Maths teacher: Threshold to pass basic school math exam should be abolished

A school math workbook.
A school math workbook. Source: Pixabay

Allar Veelmaa, a maths teacher and author of mathematics exam study materials, said that removing the threshold would help in reducing the number of basic school students who fail their final math exams, but more qualified math teachers would also be required.

Veelmaa said that in his opinion this year's basic school mathematics final examination was not harder than in previous years, but even easier.

He said that in recent years students' performance on examinations has been contingent on how well they handled home study during the pandemic period. "In reality, studying freely had a ruinous effect on many students, ended up missing almost an entire academic year."

"However, in the case of the young people who are currently graduating and who passed their basic school exams this year, it would be unfair to hide behind the pandemic, as they were able to attend school regularly."

The threshold should be abolished

Veelmaa said that the problem is mainly with the end-of-school exam threshold, which he thinks should be altogether abolished.

Young people in the upper secondary school, for example, can graduate with little effort, whereas those in the lower secondary school need a score of at least 50 percent to graduate.

"Basic education is mandatory, but at the same time, we are artificially erecting barriers so that a child with a poor exam result cannot finish school, and in this case, the threshold is not only pointless but criminal," Veelmaa said.

"The threshold gives rise to a thing called a make-up exam, and to be honest: if a pupil gets a grade of eight percent on an exam today and takes a make-up exam in three or four days later, is a successful make-up exam realistic — not really."

Veelmaa added that the shortage of mathematics teachers is also a concern.

"The Estonian government has not spent a dime to increase the number of math teachers in schools, and the majority of those studying to become math teachers in Tallinn or Tartu are already employed. So the current university graduates of today and tomorrow will not be increasing the number of teachers," he said.

Evely Kirsiaed, program manager of the master's program in Mathematics and Informatics Teacher Education at the University of Tartu, said that a significant number of students are already employed as teachers.

"The majority of our students are active teachers," she said. "In addition, students from the bachelor's degree in Science and Science Teaching in High Schools are coming to study with us because, despite the name of the program, graduates of this specialization are ineligible to teach until they have earned a master's degree in a teacher education specialization," she explained.

Free education set limits

She explained that the number of free places impacts the number of applicants to master's programs.

"There is a great deal more interest in becoming a teacher, but because the current rules do not permit students to obtain a second master's degree free of charge within six years of their initial enrollment, the majority of young people do not choose to study to become teachers," Kirsiaed said.

She said that young people are inspired to become teachers by positive role models, such as having had inspiring and excellent math teachers themselves. However, she said, there is an entrenched belief among young people that becoming a teacher severely limits their future opportunities.

"There is a trend of people from very different specialties wanting to become maths teachers, or so-called career changers, after working for some time in their specialty," she said.

"However, our curriculum requires that applicants have completed at least 60 credits of prerequisites in mathematics and informatics, and to meet this requirement, we have developed the option to complete prerequisites free of charge in continuing education," she added.

Kirsiaed said that it is anticipated that, in the near future, the number of trained instructors will increase slightly due to the participation of career-changers. She did agree to, however, that no resources exist to encourage young people to become teachers.


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Editor: Kristina Kersa

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