Reluctant contestants quizzical over tests

ITALY. A new school-leaving exam, dubbed by students as il quizzone (the big quiz) has led to protests, sit-ins and demonstrations, writes David Newbold.

The students are worried about a new "cross-curricular" test to be added to the two written papers of the existing maturita. "If the minister likes quizzes so much, why doesn't he take over from Mike Buonglorno?" they ask, referring to the cadaverous doyen of TV quiz games who (despite the unlikely name) has probably done more for national unity over the past 40 years than the Italian football team.

In fact, the form il quizzone might take is a bit of a puzzler in its own right. Multiple choice seems the most likely, but each examining board will decide the contents of the paper on the basis of final-year work; the other two papers will be set by the ministry.

Teachers have long wanted an extra test. The first paper of the present maturita is a general essay; only the second paper is subject-specific. The subject is decided by the ministry and details released around Easter. When this happens, teachers in all other subjects have a hard job retaining pupils' interest. So the idea behind the quizzone is to hold the curriculum together until the end of the final year.

Pupils are also up in arms about the choice of examiners. Minister Luigi Berlinguer has backtracked on his original idea of a board consisting predominantly of internal examiners, and decided for a balance between class teachers (who know candidates) and external examiners, with the head of the board also coming from outside the school.

For the minister, this is an extra guarantee of "seriousness" for a school-leaving exam which has been too easy for too long (introduced almost 30 years ago, the maturita has consistently had a pass rate above 95 per cent). But costs are likely to double as a result.

Fortunately for final-year pupils a reprieve by the Senate means that the new exam will not become effective until 1999.

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