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Our View: Furore over exam question highlights union mentality

EVERYONE has been expressing an opinion about the essay question of the university entrance exam for Greek. Teachers, students, parents, political parties, cartoonists and journalists had something negative to say and they all agreed that the question was convoluted, incomprehensible and vague. This was a handicap for the students who wasted much of their precious time trying to understand what the question was asking.

True, it was an open-ended question with a limitless number of possible answers, but is this not what essay questions in a language paper should be about? Presumably, the examiner wanted to establish how well students could express their ideas in the Greek language and use language to develop a coherent argument. Certain analytical skills may also have been required, but this was a university entrance exam, which had to test the thinking capabilities of the applicants and not just their aptitude for rote learning and reproducing an essay they were taught in class.

Probably, the only valid reservation, expressed by an association of teachers, was that it would be difficult to have objective criteria for marking the essay as there was no specific answer to the question. Another reservation may be that critical thinking was not taught in state secondary schools even though the education ministry had been saying it would introduce it to the curriculum for years now. Perhaps the teaching unions had vetoed the idea because it would require some of their members undergoing training and preparing new lesson plans without getting extra pay.

Regardless of whether critical thinking was taught, the top candidates for university places should have had no trouble answering the vague question. And there was nothing wrong with having an essay question that required some thought as the objective of the university entrance exam is to distinguish the best candidates and give them places.

Unfortunately this runs against the union mentality that is so deeply-rooted and does not believe in rewarding higher abilities. This is why one of the student unions had been arguing that all places at state universities should be filled – the implication being that even students that failed to get a pass mark should be allowed in if there were places. The union mentality, which frowns on excellence and protects mediocrity, goes some way in explaining the uproar we have witnessed.

People do not want exam questions that really test the thinking abilities of students, because this gives an advantage to the brighter kids, which in Cyprus is considered unfair.

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