Slovak high school students protest against new "maturita"


D-Day for every Slovak high school pupil: you walk into a classroom, up to a table with a dark green cloth and teachers sitting behind it. This is how Slovak pupils are examined when they are ready to leave high school at 18. The oral graduation exams are known as the "maturita" and have been present in the country for centuries. This year breaking the tradition and introducing a reformed maturita has met disapproval from high school graduates.

The very word "maturita" evokes fright in many people. However, what we have known as the maturita up to now is nothing in comparison to what this year's 18-year-olds will have to undertake.

At the beginning of the school year high school graduates demonstrated their disapproval of the reforms and loudly protested saying this kind of maturita is much more demanding than the older type. Despite this, the reforms are going ahead and school leaving examinations will be carried out this year in the new form. And for what reasons? Dana Pichanicova from the National Institute for education specifies:

"The main aim of the new maturita examination is to raise its objectiveness and validity and to reach its acceptance in countries of the European Union and finally also to meet standardization of demands on students."

The maturita now will be composed of two parts. An internal - the traditional oral part carried out within the school - and an external new part, in the form of unified tests that will be evaluated outside of the school according to nationwide standards. As specialists say, the lack of unification was the biggest shortcoming of the old type of school leaving examination. Dana Pichanicova:

"For instance the grade one (or A) at one school wasn't possible to compare with one (A) at other schools. So there were great differences between the performances of students."

Because until now the examination was based only on oral answers teachers could give preferential treatment to their favourite students, apply double standards and thus disfavour the students they were not so fond of. This should now change thanks to the external written tests. Since 2000 there have been trials with the external part of maturita. As Dana Pichanicova from National Institute for education says the monitoring showed the following.

"It showed great differences between students of different schools, but also vast differences between students of one school."

This means that sometimes a student that would receive an A in the oral examination, turned out to get a much worse grade in the written exam. As Mrs. Pichanicova says the analysis reveled where the problem really lies.

"The real problem is in particular in different attitudes or approaches of individual teachers."

The new reform may seem like the perfect solution. But certainly for this year's graduates this will mean more and more tests in an already very stressful period. The new maturita will be stressful not only for students but also their teachers. Now the way they work will be more visible, as their students will be compared with those of other teachers, says the principal at a Bratislava high School, Mrs. Gabriela Dornakova.

"It is scaring for them, of course. Because if it happens for two or thee years that all of my students are doing very bad that means my work is not good either. I would send such a teacher away from my school and hire another one."

One of the biggest changes in the examination will be the fact that students will have 5 subjects compulsory for graduation, and one of them a science subject. One positive aspect of the reform is that gradually the school-leaving examination should also take the place of university entry exams. Also it is expected that in future these test results will also be recognized by foreign universities. In the long run the reforms could lead to higher academic standards and more competition among schools.

An appeal to the courts about the unfairness of this year's maturitas will most probably not be found legitimate, so graduates will have to do the learning. Good luck!