On the Same Subject Again

Susan Markosyan

The Assessment and Testing Center (ATC) deputy director's announcement about the 9th graders' centralized external examination gave an opportunity to continue talking about the assessment issues at public schools. Why are they so focused on examining the learner's competency especially in the Armenian language?   

When and how do children learn their mother tongue? Or, how do people learn a foreign language when they appear in other countries? On the one hand, a person acquires communicative skills and then masters a foreign language in a verbal environment without a teacher at his own pace, in his own way. On the other way, I can't deny the role of the family in teaching a child its mother tongue: the family is the first stage for the child to acquire speaking skills and it is here that the child's first development (self-education) program is implemented. The role of mother-father, grandparents and elder siblings is the creation of a speech environment by reading, telling a story and speaking to the child. It is a well-known fact that where the child's babbling is imitated, and the child is spoken to in a childish babbling way, the latter delays the correction of his articulation, word formation and grammar mistakes, and in contrast, where they only listen to the child's babbling speech in delight but never imitate it, the child quickly picks up the right speech.

All children having no health problems, speak, express a wish, opinion, attitude, listen, respond, take up a conversation, defend themselves or protect others by speaking. Nobody uses a numerical expression of assessment for this kind of mother-child work. Nobody calls the parent to account for his unsatisfactory work. Teaching of the native language at public schools has an honourable place: according to the state standards maximum number of teaching hours is allocated to "Armenian Language and Literature". The mother tongue is taught for 9 years to meet the following general basic school requirements. The basic school leaver should have perfect communication skills in Armenian and be able to: a) construct literate and beautiful oral and written speech, b) listen to and comprehend others speech, express his/her own thoughts and point of views briefly and clearly, c) read fluently and expressively and be able to retell, d)understand relatively extensive texts of different complexity, e) narrate in written form his/her own ideas or unfamiliar texts which have been read, f) write short essays, g) make analyzes of the assigned pieces of literature, h) differ the pieces of literature having an artistic value from the low-qualty ones. Then, during external testing and examinations, it turns out that the grades are not equivalent to the students' knowledge: The grades of 30% or more of the students are unsatisfactory. Even if we do not take into account the fact that assessment of "artistically beautiful speech" is subjective, the high school and college teachers will testify the poor performance of the "good" and "excellent" school leavers in their ability to express their thoughts briefly and clearly.                                       

 The attitude towards the mother tongue is quite different outside the educational program. What kind of speech environment has been created in the mass media and social network including the political rhetoric speech being made nowadays? And the speakers are those who have passed their exams successfully and most of them are now strict and demanding to the students and critisize the established way and the results of teaching the mother tongue. There are people with professional education, among them journalists, new MP candidates, well-known political figures who do not express themselves briefly and clearly, speak ambiguously leaving their thoughts incomplete, make lexical, grammar and syntax errors. They are forgiven their mistakes because they are grownups, aren't they? Is it fair?         

 It is obvious that something is wrong. 

 About external examinations. According to the law of public education of the RA (Article 18: Assessment and Attestation)

1. The students' assessment of the current and summative achievements (term and annual), the choice of their ways, methodology and frequency, the contents of the tasks is done by the educational institution in accordance with the state public educational standards and other normative legal acts.

2. At the end of the elementary, basic and secondary public educational programs a state summative attestation testing is conducted in compliance with the requirements of the state educational standards.      

"Attestation" (Ատեստավորում) means 1. formal statement in which someone states that they believe something is truecorrect, or real. (Macmillan Dictionary). Why should they mandatorily hold an examination for attestation? According to the established order of assessment, now the 9th graders have to write a reproduction of the same literary text (they are deprived of the right to choose) and do the same test. Isn't that enough? Now a new decision has been made: the 9th graders are to take a centralized summative external examination. Why? How can it be justified? What will the Ministry of ES and ATC (Assessment and Testing Center) do with the results of such examinations? We will enter a dead end if our aim is to assess the professional quality of the Armenian language teachers. These teachers are philologists with higher education, and the solution to the problem will have to be found outside the system of public (general) education. The people who are in charge for the organization of general education in the Ministry of ES, educational inspection body and the ATC certainly do not think that all the teachers throughout the republic should be replaced by other teachers or such a change is a guarantee of the "quality of education". If the matter concerns the "attestation" of public educational institutions, this was usually done through annual reports and school ratings: is it worth the effort to put 31300 students into a stressful situation by making them captives of a group of specialists' notions concerning pedagogy, examinations, and checking the knowledge in linguistics? 

By the way, the same ATC was more progressive in April 2018  even in the issue of the school leaving and university entrance examinations. Is it a demonstration of force? As the ATC is not criticised for the school state graduation tests which are not compiled in compliance with the Armenian Language curriculum and the general requirements narrated in the standards of public education. Do they have the right to do whatever they want to do if we do not criticize?                 

Where and why does an individual's seemingly self-education stop? Why should all the first graders learn the same letters in the same period of time? Can all the students of the same age group be engaged in mastering one and the same grammar phenomenon, reading the same piece of literature, learning it by-heart and in this way prepare for the centralized examination simultaneously and take part in it? In fact, the learner is not responsible for the educational program: he/She has neither compiled nor chosen it. Moreover, the learner is constantly controled at school and home. The control over his/her own private time and potential is restrained. Almost the same can be said about the teacher. The key objective of teaching and learning becomes preparing for the examinations which is done not only at school.              

By the order of the Ministry of ES of the Republic of Armenia, the author public (state alternative) educational program developed, organized and disseminated in the "Mkhitar Sebastatsi" Educomplex, has tangible achievements in this issue which is worth disseminating:individualization of the educational program beginning from Grade 1, through opportunities of choice, individual educational curriculums, educational projects and creative educational clubs. By taking part in the country studies, ecological, military-sportive, readers' and other camps, and in the creative gatherings and international projects, the learners have the opportunity to gain experience by living in different life situations, making new friends, getting to know different problems of the republic and discussing them, mixing with specialists of different spheres and peers and teachers from different countries. The educational activities are reflected on the educational blogs of learners and teachers, on the project blogs, on the school websites and on mskh.am.   However, our basic and high school leavers (even those who become students of international higher educational institutions, colleges and schools before the state school leaving examinations) take part in the state external school leaving examinations in the same way as other school leavers of the Republic. Can it be considered an attestation of the students studying with author educational program?     

I suggest distracting the look from the examination and considering another way of organization of attestation of students studying with author educational program.

The attestation is carried out in accordance with the calendar of the author educational program during June Educational Camp determined by the educational curriculum as days of self-assessment and public reporting.

 Both the contents of the organization of the attestation and the working order as well as the educational projects with their contents are approved and published in April-May giving the school leavers an opportunity to prepare.      

  1. The Basic School leaver of the Educomplex presents his/her educational blog:
  • works determined by the school course syllabuses, results of project activities,
  • educational trips,
  • educational camps,
  • international projects,
  • participation in the concert-performances, creative gatherings,
  • intentions to continue his/her education in the High school of the Educomplex or in another high school, in the College of the Educomplex with an individual curriculum and another plan of his/her life for the coming 3 years, 
  • Applications (materials) for the participation in the public educational reviews*  determined by the author educational program and educational calendar,
  • report on personal achievements,
  • Assessment of his/her activities in the basic school program.

This presentation of the school leaver is also published in the prescribed manner. It can be commented on by parents, teachers, friends, the school principal and others.

  1. Round-table camp discussions are organized on the organization of education and other problems based on their own investigations.
  2. Together, they implement a project aimed at improving the surrounding area.
  3. Present themselves with concert-performance shows individually or in groups.
  4. Share their academic achievements with their junior friends by implementing the project "Learner-teacher".
  5. Participate in the High School and College students' projects.
  6. Participate in the 3-day military-sportive camp in Arates Schooling Center or in տհե recreation area "Zhair" on the shore of Lake Sevan.

There may be learners who will choose to take the examination for any reason.

The photo by Sona Papazian

* Annual public educational reviews are organized in the Educomplex: Digitech- digital means as effective tools for public education, science-technical, reading, linguistic, translational projects, social science projects, technological, environmental designing projects, ecological projects, sports and military-sportive games, pho taking and filmmaking projects, musical projects etc... 

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