Students finishing Form V and upper sixth form in 2008 are likely to be the first sitting for their Matsec exams in June and July instead of in the April to June period.

The government's plan to schedule the exams closer to summer, effectively lengthening the scholastic year by five teaching weeks, is based on a recommendation made in a review of the Matsec system, which The Times reported on earlier this month.

Education Minister Louis Galea yesterday officially launched the reviewers' report, entitled Matsec - Strengthening A National Examination System.

He said plans to push back the April to June Matsec exam sessions should receive the official go-ahead by mid-2006.

Penned by Grace Grima, Raymond Camilleri, Saviour Chircop and Frank Ventura, the review found that the short scholastic year in which to cover the vast syllabi puts students and teachers under great pressure.

Pushing the exam sessions back would also mean moving the September supplementary session to November and December to offer all subjects instead of the present constraints of offering only a limited number of subjects.

As a result, sixth form students having to do re-sits would only be able to enter university the following year. At the same time the percentage of failures should go down because students will have more time to study before taking the exams, the reviewers said.

The rapporteurs, who based their report on interviews with stakeholders in the education system, addressed a series of issues ranging from the criticism levelled at examination papers to the evolution of syllabi.

They recommend that students grades can be moved up or down following a revision of papers. Currently, the grade can only be improved.

They call for a Lm2 increase in examination fees for each subject partly to fund some needed structural changes in the Matsec set-up and to possibly raise markers' remuneration.

Dr Galea said the main objectives of the plan were sustaining the quality of the local certification system, strengthening its credibility and encouraging more young people to get an education certificate.

Though the system, introduced in 1994, was "a major achievement" in that many more students were now sitting for the exams, a number of them still left secondary school without a formal certificate.

For this reason, the committee proposed the introduction of a computerised examination system certifying functional competencies in five subject-areas namely Maltese, English, mathematics, science and information technology.

The minister said the document will be discussed during a public conference next month which will be broadcast live on Education 22 where parents, students and teachers would be giving feedback.

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