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Eighth-graders and high school graduates
At these two levels of education, school closure, a sharp change in the education system, and pandemic restrictions have the greatest impact on students' fate. All eight-grade students need to pass the eight-grade final exam at the end of elementary school, and the students who graduate from high school need to also pass final exams. And most of these students had to wait more than a month to know their exam fate.
It was not until April 24 that the Ministry of National Education in Poland announced new rules and dates: eighth-grade exams will be held from June 16 to 18. Matura exams, only written, will start from June 8 and end on June 29.
Uncertainty about the form and date of the exams has severely affected both groups awaiting the decisions of the Ministry of National Education, particularly high school graduates. It’s difficult to learn without knowing what will happen; this decreased motivation and led to great stress, emphasized those students we interviewed.
Eighth graders and high school graduates usually focus on studying and preparing for exams. They have few extracurricular activities they participate in. This was a difficult situation.
The worst time for them was the uncertainty: will there be exams or will the Ministry decide to rely on the grades of teachers in exam subjects, i.e, Polish, math, and language? The latter option seemed bad to all the eighth graders we spoke with, because it would not be fair, they say. "Different teachers evaluate differently, so how would you compare the results from different schools? Me and my colleagues think this wouldn’t be fair," says Szymek.
They accepted the June deadline with relief, and started to work, at least knowing what was in store for them.
Private schools have very few classes, so conducting written examinations on physical premises while maintaining distance and security isn’t difficult. This is more difficult in public schools, where there are over 30 students in classes.
Many students are very worried they will not be able to say goodbye before parting. There was supposed to be a farewell, perhaps a few days trip, or a "ferry" (school-closing ceremony) overnight at school, which is lots of fun, Zuzia told us. And this, unfortunately, will not be ... “So many years we have been together, we have a good class, and we waited for this farewell. It’s a pity that it will not happen," he says sadly
High school graduates
High schoolers emphasize the huge uncertainty and anxiety they experienced before they knew the authorities' decision on the exams. For all of them, these were the worst moments of the whole pandemic. High school graduates who take the Polish high school final exams got information about what would happen eventually, but much later than the international high school graduates. They now know that they will only take written final exams. The IB organization, however, and earlier, canceled their final exams.
Many high school graduates prefer to study in libraries because it’s easier to focus there than at home. This is not possible now. Some do not have ideal conditions to work at home (both parents work at home, several siblings, which causes stress and tension between family members).
They’re very worried that there will be no normal goodbye at the end of school. One of the schools, a student told us, did a farewell lesson in the form of a "tea party": "We all had to dress formally, we had cameras turned on, and we said goodbye to tea." The end of the year in schools will be online. Some schools are considering an in-person graduation ceremony in the fall, but it may be that graduates won’t be unreachable or unable to attend.
• Polish Baccalaureate
Finally, the dates and the fact that the final exams are only written are a relief, many students say. There is still a lot of time and the teachers are very helpful. But stress remains, and the fact that there will be no oral exams, while a relief, is also a disappointment, because they were also prepared for them.
• International Baccalaureate
IB high school graduates have learned that matriculation exams in a typical IB form, i.e., written exams, will not be given, and the diploma will receive notes issued on the basis of teacher assessments and their work in recent years (usually 20% of matriculation marks). The IB organization, just like the decision-makers of A-Level final exams, made this decision, and the high school graduates accepted it with relief (due to the end of uncertainty), but also with sadness (so much work they put in, there was so much education and it will not be possible to check on exams, as would allow comparison with IB high school graduates around the world).
The final grades are being calculated and will be known on July 5. "We could theoretically take written exams in November. Every year there were retake dates in November and we already know that they will be considered normal, but hardly anyone will decide. It is a pity, because after three years of preparation, I wanted to face this stress and challenge,” says Ola sadly.
Applicants for studies abroad have already received offers from university (conditional, depending on the results of the final exams). Some foreign universities, e.g. in Scotland, aren’t currently accepting applications from foreigners.
The IB system has always focused on self-reliance and now it is more useful than ever before, students say. The design form of teaching taught them independence and how to cope on their own.
A lot of work and stress are ahead for the eighth-grade students and high school graduates who are taking the Polish high school final exams. Fortunately, the experiences of private school students are very positive—the schools have made every effort to ensure students receive all academic and psychological help. Parents also rate schools and their children’s situation well. Let’s keep our fingers crossed for the eighth grade and high school students!
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