Sunday, March 01, 2009

Érettségi (part first of many)

I'll try not to rant, but this is my biggest frustration with the Hungarian education system, and it's not just me; I have yet to meet anyone telling me it's a good system. So, students finishing from a gimnázium all take the érettségi (matura, Arbitur, school-leaving exam, etc). This test, supposedly, measures all they've learned in 4 (or 5) years of high school. They take 5 exams, 3 required and 2 of their choosing. The required subjects are history, math, and Hungarian language and lit. The chosen subjects can be anything they want, as long as one of them is a language. Seriously, they can take an exam in P.E. is they want.

Here's the problem. In mid-February the seniors choose what tests they want to take as their optionals. After that, they have absolutely no motivation to do anything in their other classes - and why would they, because their grades don't count. Yes, you read that correctly. The only thing that counts at the end of the year are the grades they get in their érettségi. So I can give them as many 1s and 2s as I want, but these grades don't go into their record. They only thing they're good for is a) harassing the students who still care about being good students or b) leverage over the students whose parents still care about their grades.

I was thinking about it the other day and if I were the mother of a Hungarian senior, I wouldn't care what marks they get their last semester - after all, as long as they get good érettségi marks, nothing else matters. On the other hand, if I were a Hungarian senior myself, I would still work and try to get good marks - but just because I liked being a student.

One of my students told me a great joke about the érettségi. It perfectly illustrates my third problem with the exam, which I will get into in detail some other time. For now, just the joke:

Three students go to take their history exam. They each pay some protekcio. Student one is pretty dumb, needs all the help he can get, so he pays a lot. Student two is average, so he pays a little. Student three is a bright kid, figures he can pass on his own intelligence, so he doesn't pay anything.
Student one goes for the exam. The teacher asks, "When was World War Two?"
Student one answers, "Um..... the sixteenth century?"
"Great!" says the teacher, "It's a five (the highest mark)!"
Student two goes in next, and gets the same question, "When was WW2?"
"It was in the 20th century..."
"Okay," says the teacher, "and how many people died?"
"Maybe... about a million?"
"Good enough, it's a five!"
Student three goes in confidently. "When was World War Two?"
"From 1939 to 1945."
"And how many people died?"
"One million."
"By name?"


Krisztina said...

Well Aural Exams were always dodgy business. Do you know how an erettsegi compares with the British A Level, for a student who wanted to go and study in England?
Krisztina Rakoczy, Manchester

Csak said...

Hungarians study 12 or more subjects until they are 18-19 year-old and have to take 5 érettségi. They can go back anytime in their life to take an érettségi from the other learnt subjects without going back to part of full time studying.
While in the UK teenagers study only 2-3 subjects for 2 years after the age of 16.
They can not take A levels after the age of 20 but they have to study a 1 year Access to Higher Education course if they want to go back to university and have not taken (the correct) A levels.
So which system gives more boarded knowledge and opportunities to change career quickly anytime in life?