Removal of basic school final exams causing heated disputes

School classroom.
School classroom. Source: Ken Mürk/ERR

The Ministry of Education and Research's plan to remove basic school final exams and separate the exams from graduating, has caused heated disputes among school leaders and teachers. While most math teachers are in favor of abolishing the threshold, the Estonian mother tongue teachers' association is opposed to the reform.

Prior to the special rules of the exams set due to the coronavirus, a student had to receive at least 50 percent of the points in the final examination in Estonian language, mathematics and electives. Now, the Ministry of Education and Research plans to remove the requirement.

"It is much easier for students, especially during distance learning, it is good for everyone to finish their basic school," Lara Liivak, a 9th-grader at the Forselius School in Tartu said.

"It's a good thing for each student, I still want to hope that most students don't take these exams, but to see how you handle things in a stressful situation," Ellu-Mari Vahter, another 9th-grader at Forselius said.

Opponents of the plan that if the students don't have to receive at least 50 percent at the exam, weaker students will lose their motivation to study at all.

According to the Association of Mother Tongue Teachers, those who do not yet think about their future will be left behind.

"There are enough students who are absolutely not interested in it. They just want to graduate from school and see themselves as English-speaking bloggers. They don't care about the results at all," Estonian teacher in Miina Härma High School Ivika Hein said.

"In my opinion, the plan is going to widen the educational gap even further, that those who are motivated will work and go further and further away, and those who have not thought about their future will simply be left behind," Hein said.

Hein said that she has seen a lot how the requirement of 50 percent has made even the laziest students pull themselves together.

The Ministry of Education is not afraid that the requirement will reduce students' motivation.

"I believe in our students and I don't think our students have such an irresponsible attitude. We have been developing them at school for nine years and our students are certainly don't have such an attitude that this exam is not important," the ministry's General Education Policy Department President Ülle Matsin said.

In the past year of distance learning, basic school exams without the threshold were tested. 59.4 percent of the students got more than 50 percent of the points in the mathematics exam and 88.8 percent in the Estonian language exam. Two years earlier, before the pandemic, the figures were 88.5 and 98.1 percent, respectively.

According to the old rules, 11 percent of students would have failed the Estonian language exam, and more than 40 percent of the students would have passed the mathematics exam.

Before the pandemic, during the mandatory threshold, more students received 50 percent. This is the main reason why math teachers support the removal of the threshold - they have to make more re-examinations if they can be called an exam at all.

"The time for the student to take the post-exam is three days to a week. Now the post-exam that is prepared for the student and that the student has to pass does not correspond to the initial exam," Anneli Nellis, a mathematics teacher at Tartu's Tamme School said.

"Now hope that in this two or three weeks the material will be learned clearly and a qualitatively new level will be reached, it is not worth hoping for," said Jüri Sasi, the director of Forselius School.

However, only a few take the Estonian language exam.

"There is nothing to do here, mathematics is a complicated subject. Also in our school there are more students failing in mathematics every year, failing in Estonian is rare," Anneli Nellis said.

By the end of the basic school exams, most of the children in the city schools have already taken the entrance examinations for upper secondary schools and also received the results. This begs the question, what is the significance of the basic school final examination for the student?

"I think these tests and exams could be put together. So that I can do one thing and not have two things in the spring that create tension. Because it often happens that you do the entrance exams and then the final exams soon after," the ninth-grader Ellu-Marii Vahter said.

For years, it has been debated among the school population why the ninth-graders have to take exams twice - first to get into a high school or vocational school and then to graduate from basic school.

"We are wasting time, money, students', nerves, students' health. Mental health will not improve from these tests. It would be most sensible to combine tests and exams. I hope that the next step will be taken here. That this won't be just half a step," school principal Jüri Sasi said.

However, unlike the elite upper secondary schools in Tartu and Tallinn, some county schools also take into account the results of the final examination for entrants. However, it remains a matter of debate whether the threshold should be set by the upper secondary school or by the state.

"The state shows the clearest lack of interest in what is happening in Estonian education. If someone analyzes these percentages somewhere in the silence of the office, it does not contribute to the teaching of Estonian, mathematics, results," Ivika Hein, an Estonian language teacher said.


Follow ERR News on Facebook and Twitter and never miss an update!

Editor: Roberta Vaino

Hea lugeja, näeme et kasutate vanemat brauseri versiooni või vähelevinud brauserit.

Parema ja terviklikuma kasutajakogemuse tagamiseks soovitame alla laadida uusim versioon mõnest meie toetatud brauserist: