Study finds one in every three 10-year-old pupil is taking private lessons

A questionnaire by the Education Ministry has found that 35% of parents and guardians who participated said they send their 10-year-old, Year 6 children for private lessons, to prepare for the Benchmark exams at the end of primary school

Just over 35% of parents and guardians participating in a questionnaire by the Education Ministry have said they send their 10-year-old, Year 6 children for private lessons, to prepare for the Benchmark exams at the end of primary school
Just over 35% of parents and guardians participating in a questionnaire by the Education Ministry have said they send their 10-year-old, Year 6 children for private lessons, to prepare for the Benchmark exams at the end of primary school

Just over 35% of parents and guardians participating in a questionnaire by the Education Ministry have said they send their 10-year-old, Year 6 children for private lessons, to prepare for the Benchmark exams at the end of primary school.

The survey was based on 346 completed questionnaires distributed among parents attending meetings on the May 2018 session of the Benchmark, as part of a review of the national end-of-primary assessment, conducted by a panel of experts chaired by Prof. Mark. G. Borg.

The review now recommends phasing out the current Benchmark system – based on a national standardised exam – to be substituted by a system that gives more weight to a continuous school-based assessment.

Another survey also found that 45% of the 106 teachers at Year 6, think the Benchmark exams were fuelling the demand for private lessons.

89% of parents whose children attended private lessons took lessons in Maths, followed by Maltese (83%), and English (79%). 77% said that their child attends 90 minutes or more of private lessons per week.

Some of the Year 6 children participating in focus groups said they had to stop practising their hobbies such as gymnastics, athletics and football because they have to go to private lessons after school.

Parents and guardians who participated in the questionnaire were almost evenly divided between those who agreed that their children have little leisure time (42%), and those who disagreed that this is the case (46%).

Year 6 children who participated in a focus group confirmed they have less free time on account of having more homework, private lessons and more to study for the Benchmark.

54% of parents agree with the substitution of the Benchmark exam with a system based on continuous assessments. Only 30% disagreed.

But an indication that parents also see some value in the exam is that 59% feel that the Benchmark is a good indicator of the children’s ability and of how much they learn and 61% think that the Benchmark is instrumental in motivating their children to pay attention in class and to study.

Two other questionnaires were also distributed to all teachers at this level (216 Year 6 and 236 Form 1 teachers). Nearly half answered the questionnaire.

57% of the Year 6 teachers who replied consider the Benchmark a good standard of what children should know and understand at the end of the primary cycle.

But only 37% think it is instrumental in motivating children to pay attention in class and to study.

42% of teachers said it would be better to do away with the Benchmark altogether and have it replaced by a system of continuous assessment in which all the work done during the year is taken into consideration and is given weighting without the need for any form of exams. Only 25% disagreed with this idea while the rest replied that they were not sure.

Moreover 61% think that instead of the Benchmark there should only be a school or college-based informal exam. Only 23% disagreed with this idea.

Form 1 teachers were split when asked whether the Benchmark exam should be replaced by another system. 41% agree that it would be better to do away with the Benchmark altogether and have it replaced by a system of continuous assessment in which all the work done during the year is taken into consideration and given weighting without the need for any form of exams. 41% disagreed with this idea. Only 32% agreed that instead of the Benchmark there should only be a school/college-based informal exam.

What are the children saying?

Children participating in focus groups expressed mixed feelings, feeling pressured by the exam while at the same time feeling the need of having their progress assessed.

Most of them agreed that a form of assessment will definitely help them. Some pointed out that exams or ongoing tests help them to study, learn and set targets.

But one of the reasons they want to do well in the Benchmark, is because they want to be in a “good class” in secondary school and not with the lesser achievers. They also do not want to be referred to as ‘failures’.

One of the students participating in the focus group believed that children in good classes also have the best teachers. This suggests that, as happened in the past with the Junior Lyceum exam, students still perceive the Benchmark as a filter which penalises those who fail.

The majority of the pupils think that of the three Benchmark subjects, Maltese is the most difficult. “The majority of students find Maltese the most difficult and feel that they have to study it more,” with orthography remaining a major headache for students.

“Students find it difficult to write words with għ and h. They call them ‘tricky words’,” the report notes.

Some students find it difficult to read certain words in Maltese and harder to write a composition in Maltese, with some citing a lack of ideas.

A number of students said there are not enough reading books in Maltese which are suitable for their age. According to the students, reading books in English is better. They also get confused when they come to write words of English origin and change them into Maltese, for example “gowler” for ‘goaler’.

Migrant students also made the point that they consider the Benchmark as “a very big, big problem”, causing them unnecessary stress.

While many in this category are exempted from these exams due to the language barrier, they feel it is imperative that they are given an opportunity to show their competencies before proceeding to Year 7 (Form 1).

In those subjects in which they would not be able sit for, they suggested that instead of a written exam they should be assessed orally.

The report floats the idea that the Mathematics paper should be in the native language of migrant students, most of which stand at a disadvantage, having to learn how to speak and understand two new languages in a short time.

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