Testing reform aims to cut suicides

13th June 1997 at 01:00
Poland. New testing arrangements are being planned in Poland's elementary schools, under the country's first major education reforms for decades.

Within two years, all 15-year-olds will be tested in every curricular subject, with nationally agreed criteria for making assessments.

The changes, announced by the deputy education minister Miroslaw Sawicki, also include the introduction of new subjects such as ecology and philosophy into the curriculum.

However, it is the change in the attitudes towards testing and marking which is being particularly welcomed by Poland's pupils and parents. The existing arrangements have long been left too open to corruption and abuse, with pupils' marks depending on the discretion of the teacher, with no external moderation or checks.

The Polish authorities hope that a fairer, more centrally-controlled system may also lead to a decline in the suicide rates among young people. Police figures show that 63 pupils took their own lives last year, citing problems at schools in notes left to their parents as the main reason for their suicides.

In the latest case to make headlines in the country, 19-year-old Marcin Nida threw himself under a train after a teacher at the technical college he was attending prevented him from progressing to the next class, claiming he had failed to achieve the necessary standard.

The reforms will be piloted in around 500 of Poland's 20,000 elementary schools this year, with full nationwide implementation scheduled for 1998. Candidates sitting exams in mathematics and Polish will be recognisable only by coded numbers, rather than by their names.

The move has the support of pupils who believe teachers are biased and often award the highest marks to the children they like or to those whose parents they know personally.

The new arrangements will replace the exams currently being taken by pupils for entry to high schools or vocational colleges.

It is expected that bright 15-year-olds in Year 8 will be able to take the tests several months early to enable them to make decisions about their future academic prospects based on the results.

Top candidates will be given a wider choice of which type of school they can attend. Those who fail, or achieve lower marks than expected, will have a second chance to sit the exams at the end of the academic year.

Ten and 13-year-olds will also be formally tested in every subject at the end of their "key stages".

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