Cherie Howie

Cherie Howie is a reporter for the Herald on Sunday.

Photo recall: See that - it's a flying pass

Tomorrow morning, more than 46,000 students are due to sit the first major NCEA examination, Level 1 English. About this time in 1990, a canny grandmother was sitting School Cert, as it was known, just to keep her brain ticking over.

67-year old Hamilton grandmother Cath Dawson expressing delight after finding out her results for math - a B1 grade pass. Photo / NZ Herald, Picture Researcher: Emma Land
67-year old Hamilton grandmother Cath Dawson expressing delight after finding out her results for math - a B1 grade pass. Photo / NZ Herald, Picture Researcher: Emma Land

The phone rang at 6am. Then it rang again. And again.

That's how Hamilton great-grandmother Cath Dawson remembers the day 21 years ago when the New Zealand Herald ran a photo of the then-67-year-old gleefully holding her School Certificate results in the air.

"Within about a minute of it being in the paper the phone started ringing. I got the first phone call about 6am and it went on all day."

Worried about a repeat performance today, she is making other plans.

"I better go out, the phone will be ringing all day again I expect."

Dawson, now 89, has fond memories of the three years she spent studying high school maths by correspondence, culminating in the B1 grade School Certificate pass.

She also studied French and embroidery.

"I just did it for fun; I always liked figures. My family thought I was crazy but I just wanted to see if I could do it."

And do it she could.

No wonder, Dawson was a bit of an ace in the classroom as a youngster in her native Scotland. Plus, after raising two children she knew how to knuckle down and get on with it.

As a child her results always topped 80 per cent, and her good grades continued before the School Certificate exam.

Unfortunately, nerves got the better of her in the exam and although happy to pass, she had expected higher marks, Dawson said.

"I wasn't even going to sit the exam, I was so petrified. But everyone said I should, so I did."

The nerves continued as she waited for the postie to arrive the day the results were due, she said.

"I was waiting and waiting for the post that day, I was very nervous."

It was to be the end of her formal studies, and no she didn't - formally, at least - do anything with the skills she learned.

But they were still useful in everyday life. Even now, she says her French vocabulary gives her an edge in the daily crossword.

"I didn't use it to do anything, just to keep my mind active."

Her thoughts are with the 143,000 Kiwi school students embarking on end-of-year NCEA exams, which began on Friday.

"My advice to them would just be to keep cool. But, then again, young people have got so much more confidence nowadays so I'm sure they will be fine."

- Herald on Sunday

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