Students still left with several graduation-related questions

High school graduates.
High school graduates. Source: Martin Dremljuga/ERR

Last Thursday, the government approved of the Ministry of Education and Research's plan to begin gradually reopening schools beginning May 15 if the coronavirus outbreak has begun to subside. It was decided to cancel all basic school final exams, and that graduating high school seniors would sit two state exams. ETV's "Aktuaalne kaamera. Nädal" spoke with graduating students about their concerns.

Under normal circumstances, high school seniors set to graduate this year would have been gearing up to write their final essay in a week's time. Until just a few days ago, however, 12th graders weren't even sure under what circumstances they would be graduating at all due to the coronavirus-induced emergency situation.

"Sometimes just not knowing is the most difficult aspect for a student," said Hugo Treffner High School senior Jass Reemann. "The emergency situation has sparked a lot of questions: are exams being held, when are they being held, should we prepare, and if so, to what extent? There are so many questions I'd like answers to as soon as possible."

Just a few hours after "Aktuaalne kaamera" spoke with Reemann, the government decided that should the coronavirus outbreak subside, state exams must still be taken at the end of May and beginning of June. Some high school seniors have noted that now they have more time to focus on preparing.

Internships compromised

While students can prepare for state exams via distance learning and at home, vocational students, meanwhile, such as carpenters and cooks, still have to complete internships to earn their professional certificates.

"I'm currently studying to become a cook, and my internship should involve me going to a hotel or restaurant, where I could complete my internship as a cook," said Ranno Kähr, a student at Tartu Vocational Education Center. "Thankfully I already have a place to go; I will go back to my old job, where I can get this done, but those who don't have [somewhere to go] should be looking. But since we currently have this situation, it's difficult to find jobs or businesses where you can complete your cook's internship, since products aren't really being bought."

According to Kähr, several of his own coursemates don't have a definite place to go complete their internship, and if dining establishments or hair salons, for example, are closed, then vocational students won't have the chance to complete their internships after all.

Tartu Vocational Education Center has currently extended its term by two weeks in hopes that all of its students will nonetheless be able to complete their required internships. In addition to state exams, Kähr must also take a professional exam as well.

"The plan was to take it on June 9 or 10, but this will probably be postponed," he said. "Maybe. I don't know. I'll try to get by somehow."

Internships are important for graduating university students as well, such as medical school students.

"The primary year six requirement is completing an internship, which in recent weeks, beginning with when the emergency situation was implemented, has already been a bit difficult in some departments," said Marge Vaikjärv, a sixth-year med school student at the University of Tartu (TÜ). "As inpatient treatment is suspended, that is still impacting some departments. Moreso in surgery; the students in the ER are probably having an even more interesting time. But the Dean's Office has compromised when it comes to our internship logs and internship requirements. Minimal concessions, but it has compromised."

Many med school students' regular internships have been suspended and they have been redirected to intern at emergency medicine departments instead. All med school students, however, still have to study for their final exam.

"The latest announcement was that the final exam is still taking place on the exact date originally planned — on June 2," Vaikjärv said. "But that means that the emergency situation must have ended by then, in order for us to be able to take the exam at all."

High school admissions exams still up in air

Around the same time that med school students are expected to take their final exam is when basic schools were supposed to have their own exams for graduating 9th graders. Basic school exams, however, have been canceled altogether.

"I even had reminders set in my phone to study biology and physics," said Kristin Tõnisson, a 9th grader at Tartu Mart Reinik School. "I just saw yesterday that I don't need them anymore and I deleted the reminders. To be honest, I'm more stressed about [high school] admissions exams; they are the most important thing to me. This will define my broader future. I wasn't as worried about [basic school] exams, because I knew I'd have time to study for them after my entrance exams, but now everything is unclear."

It is precisely high school admissions exams that have 9th graders concerned.

In Tallinn and Tartu, for example, several high schools organize joint admissions exams, based upon which graduating 9th graders are divided up between high schools and various fields of study. The only thing that is for certain right now, however, is that admissions exams will not take place before May 15.

"In joint admissions exams, we will only have to do Estonian and math exams; we won't need to do natural sciences or English anymore," explained Elora, a 9th grader at Tartu Variku School. "In some ways that may even be easier then. There will probably be a bigger emphasis on the interview."

Graduation does not only mean admission and final exams, however; for many, it is a milestone that marks the end of a chapter of one's life, which is usually celebrated by family and friends gathering at the school to congratulate the graduate. This year, however, the schoolyards will remain empty.


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Editor: Aili Vahtla

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