NZQA accused of 'brainwashing' over 'anti-farmer' question in English exam

The NZQA is being accused of "brainwashing", "state-sponsored bullying" and "anti-farmer narratives" over a text used in the NZQA English Level 3 exam.

Students sitting the test were asked to read an article by Kennedy Warne about water quality and the tension between farming and environmentalism, then analyse the linguistic methods used by Warne to explore change. 

"An upwelling of public dismay has emerged over the parlous state of freshwater, particularly the pollution of favourite swimming holes," Warne wrote in the article, published in the NZ Geographic.

"Almost two-thirds of respondents regarded farming as the main culprit - more than double the number who held that view when the same survey was conducted in 2000."

But the use of the text has drawn anger from the political right, who are accusing NZQA of "painting a one-sided picture of New Zealand's farmers".

"There is a concern our kids are being convinced that farming drives environmental degradation," National's Agriculture spokesperson Todd Muller said in press release on Sunday.

"Farmers' confidence is at all-time lows, and this just adds to the pressure that is being heaped onto them by Government policy. They feel that anti-farming sentiment is becoming insidious in this country."

National MP Amy Adams, who represents the South Island's Selwyn electorate, went even further.

"This is state-sponsored bullying and brainwashing on a massive scale. No wonder farmers feel under attack in their own country," she tweeted.

"I am getting more reports from kids that the NZQA English Level 3 exam has a lot of anti-farmer narratives in their questions," added New Conservative deputy leader Elliot Ikilei on Twitter.

"Do your job and teach. Don't indoctrinate."

The use of the article is also being defended, with Kiwis pointing out the question asks students to explore how Warne used language to create impact, not respond to the accuracy of the article.

Year 13 student and 2019 Youth MP James Macey, who shared the text online, wrote he thought it was fine.

"It is more of a comment on the difficulties faced with trying to maintain NZ as a farming nation and a 'clean, green' nation simultaneously," he wrote on Twitter.

"The exam in general focuses on how authors get their point across, not the point they are trying to make."

"The consternation is over the Unfamiliar Texts exam, AS91474, which is an exam which tests your ability to critically analyse literary features. The prose which in this case was an article, is kept secret to the student until they open the exam paper," another person tweeted.

"The point of it is to be able to see if you can read a piece of writing and critique how someone has used, e.g. rhetorical consistency, to try to persuade someone. The whole exercise is for the student to think critically about the way someone has used literary devices."

"It's not about the substance of the article itself. That's why in this @jamescmacey's resource booklet, every annotation is about how the author has used things like allusion or extended metaphors. Not about the article topic itself."