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The Majority of Jordanian Secondary-School Students Flunk a Key Exam

AMMAN— For the second year in a row, the majority of secondary-school students in Jordan have failed the all-important final exams, calling the educational quality of the kingdom into question.

This summer, not a single student passed the high school exam—tawjihi—at 338 public schools out of 6172 and 11 private schools out of 1055, according to an official statement. Many observers pointed to inexperienced and under-trained teachers as one of the main reasons for the poor passing rates.

Exactly “49,972 students sat for the academic stream of the examination, among whom 20,521 students passed it, marking a pass rate of 41.1 per cent,” said the education minister Mohammad Thneibat at a press conference last week noting that the previous session’s passing rate stood at 40.2 percent.

Once again this year, there were reports of cheating, selling exam questions, students’ fainting during the exam, and even students with poor results committing suicide. Students had a particularly hard time with the English exam, and the local media described it as a “slap in the face” to the nation’s students.

Following the exam, social media raged with posts from students, parents and teachers expressing their anger over the test’s difficulty.

The Jordan Teachers Association said it received dozens of calls from students and their parents, complaining about the exam.

“Whatever the justification will be of those who wrote the questions, it is obvious that it does not comply with students’ abilities or take into account their different capabilities,” said the teacher’s association spokesman, Ayman Okour. In turn, officials from the education ministry promised to take reasonable action if it determines that the exam was “harsh.”

The patterns of failure also show that more students outside the capital of Amman are flunking the test. This year no students at 50 out of 75 schools in the Northeastern Badia District passed the tawjihi, according to the district’s education director, Riyad Shdeifat.

Eydoun Secondary School in Al-Mafreq (By Abdallah Alkafaween)

Shdeifat blamed the students’ poor showing on the lack of qualified teachers, as well as absentee students who did not sit for the exam, the Jordan News Agency, Petra, reported. Student absenteeism in Jordan is among the worst in the Arab region, with 57 percent of Jordanian students reporting skipping class, according to surveys that accompany the prominent international test, the Program for International Student Assessment. (Read our story: Why Aren’t Jordanian Children in School?)

In the Northwestern Badia education district, no students passed in 19 out of the 59 schools, according to the education director for the district, Sayel Khreisha.

Khreisha also blamed the failure of so many students on students who expected to pass by cheating, but found they couldn’t. (Recent years have witnessed dozens of cheating cases during the exams. However, fewer incidents were recorded this year as the new minister promised to take strict measures.

In the southern Ghor district, students in nine out of 18 schools failed the tawjihi, according to the district’s education director, Salim Hijazi.

Hijazi said no more than four students sat for the exam, sometimes just one, in the schools where all students taking the exam failed. He said 348 students in total sat for tawjihi, but only 28  passed.

Experts say that those results reveal educational defects.

Talab Al-Hasban principal of Eydoun Secondary School in Al-Mafreq, said the failures on the tests are the result of several factors.  He said those factors include a lack of parents’ involvement in their children’s education and the transfer of some students from technical education to academic education just because of family connections, not the children’s academic abilities.

Bassam Al-Zabon, a teacher with 20 years of experience, said that the laws and regulations governing education in the past twenty years have actually hurt academic results. He argued, for instance, that the criteria for success and failure do not allow teachers to freely assess students’ performance, because teachers are required by ministry rules to pass at least 15 percent of their students regardless of merit. As a result, those who deserve to fail are sometimes allowed to move forward.

Overcrowding in schools has also contributed to the high failure rate, some officials argue.

Salem Mattar Al-Harahsha, a retired teacher, said that the Al-Mafreq region has a high rate of Syrian refugees, which has led to an influx of students that has been difficult for schools to keep up with.

Ady Alymatone, a student at one of the Al-Mafreq schools who passed the test in the summer semester of 2014, said morale is low at his school. He said some students did not sit for the exams in the second semester because they felt frustrated after failing the first semester.

“The surrounding atmosphere and the bad influence of some of the students are among the reasons for students’ failure,” he said. “The students only think about entertainment.”

Khedr Adnan Al-Khazaala, who did not pass his exams this semester, said “I was not paying much attention to my studies and did not think it was worth the effort, as I prefer to join the military and fulfill my parents’ dream.” (Military service is regarded as a desirable job because of the many financial benefits that it brings.) He added that other students study abroad and earn their secondary school certificate with high scores and then apply to universities. “I was thinking of following suit, and I do not intend to sit for the exams again in Jordan.”

A spokesperson for the ministry of education, Waleed Al-Galad, has ascribed students’ failure to several reasons including the reluctance of students to study from their textbooks and their dependence on study notes sold in the market or distributed in private educational centers. And he said that many students lack the motivation to study and succeed, in spite of the recent reforms. He agreed that the automatic promotion of students from one grade to the other was one of the reasons for poor academic performance, and as a result he said that system was discontinued this year.

Al-Galad said that the ministry has prepared a comprehensive plan to improve the quality of education and has conducted field visits to monitor the situation in the schools, to review the basic teaching skills of teachers who prepare students for the tawjihi.


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