Changes await Slovak schools

ONLY the best Slovak primary schools pupils, as judged by their overall performance in their last two years, will be allowed to continue their studies at gymnasiums, the most academic form of secondary school.

ONLY the best Slovak primary schools pupils, as judged by their overall performance in their last two years, will be allowed to continue their studies at gymnasiums, the most academic form of secondary school.

These and several other major changes should take place in Slovakia’s education system as of 2014, if parliament passes two amendments drafted by the Education Ministry and approved by the cabinet at its last session in June.

Meanwhile, the opposition says it agrees with the goals that the government is aiming for with the new legislation, but is not happy with the specific measures it is using to achieve them.

Final two years will decide

Only pupils with an average grade of 2.0 and better (on a scale where 1.0 is excellent and 5.0 is a fail), calculated from their final grades in all compulsory subjects in the eighth and ninth year of primary school, will be allowed to apply to study at a gymnasium (a secondary school which allows for further studies in academic subjects such as law, medicine or psychology), according to the draft amendment to the law on professional education. Specialised secondary schools will choose from pupils using a threshold of 2.75 and above. Pupils scoring below 2.75 will have to continue their studies at one of Slovakia’s vocational schools.

The proposed measure is in line with the previous pledges of Education Minister Dušan Čaplovič, whose initial idea was to let only students with an average grade of 1.5 and better to go to gymnasiums. At that time he argued that many countries, such as Germany, follow a similar approach, and that it works. The government’s programme statement also promises to “get realistic” on the number of students accepted at gymnasiums by using “financial tools and qualitative criteria in the admission process”.

“As the results of comparable tests show, marks from different schools mean very different things, thus using marks instead of the objective and comparable Monitor tests or entrance exams is not right,” Miroslav Beblavý, an MP for the opposition Slovak Democratic and Christian Union (SDKÚ), told The Slovak Spectator, referring to the nationwide standardised testing currently applied to primary-school leavers known as the Monitor. Beblavý supports the idea that schools should be more demanding, but says this should not be done through what he called “half-baked administrative measures”.

At the same time, Beblavý criticises the idea of using only final marks from the two final years at primary school, since these only show the performance of each pupil at a specific point in time, instead of taking into account their overall performance.

“I think it will have no big effect in practice, but for a certain number of children who are dealing with their adolescence at that moment, or whose parents are getting a divorce, or who have some other momentary problem, this new arrangement could cause a lifelong problem,” Beblavý said.

Back to entrance tests

Secondary schools are also supposed to start holding entrance exams, a practice that was in recent years replaced by the Monitor testing, the results of which were considered sufficient by most secondary schools for selecting future students. The amendment introduces compulsory entrance exams as of September 2014. Only pupils who in the Monitor achieve at least 90 percent in each of the two tested subjects – Slovak language and literature, and mathematics – will be admitted to a secondary school without having to pass an entrance exam.

In the 2012 Monitor tests only 715 out of more than 40,000 primary-school leavers achieved such results, the SITA newswire reported.

Putting less focus on the ‘Monitor’ testing, which allows primary-school leavers to be compared at the national level and which costs the state millions of euros every year, is not the way to go, according to Beblavý. At the same time, he believes that schools with specific needs or schools that have too many applicants shouldn’t be prevented from having their own entrance exams, he added.

Private schools feel threatened

The Education Ministry also wants to widen the powers of regional governments (VÚCs) in the area of education. As of January 2013 they should be able to decide which schools in their region, including private and church schools, can open first-year classes. [They cannot just close down schools at once, but every year the VUCs will have to allow classes to be open, e.g. they can allow a private vocational school to open a class for waiters, but not one for cooks. I don’t know if I’m making myself clear, my mind is not working properly today ].

“It is quite predictable that the VÚCs will primarily close schools depending not on whether they’re good or bad, but rather depending on whether they’re ‘theirs’ or private and church schools, which is just wrong,” Beblavý said in his criticism of the proposed new competence for VÚCs. While he agrees that the quality of secondary schools should be improved and that they should be more responsive to the needs of the labour market, he also stresses that clear criteria are needed for the selection of schools, and leaving it up to VÚCs to decide on schools’ fates without clear criteria is not the way.

The ministry argues that VÚCs should decide on which schools will be able to offer classes based on their regional educational strategy, and analyses and prognoses of labour market development, SITA wrote, adding that though such prognoses do not exist at the moment, the Labour Ministry is supposed to start preparing them.

The proposal has been heavily criticised by private schools.

Čaplovič wants fewer schools

Minister Čaplovič has argued that the current number of applicants to secondary schools is only half of the number that schools would like to admit, and admitted that his measures hold the key to closing some schools.

Čaplovič gave the example of the Turiec area of Žilina Region, where 792 pupils are currently leaving primary schools and there are 1,420 places at secondary schools.

“Many schools will have to be closed in the regions,” Čaplovič said, as quoted by SITA. “What good are the schools that are there, but that have no students? What do we have them for?”

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