Of the almost 9000 Bay of Plenty students taking NCEA exams this month, just one had to cram for tomorrow's Level 1 Latin exam.

Figures from the New Zealand Qualifications Authority showed the least popular subjects in 2018 in the Bay of Plenty were largely foreign languages.

A total of 3043 students entered the Level 1 English exam, compared to just one taking the Level 3 Samoan exam.

In Tauranga there were only 20 German students across all three levels and 40 Japanese students.


Otumoetai College deputy principal Bruce Farthing said languages were influenced by trends.

"Latin, frankly, is a language of the past, taught probably only in one or two schools in New Zealand.

"Second languages come and go in fashion, for a while everyone was learning French, then Japanese. Now the most popular languages are Spanish and Chinese.

"There's a real reluctance of young New Zealanders to learn a second language, they don't see it as important and they don't travel where they require it."

Farthing said exam participation, however, did not necessarily reflect a subject's overall popularity as some subjects were studied internally.

The Ministry of Education's associate deputy secretary of early learning and student achievement Pauline Cleaver said trends in student subject choices were fluid and could change over time.

"Some of the reasons behind these shifts include student interest, employer demands, international trends, teacher workforce changes and tertiary course requirements.

"When we see a significant drop in interest over a short period of time, we'll investigate and provide support where needed."

Cleaver said schools made decisions about which subjects to offer based on things such as teacher expertise and timetabling.

Subjects with low numbers could be offered through correspondence or combining enrolments with another local school.

Bethlehem College deputy principal Tom Jarrett said the school tried to give students as many options as possible, even if it meant small class sizes.

"We're trying to offer a broad range of subjects.

"We're keen to see all subjects do well but we try to continue to offer subjects even if we've only got a few students."

Jarrett said there were many reasons why students took some subjects and not others, including perception, university entrance and media or parental influence.

At Otumoetai College there is a small cohort learning Spanish with 32 students expected to take it at Level 1 next year.

Among them will be Amy Charman-Moore, 15, and Angus Raeburn, 15.

Angus said he had never studied a language before Spanish. He enjoyed it and said it had helped his memory.

"It opens a lot more doors."

Amy said she wasn't surprised by the NZQA figures but she enjoyed the subject.

"It makes us think differently about words and gives us a way to express ourselves differently."

The college's head of languages, Leo Wilson, said learning a language was political as the popularity of languages reflected society.

He said learning another language helped skills such as creativity, memory and empathy, which could help students with other subjects.

Exams began on November 7 and run until November 30.