. The British matriculation examination system kicked off 50 years later. In both countries’ systems, an important function of these terminating examinations was the alignment of upper secondary education with university. Later, with the advent of mass schooling, external exams were also introduced at the primary to secondary, and the lower to upper secondary, junctures. The global dissemination of the French and British education systems during the colonial era saw a proliferation of external exam systems. Over time, the exams at the lower points were dispensed with or, as transition rates to higher levels of schooling increased, weakened as filtration exams. But the ‘big one’ at the end of secondary schooling has remained a milestone in many young people’s lives, be it the French ‘Bac’, the English A-Levels, the Australian HSC or the Iranian ‘Konkur’, all the more so with increasing transition rates to tertiary education and ever hotter competition for admission to competitive-entry programmes especially at the university level.