Eliminating human error

Dr Michael Johnston
Insights Newsletter
17 November, 2023

When it comes to the annual NCEA exam round, no news is good news. News about exams almost always signals that something has gone wrong. Unfortunately for NZQA, the exam round was in the news last week.  

Students were locked out of an online English exam when too many tried to log in at once. NZQA said it prevented students from logging in when its technicians noticed that “the system slowed.” For those unfamiliar with public service patois, that means it had ground to a complete halt. 

Students who were locked out were instructed to complete the exam on paper instead. Unfortunately, paper copies had not been provided to schools. Teachers had to scramble to print them. 

We should cut NZQA some slack here. It’s not as if they knew in advance how many students were entered for the exam, or that they’d all try to log in at exactly the time NZQA had scheduled.  

Some might think we should revert to pen-and-paper exams to avoid occurrences like this. Instead, I think we should take the use of technology in exam delivery even further. Online exams are a good start, but if we embrace Artificial Intelligence (AI), NZQA can eliminate human error and keep the exams out of the news. 

An obvious move would be to have AI set the exams. AI bots are future focused. They know which of their hallucinations students need to know about. And if AI also marked the exams, we could avoid confusing human markers with any AI-generated ‘alternative facts.’ 

But the real game-changing improvement will come when, instead of students, AI bots sit the exams.  

Luddites might object that, if students don’t have to sit exams, they won’t bother learning anything – but that argument misses the point. In this brave new world of AI, students don’t need to learn. Anything a human being can do, AI can do better. 

In the future, our schools will be populated entirely by AI bots. AI teachers will prepare AI students for exams set, sat and marked by AI. Human error will be gone – not only from the exam round, but from the entire education system. 

That will free young New Zealanders to spend their time gaming, watching internet porn, bullying one another on social media and participating in ram raids. 

On reflection, maybe a certain amount of human error isn’t such a bad thing after all. 

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