Monday, June 28, 2010

To scrap or not to scrap?

THE possibility of the Ujian Pencapian Sekolah Rendah (UPSR) and Penilaian Menengah Rendah (PMR) being abolished as part of a review of the school examination system puts me in a jam.
My wife said it was a good idea.

I said it was not.

She said with the two exams out of the way, children would be less pressured.

They only had to deal with the Sijil Pelajaran Malaysia at the end of Form Five.

At the risk of having my daily budu withdrawn from the dinner table, I argued that it could lead to a decline in the standard of education compared with our neighbours'.

Without a good system to ensure that after 11 years of education, our children knew as much as or more than those in, say, Singapore, we could lose our competitive edge internationally.

But my wife said the pressure on children as young as 11 was bad. Instead of becoming intelligent all-rounders, some had become bookworms who interacted better through Facebook than in person.

Competition is healthy, I said. The best way to measure academic excellence is to benchmark it against the public examinations we are planning to scrap.

Competition only becomes unhealthy when parents start to demand that their children get not only straight As but also full marks every time.

Some parents even resort to emotional blackmail, reminding their children to study hard because they had given up life's pleasures for the children to study in a good school.

Unreasonable ones even decide what career paths their children should choose, not realising that the choice is not what the child wants but a second chance to realise their own failed dreams through their children.

Most city parents take public examinations too seriously.

Look at tuition centre ads.

Their claim to fame is usually the number of top scorers they churn out.

Textbook publishers and authors, too, make good money from reference books. Check out the UPSR, PMR or STPM guides in the market at the start of a school year.

Even compilations of past year questions sell like hot cakes.

Not long ago, assessment tests were introduced to PMR and SPM students. Known as Ujian Intervensi (intervention test) and Ujian Diagnostik (diagnostic), these were held before the trials to identify the weakness of students in certain subjects and improve on them before they sat for the finals.

Over the years, these too have become a race for As.

Although the papers were set by the state Education Department, schools were not monitored nor required to hold the tests at the same time, one teacher told me.

Students pressured to do well by their parents resorted to exchanging test papers with their peers in other schools where the tests were held much earlier.

Unscrupulous teachers who had seen the papers earlier were known to discuss the questions at the tuition centres where they taught part-time.

As a result of the accurate "spot" questions, the tuition centres gained reputation for helping improve students' scores.

I told my wife that UPSR and PMR may be scrapped, provided educators came up with something that would not lead to the very situation we want to avoid.

If schools were allowed to self-assess their students in their own way, could they be objective and free from interference?

And who monitors the schools so that the academic abilities of the students they produce are of high standard?

Maybe we should ask our children if they think it is such a great idea that these exams be scrapped.

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