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 life-threatening, 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 re-entry 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.