‘Frightening’: Year 13 students blame exam rather than admitting failure

Opinion 17/11/2018
Photo: Getty.

By Rodney Hide, former ACT Party leader.

OPINION: It’s disturbing that a significant number of Year 13 students, at ages 17 and 18, don’t know the word ‘trivial’.

It’s not a big word, a difficult word, nor an uncommon word. It’s a word that I would have thought any student at school a few years would know. Turns out, that’s not the case.

The word ‘trivial’ has completely flummoxed some Year 13 students sitting their NZQA Level 3 History examination. They were asked to analyse an historical event against Julius Caesar’s statement, “events of importance are the result of trivial causes”.

They see the failure as not theirs but with those who set the exam.

According to one student, half his class didn’t know what the word meant. They can’t be reading much.

I would have thought Year 13 students not knowing the word 'trivial' would be embarrassed and ashamed. But no. They’re angry. They’re victims. They have suffered. The use of the word discriminated against them.

They see the failure as not theirs but with those who set the exam.

Chairman of the New Zealand History Teachers' Association, Graeme Ball, agrees. He called the exam a "little bit of a snafu" on the part of NZQA. He said exams should use language “accessible to all”.

Goodness me. I knew education has been dumbed down but I didn’t know high school exams had to use Jack-and-Jill words. I also didn’t think teachers would use the acronym snafu in print.

It’s unbelievable that the students in significant numbers don’t know the word ‘trivial’. It’s frightening that they don’t think the fault lies with them but with the exam. It’s the exam that is wrong. Their teachers back them. As expected, as students are now taught to, they took political action.

Students launched an online petition in order for “the Government to recognize the true potential of the students” and to “mark the essay based on the student's own content and understanding of the event”.

A whopping 2,600 students have signed, with the petition organiser John Anonymous declaring victory. “Attention all supporters. NZQA has proclaimed that misinterpretations will not be failed or marked down! We have won. Good Luck to all,” the petition organiser wrote on Thursday.

So apparently, everyone's a winner.

The students don’t lack for self-esteem. Hey, they’re not dumb. The exam was just stupidly hard. And while I am not sure they will be able to embark on anything useful, they sure do have a future in public relations and politics.

Oops. I might have messed that exam up. Didn’t know the word trivial. I know. Let’s start a petition. Let’s get this stuff in the news. Let’s get Government to lower the bar. And they did.

These students might not know much but do they know how to stick up for themselves and how to run a political campaign.

It was not so long ago that high school students were reading Caesar’s commentaries. In Latin. And answering exam questions on them. In Latin. Students back then were at school, learning. Not organising petitions.

This week the teachers were on strike. They want better pay, better conditions. I think they’re lucky they’re not paid on results. Going by the Year 13’s performance, they are lucky to be paid.

Rodney Hide speaks all things politics every Saturday on RadioLIVE’s Weekend Life.