Triv­ial pur­suits

The Northland Age - - Opinion - By Peter Jack­son

Those who fear young New Zealan­ders aren’t get­ting the ed­u­ca­tion their par­ents did, will not take heart from the NZQA’s as­sur­ance that NCEA Level 3 his­tory stu­dents who don’t know the mean­ing of the word ‘triv­ial’ will not lose marks in this year’s fi­nal exam.

The NZ His­tory Teach­ers’ As­so­ci­a­tion had no trou­ble, it seems, per­suad­ing the NZQA that can­di­dates did not need to know what the word means to an­swer the ques­tion, and should not be pe­nalised for not do­ing so.

These stu­dents have al­ready qual­i­fied for en­trance to univer­sity, giv­ing them the right to pur­sue the ter­tiary cour­ses of their choice. They might well be the next gen­er­a­tion of doc­tors, lawyers, engi­neers, and God for­bid, teach­ers. They are sit­ting this year’s ex­ams in the hope of ac­quir­ing what used to be called bur­saries. Is it too much to ex­pect them to have a bet­ter un­der­stand­ing of the English lan­guage than some do?

The NZQA’s view is that ex­pound­ing upon the Julius Cae­sar quote, ‘In war, events of im­por­tance are the re­sult of triv­ial causes,’ did not re­quire them to un­der­stand what he was say­ing. It was less about com­pre­hen­sion, it seems, than about a stu­dent’s abil­ity to present an ar­gu­ment and anal­y­sis, us­ing their own def­i­ni­tion of the word.

How they might of­fer a co­gent ar­gu­ment and anal­y­sis with­out un­der­stand­ing the quote de­fies all ex­pla­na­tion. And it must be a worry that teenagers un­der­tak­ing the last act of their sec­ondary school ed­u­ca­tion not only don’t un­der­stand what should be a rea­son­ably fa­mil­iar word, but are en­ti­tled to exam marks based on an ar­gu­ment that must have missed the point.

The His­tory Teach­ers’ As­so­ci­a­tion’s view was that what might be com­mon knowl­edge to older folk is not nec­es­sar­ily com­mon knowl­edge to the younger gen­er­a­tion. Young peo­ple, for ex­am­ple, might well have knowl­edge per­tain­ing to the mod­ern age, like pop­u­lar mu­sic, than their par­ents do. Fair enough, but one would have thought that any Year 13 stu­dent who be­lieves ‘triv­ial’ means im­por­tant has no right to ex­pect marks in a bur­sary exam.

Once again we seem to have low­ered the bench­mark so kids who are woe­fully un­pre­pared for ex­am­i­na­tion on the level they have reached, by what­ever means, are not pe­nalised for their fun­da­men­tal lack of knowl­edge. Hardly ideal prepa­ra­tion for univer­sity, let alone the real world that they will one day en­counter.

Even less pre­pared will be those stu­dents who, we were told last week (up to 30 per cent at some schools, ap­par­ently), who need some­one to read their NCEA exam pa­pers to them then write the an­swers for them. Ed­u­ca­tion has be­come all about school pass rates.

Per­haps the his­tory can­di­dates might have been asked to pon­der the burn­ing ques­tion re­gard­ing whether the onion should go on top of or un­der­neath a siz­zled sausage, although that de­bate is less triv­ial in Aus­tralia than it is here. A farmer by the name of Trev ap­par­ently slipped on a piece of sausage siz­zle onion in a Bun­nings store in Aus­tralia, and had a wee word about it with the man­age­ment.

Not sur­pris­ingly, Bun­nings took no­tice. Aus­tralia doesn’t have ACC, which means it is much eas­ier to sue peo­ple for neg­li­gence caus­ing in­jury there than it is here. That doesn’t ex­plain why Bun­nings in this coun­try is also is­su­ing guide­lines for the con­struc­tion of a siz­zled sausage, but it has cer­tainly cap­tured some peo­ple’s imag­i­na­tion.

One sup­poses that the sausage tastes the same whether the onion is on top or bot­tom, the real is­sue be­ing how far some peo­ple are pre­pared to go to tell rest of us how to live our lives. The news was fol­lowed, in­evitably, how­ever, by ACC data claim­ing that quite a few of us man­age to in­jure our­selves as the re­sult of close con­tact with an onion. Most of those in­juries are ap­par­ently suf­fered in the act of cut­ting said onions, but slip­ping on a piece care­lessly dropped on the floor is also an is­sue, we are told.

If any­thing was to come of this, and it prob­a­bly won’t, it should be that ACC draws a line un­der what con­sti­tutes an in­jury de­serv­ing of treat­ment on the state. Cut fingers prob­a­bly shouldn’t count, un­less the digit is sev­ered in its en­tirety, and nor should slips that don’t re­sult in sig­nif­i­cant harm.

Ev­ery so of­ten ACC re­leases fig­ures to in­form us of the in­ven­tive ways in which we man­age to hurt our­selves, and what it costs those who pay ACC levies to fix them. If one di­vides the cost of treat­ment by the num­ber of seem­ingly triv­ial claims, some clearly war­rant noth­ing more than a visit to a GP. Ad­min­is­ter­ing the claims prob­a­bly costs much more than re­pair­ing the in­jury.

Next time there is talk of rais­ing levies, per­haps we should have a con­ver­sa­tion re­gard­ing what level of in­jury should be treated on the house. That way there would be more for peo­ple who re­ally need help, and as we hear from time to time can have great dif­fi­culty get­ting it, with­out the need to in­crease levies.

It might also teach some peo­ple that a nick with a kitchen knife is rarely lifethreat­en­ing, and that there should be no need for levy pay­ers to fork out for a piece of stick­ing plas­ter.

Much less triv­ial is the de­ci­sion, fi­nally, to re-en­ter the Pike River mine, although it is as wor­thy of ques­tion­ing as Bun­nings’ onion edict.

The loss of 29 lives eight years ago was a tragedy for the fam­i­lies. No ques­tion. And it can be ar­gued that re­triev­ing the re­mains of the min­ers, and per­haps es­tab­lish­ing ex­actly what hap­pened (and whether any­one should be held re­spon­si­ble for what hap­pened) are good rea­sons for go­ing back.

The eu­pho­ria that greeted last week’s de­ci­sion to re-en­ter the mine is to be ex­pected from those whose loved ones died, and are anx­ious to re­trieve their re­mains for a proper burial. It is dif­fi­cult to un­der­stand why the de­ci­sion is not be­ing ques­tioned though.

Un­less the writer is miss­ing some­thing, this foray will go only as far as the rock­fall that has sealed off the area where the men were work­ing, and where they died. Ro­bots have al­ready given a clear in­di­ca­tion that there is noth­ing to be seen short of the rock­fall.

Again, un­less the writer is miss­ing some­thing, there is al­most cer­tainly noth­ing to be found or learned by the spend­ing of $36 mil­lion, and pos­si­bly more, or more im­por­tantly in rais­ing the hopes of those who have fought so hard for re-en­try for the last eight years.

Some of the fam­i­lies say that they will gain some de­gree of peace even if the reen­try pro­vides no re­mains or new in­for­ma­tion. That, com­ing from them, may be un­der­stand­able, but from those who are cheer­ing on the side­lines it is not. For­get the money; this is about en­cour­ag­ing peo­ple to be­lieve that a politi­cian’s cam­paign prom­ise is fi­nally go­ing to an­swer ques­tions they have been ask­ing for eight years.

Cer­tainly Mr Lit­tle is keep­ing an elec­tion prom­ise, and that is no bad thing, but it is an empty prom­ise. As is the un­der­tak­ing from the po­lice that they will be there too, or will train oth­ers to ex­am­ine the drift in their ab­sence, to de­ter­mine whether ev­i­dence can be found for a pros­e­cu­tion.

If the Pike River fam­i­lies — or at least those who have not ac­cepted long ago that the mine would be their loved ones’ last rest­ing place — can find some so­lace in what is about to hap­pen, then that is a good thing. But it is dif­fi­cult not to see this op­er­a­tion as a cha­rade. With­out, one sus­pects, Win­ston Peters lead­ing the way, de­spite the cam­paign prom­ise he made.

"Once again we seem to have low­ered the bench­mark so kids who are woe­fully un­pre­pared for ex­am­i­na­tion . . . are not pe­nalised for their fun­da­men­tal lack of knowl­edge. "

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