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Unified National Exam for school leavers remains highly unpopular in Russia

June 01, 2012, 18:05 UTC+3 Alexandrova Lyudmila

Russian school leavers are bracing themselves as if they were going to combat this year - so tense is the situation surrounding the Unified National Examinations /UNE/. It looks like the students and the supervisory agencies are trying their strength against each other.

Will the students be able to cheat their works off or will they be denied this opportunity? The authorities have rolled up their sleeves to curb encroachments on the discipline and the situation has become so innervating that even a suicide attempt committed by a student, whom the school authorities shut off from the examination, has been registered.

In the meantime, the majority of Russians are totally discontent with the introduction of the UNE system.

This week, school leavers across Russia started passing the UNE. The exam in the first of the two mandatory subjects – the Russian language – was taken Thursday.

Officials at the Federal Service for Supervision in the Sphere of Education and Science /Rosobrnadzor/ give the assurances that they have drawn appropriate conclusions from the roaring scandal, which broke out right in the middle of the UNE process last year as thousands of school leavers retrieved the answers to test questions from the Internet.

This year, the agency has come to agreement with the social networks that the latter will cut short the attempt to upload the solutions to controlling tests at their Internet resources.

In Russia, the UNE performs the simultaneous functions of a school finishing test and a test for enrollment to a university. As of 2009, it represents the only form of a secondary school graduation exam and the main form of enrollment examinations at universities and colleges. As the exam sessions sweep across the country’s territory from East of West, the students fulfill uniform tasks, the results of which are assessed along uniform estimation criteria.

On the face of it, debates around the UNE have been blazing since the moment in 2001 when the system was introduced in a trial mode in separate regions of the country.

The adepts of the UNE claim the system helps to avoid corruption and bribes in the course of enrollment for universities, as it assesses the students’ knowledge and skills more objectively than the traditional Soviet-era ‘entrance examinations’ do, and makes it possible for major universities and colleges to single out talented students in the places located far away from the centers of education of national significance. Last but not least, the enthusiasts say the Russian UNE resembles the graduation exams in the developed countries and it can open the doors to recognition of Russian secondary education certificates in other countries overtime.

Adversaries of the reform say, however, that the transition to tests from full-fledged examinations impairs the students’ logical and cognitive skills in general, as well as the creative and rationalistic foundations of the intellect, while a successful selection of one option from a set of several options does not always highlight the students’ real knowledge.

Nor is the UNE helpful in fully eliminating corruption, the opponents say.

About 880,000 Russian school leavers will be passing the UNE tests through to June 21, and only public observers will watch the procedures. A total of 1,500 accredited observers are controlling the process in Moscow alone. In a novel development, they have received the right to be present in the classrooms where the tests are taken and at the procedures where the students appeal the results of testing.

In addition to this, the authorities have set up a public liaison office at the State Examination Commission. Government-sponsored supervision has been organized in parallel with the public one.

The federal educational authorities said they will jam the transmission of mobile telephony at the centers for holding the UNE in a number of regions of the country. Also, the students will be denied an opportunity to copy answers from the Internet, especially from social networks.

Lyubov Glebova, the chairperson of Rosobrnadzor said the agency had attained agreement with the executives of social networks to cut short the attempts to publish the results in their nets. In most probability, the meant, the most popular network among the Russian-speaking teenagers which found itself in the epicenter of the scandal involving the UNE last year.

It was then that school leavers who would like to get correct answers to the test questions shot them on camera and sent them to the social network groups. Special pages were open there for various school subjects and sets of tasks depending on the time zone. On the days of testing, correct solutions for all the subjects were uploaded on these pages.

Officials give the assurances, however, that the kids who upload the solutions to UNE tasks will be denied the right to pass the examinations again.

Rossiyskaya Gazeta daily says that although the overall number of infractions has been down a little, some students still managed to use smartphones at the exams, and an exchange of notices in social networks proves this. And the membership of the ‘UNE answers’ group in one of the networks has already exceeded 100,000 people.

Also, the photos of some versions of tasks have appeared.

In spite of the measures to weed out the encroachments on the UNE procedures, the new system of knowledge assessment does not satisfy 62% Russians, suggests the data published by the Obshchestvennoye Mneniye public opinion research foundation.

One-third /32%/ of respondents believe that the introduction of the UNE has complicated enrollment for universities, while 25% of those polled uphold an opposite viewpoint.

Some 28% respondents claim that the UNE only pushed the levels of corruption in the education system up. Another 36% think it did not change and only 5% say corruption has retreated.

An electronic poll taken at the website of the Novye Izvestia daily this week showed that most Russians think it is no use fighting for the UNE’s transparency and this system of school-leaver tests should simply be scrapped.

The newspaper asked visitors to the website about their opinion on how to ensure decency in the process of holding the UNE. The results proved to be quite unambiguous, as the two-thirds of those who answered it said the UNE should be eliminated altogether.

One respondent in eight said criminal liability should be introduced for the teachers perpetrating falsifications of the results of testing, and one in ten said cell phones should be jammed in all the classrooms where the UNE is held.

Some respondents went even as far as recommending a personal body search of the students.

Sergei Komkov, the president of the All-Russia Foundation for Education told Novye Izvestia the UNE will never turn into a fair and decent venture. “Today the UNE comes forward as a trial test that in many ways predestines a person’s plight,” he said. “Judge for yourselves. A kid attends school for eleven years and in the final run everything /in his or her life/ is hinged on just one step. But that’s totally unfair.”

“Given a situation like this one, even the most scrupulous person will make everything in his power to fend himself off from this danger and to secure a maximum possible number of points,” Komkov said. “With that objective in mind, people are prepared to bypass any bans or obstacles, and that’s easy to understand.”

A grim patch was added to the picture by the attempt of a seventeen-year-old young man in the Taimyr area, the northernmost Arctic district of the Krasnoyarsk territory to hang himself after the teachers at his school had refused to let him pass the UNE. Investigators said he had turned drunk at the examination and the teachers had kicked him out of school.

Luckily, he was noticed by three girls from his class, who did their best to free him from the noose and called up emergency aid.

MOSCOW, June 1