School psychologist: Exam requirements cause undue anxiety for children

Exams. Source: Siim Lõvi/ERR

Over the past two years, simply sitting an end of school exam was enough for children finishing their basic education in Estonian schools to be able to graduate. However, starting this spring the Ministry of Education is reintroducing the previous system, whereby basic school students are required to achieve test scores of 50 percent or more to graduate. School psychologists, along with some teachers believe, this will also bring about unnecessary additional stress for schoolchildren.

In 2020, due to the coronavirus pandemic, there were no final exams at all for children finishing basic school. Over the next two school years however, the basic school final exams were restored, though the need to achieve a score of 50 percent or more in order to graduate was removed.

This meant, that whereas previously it had been necessary for children to pass three exams to graduate from basic school, that was no longer the case.

Last year, the Ministry of Education said, that it planned to continue with this approach, which it had originally taken only on a temporary basis to cope with the disruption caused by the coronavirus pandemic. Now, however, there has been a change of heart.

"This year, the 'normal' exam system will be reinstated, whereby students who fail to reach the 50 percent threshold (in the end of basic school exams) will have to take a follow-up exam," said Ülle Matsin, head of general education policy at the Ministry of Education.

According to Matsin, the ministry had wanted to continue discussions about abolishing the 50 percent threshold for the exams, however there was too much resistance from teachers and other stakeholders, who believe the requirement provides necessary motivation for young people.

However, not all teachers share this view, with many in favor of exam results no longer being a compulsory requirement for graduation.

Mathematics teachers in particular, have often been the ones having to deal with the highest number of students required to take follow-up exams, due to having failed to achieve the required grades first time around.

"Also, because we have inclusive education, not all students may be able to achieve a score of over 50 percent in the exam. And as a result of that, they might not be able to finish basic school, so that again causes more undue stress," said Karl Villem Viss, who teaches mathematics at Variku School in Tartu.

The Estonian Association of School Psychologists (EKPÜ) is also concerned about young people with learning difficulties, whose sense of self-esteem may already be fragile and for whom failure is a source of anxiety rather than motivation.

According to Kaisa Hunt, a psychologist at Tartu's Forseliuse School, requiring children to attain a minimum of 50 percent in their basic school exams to graduate is not justified. Hunt pointed out, that minimum thresholds are already a feature of high school entrance exams, and that students are under a great deal of stress as it is.

"We are getting more and more students, either as a result of the last few years or for other reasons, who are extremely stressed. They're really anxious and very sensitive about their (exam) results," said Hunt.

"And now this new information that something is going to change has already triggered them. It has got to them and they have already started become very anxious about it," she added.


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Editor: Michael Cole

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