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Speaking up . . . Young people should be unapologetic about speaking up about the issues that affect them directly, Ethan Reille (17) says.

Covid-19 lockdowns have been hugely disruptive for secondary school pupils across the country over the past two years.

Although this year’s lockdown was shorter than the six-week-long lockdown of 2020, it fell later in the year and uncomfortably close to the exam period.

To alleviate pressure, the New Zealand Qualifications Authority (NZQA) announced it would push NCEA exams back two weeks from the usual start date.

But Waitaki Youth Council chairman Ethan Reille said this would prolong the stress felt during exams, and was particularly problematic for year 13 pupils, many of whom had secured employment for the summer and needed to save money for university.

The 17-year-old Waitaki Boys’ High School pupil was unhappy the decision had been made with little to no consultation with young people.

Rather than sitting around complaining, the Waitaki Youth Council decided to do something about it and ran a survey to determine what Waitaki’s youth population wanted.

The majority of the 357 secondary school pupils who responded, did not support the exam extension, citing mental health as their main concern.

The youth council wrote to the NZQA, the Ministry of Education, and Education Minister Chris Hipkins, asking for a lowering of the required University Entrance credits and credits needed to pass each NCEA level – the latter being done following last year’s lockdown.

Simultaneously, other youth councils across the country raised concerns and it quickly became a national discussion, Ethan speaking on behalf of young people across the country on national news channels.

The council received a response from the NZQA, and the Ministry of Education announced the re-establishment of learning recognition credits, granting pupils one extra credit for every five achieved.

Ethan said everyone wanted the same outcome to achieve well with as little stress as possible.

It was “awesome to see young voices being heard”, but because it was so late in the year, many pupils had completed all of their internal credits and did not qualify, Ethan said.

But he was relieved in the fact the changes would help some pupils.

It was important for pupils to be unapologetic when speaking up, especially about issues that affected them directly, otherwise change would not happen, he said.