German students demand retake of English exam due to Prince Harry’s ‘incomprehensible mumbling’
Tens of thousands of Germans have signed a petition calling on the education authorities of the western German state of North Rhine Westphalia to allow high school students retake their final exam in English – an audio component which many of them called a “catastrophe.”
May 18, some 100,000 tenth grade students in North Rhine Westphalia took an upper school leaving examination that makes up to 50 percent of their final mark in English and may eventually determine whether they are allowed to continue their education and go to a university.
However, this time, many high school students found some parts of the exam incredibly difficult. Many of them particularly complained about the task that involved listening to a speech of Prince Harry that was so “mumbled” that they literally could not “understand a word” of it.
Another task involved listening to a speech of a South African singer, Miriam Makeba, which had background music that, along with the singer’s “specific African slang,” made her speech extremely difficult to understand as well, the German Der Spiegel weekly reports.
However, students were not the only ones who found the speeches in the exam listening tasks indecipherable as many teachers were also unsatisfied with the exam.
“It was too difficult, it was beyond what you could have expected,” Brigitte Balbach, the head of the regional teachers’ association, Lehrer NRW, told the German media.
“[English] teachers, even native speakers, reported back that they themselves had big problems in understanding and solving the listening exercise,” she added.
Prince Harry's speech was delivered in 2015 when he opened two care homes for children in the Southern African country of Lesotho, according to the regional HNA media outlet.
Students also complained about the fact that the vocabulary and some of the topics which featured in the exam were not covered in the school curriculum. According to some accounts, the exam involved vocabulary tasks in which they had to choose between words, most of which were “completely unknown” to them.
An abundance of “incomprehensible” words in the texts featured in the exam also reportedly prevented students from fulfilling the tasks based on understanding those texts.
One of the students, Dario Schramm, launched an online petition on the day of the exam, calling on the regional education authorities to allow all tenth graders in North Rhine Westphalia to retake the English exam.
“I believe it is very important that students in all of NRW [North Rhine Westphalia] are given [an opportunity to take] a central final exam that is feasible,” Schramm wrote in the petition.
The petition has been signed by more than 44,000 people in four days. It was also supported by the Lehrer NRW teachers’ association and received the backing of some regional MPs.
“The fact that the final exam in English provoked such a tremendous response not only from pupils but also from teachers shows that there are apparently serious problems in this case,” Christina Schulze Foeking, a regional lawmaker from German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union party, said. She expressed her support for the petition, adding that she would advocate a public hearing of this issue in the regional parliament’s committee of experts.
“Now, I expect that the [regional education] ministry responds to these allegations… which are very serious due to the number of complaints alone,” she added.
The petition was also supported by two regional MPs from the Social Democratic Party, one of whom said he received “numerous complaints” about the matter from students and their parents and asked the regional education minister to “look into the issue.”
Balbach said she would raise the issue at a meeting of the regional teachers’ representation council in Dusseldorf. She also said that tests that lack practical relevance and do not correspond to the curriculum should not ruin students’ final grades. She also demanded a response from the government and said that the problem should not be passed on to teachers.
However, not all teachers’ associations supported the idea of allowing the students to retake the exam.
“It would mean double stress for school kids,” Udo Beckmann, the chairman of the local VBE teachers’ association said, as cited by Der Spiegel.
He said that it would be better to first wait for the results of the exam and then correct the grades “accordingly.”
“If the tests in fact turn out to be as bad as people fear, we advise that the evaluation grades be re-assigned to reflect reasonable and fair performances by the students,” Beckmann said.