Government to seek options to entrance exam system
As thousands of children started school yesterday, the government announced it will launch a consultation document aimed at exploring long-awaited alternatives to the current Junior Lyceum entrance examination system.
The document, to be published in mid-October, will address streaming, by which students are allocated to state junior lyceums or area secondary schools following a qualifying entrance examination. It is an issue that has long been debated and criticised primarily for increasing the stress levels of 11-year-old schoolchildren.
The consultation will form part of the process to revise the National Minimum Curriculum (NMC), which is due for updating.
The urgency for an overhaul of the system was raised again earlier this month during a business breakfast on education organised by the Nationalist Party, when the Prime Minister acknowledged the need for an in-depth look at streaming.
During the breakfast, one of the main authors of the NMC, Kenneth Wain, had said Junior Lyceum and common entrance examinations - determining entry for boys to Church secondary schools - should be "abandoned".
Early selection is discrimiatory and socially unjust, creates a culture of failure and de-motivation and is economically wasteful and socially divisive, he argued.
The need to change the streaming system was first broached formally in 1999 when Prof. Wain formed part of the commission that drew up the plan for the National Curriculum.
"It is a core value of our National Curriculum 1999 supported in principle by all our political parties and by Parliament through its Social Affairs Committee.
"Sadly, it is constantly betrayed by the state itself through its outdated schooling system. The government should be setting the example and abiding by the National Curriculum while the opposition should be taking it to task for not doing so.
"Instead we have this strange situation where both are playing blind or stupid and thousands of children are betrayed by the state school system every year," Prof. Wain wrote in an opinion peace published in this paper last month.
We need a system that assesses the child's skills and knowledge not the areas of ignorance, he told The Times.
"Minimising stress on children is essential to a quality education, not something to be distinguished from it, because education has personal and social purposes besides economic ones."
Building on these points, educational psychologist Juan Camilleri said failing in exams that are considered so important transmits a feeling of being a failure and a disappointment in oneself with potential negative effects on self-efficacy and self-esteem.
Moreover, a child's performance during an exam does not reflect the level of knowledge or IQ but is mainly dependent on memory ability.
"Some children can be technical learners and have good spatial abilities. Others still are very creative or confluent learners. But since all are expected to follow rigorous learning procedures and methods of studying knowledge in a demanding manner in view of the all-important exam, such creativity remains untapped and might remain unaccounted for.
"A child can have a very good learning potential but is overwhelmed by course material or is not motivated to do well or is not sufficiently encouraged to succeed," Mr Camilleri said.
Besides, this may lead to being pigeonholed as "less able" or even "stupid" and may lead to students operating in that stance.
The opposition spokesman for education, Evarist Bartolo stressed the importance of identifying children with poor abilities at an early stage.
The change in the Junior Lyceum system was only a small part of the change needed, he said.
"The way forward is to work together with students, parents, teachers, the social partners and civil society. What all these expect and deserve is a thorough soul searching and honest exercise to understand where we have failed in our educational strategy."
Over 40 per cent of students finished secondary education without getting the necessary qualifications and skills to further their education.
"We have too many teenagers who go through 13 years of formal schooling without acquiring the basic competencies in Maltese, English, maths, science and technology."
Over 57,000 children start school in primary and secondary schools this week. State schools will host 30,000 pupils and 3,066 teachers, the Education Ministry said.
Teachers in state schools have a degree in education or a Masters degree except for the 23 supply teachers, five of whom have a university degree while the rest have 'A' levels.
Several schools started operating under new headmasters and only five out of 101 schools have an acting head. This year, 22 educational officials, nine service managers and nine assistant directors were recruited.