Education ministers in Belorus have taken the first step towards a unified, European-style system of university entrance by running a pilot programme to introduce written school-leaving exams.
The Belorus Testing Initiative, devised by the British Council in Minsk, began introducing formal three-hour written English-language tests to 550 school-leavers in 98 schools last year.
The introduction of written foreign language exams in English, German, French and Spanish should begin in five years following the policy's formal adoption by the republic's council of ministers earlier this year.
Evgeni Maslyko, a professor at the Linguistics University in Minsk and head of the testing initiative group, said that government backing for written exams should speed acceptance by universities which still rely on the traditional but much criticised system of oral entrance exams. "The universities need to have confidence in the results of our tests and we have to prove that they are reliable," he said. "The backing of the council of ministers is of key importance. In principle the ministry accepts the notion that transition from secondary to tertiary education should be through the medium of standardised written tests."
Introduction of written school-leaving exams will be monitored by a new national testing centre to be set up in Minsk in 2000. The centre will liaise with universities and draw up regulations to ensure common standards as the initiative spreads to other subjects.
Belorus, like Russia and some other Eastern European countries, still uses a dual, oral examination system, with 17-year-old university entrants forced to take school leaving exams in May followed by university entrance tests a month or two later.