The Malta Independent 4 December 2020, Friday

TMID Editorial: MATSEC Exams - A test not just for students

Monday, 10 August 2020, 07:35 Last update: about 5 months ago

In little over a month, students around the country will be sitting for the O and A level MATSEC examinations.

Despite the Covid-19 pandemic rearing its ugly head in Malta once again in recent weeks, these exams – which will eventually decide the fate of a student – will physically go ahead.

It is a decision which has been confirmed by both MATSEC and the Education Ministry, but one on which the students themselves have raised concerns about – not least over the possibility of being exposed to the virus while attending for the exam, but also because of concerns of an increase in stress due to the guidelines in place.


Since, Education Minister Owen Bonnici met student organisations in order to clarify some of the measures being taken, with a maximum cap being ideally stuck to for the exam venue and with students under mandatory quarantine being exempted from taking the examination next month and allowed to provisionally enter the University of Malta or sixth form until they do their exams in December.

The debate surrounding the holding of these exams raises some significant talking points.

The first is with regards to students’ calls and concerns.  Without a doubt, their concerns from the health aspect given the presence of the virus are justified.  However, where all exams at the University of Malta were adapted to either be held online or through a form of assignment, it is difficult to see such an adaptation being made to MATSEC exams.

This is because an exam held online would effectively mean an open-book exam.  In educative terms, there is nothing explicitly wrong in such a format; but because education in Malta is centered around blindly memorizing certain parts of any given syllabus and then effectively regurgitating it onto an exam paper, carrying out open-book exams would defeat the whole purpose of how our education works.

Of course it is impossible to hold an online exam for a subject like mathematics, where the marvels of the internet nowadays can work out any given formula or equation for you, but there is no reason why other subjects – languages such as English and Maltese and social studies such as history, geography and so on – cannot be adapted to be held online.

Such an adaptation however would mean that the exam questions themselves have to be written in such a manner that they require absolutely require critically thought-out answer – much like a synoptic exam would give a student the opportunity to refer to various themes in answering their question.

The second, arguably more important, point which arises is that these exams are not just a test for the students, but a test for the authorities as well.  The examination sessions are likely to be the last major educative event, so to speak, until schools reopen their doors for students.

It is for this reason that authorities need to get this right. One false move or oversight could result in transmission of the virus which could ultimately jeapordise the reopening of schools – the format of which is as of yet unknown – only weeks later.

In fairness, so far the protocols and guidelines placed for the Skola Sajf programme have seemed to work.  It is not that there were no cases at the schools – but what is important is that all those cases seem to have been contained before any widespread transmission within a school could occur.

This is in essence the most important point – there will be Covid-19 cases at schools once they reopen, but the crux is that these cases do not become super-spreaders within these same schools.

With this in mind, the MATSEC exams next September are one last test for authorities to pass before schools can reopen their doors.

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