Sunday, October 16, 2005

A Case For Dumbing Down Our Public Exams

On the one hand, our Ministry of Education received reports that some 114,994 Year One to Year Three pupils have yet to grasp the 3Rs of reading, writing and arithmetic. This alone caused enough worries to our Minister to warrant immediate appointment of remedial teachers to deal with the situation to arrest the problem.

On the other hand, there was much hue and cry by teachers and students alike over the just concluded PMR examination, claiming that on the whole, this year's standard was well below the norm, especially so for the Science and English language papers which were deemed to be "too easy" and more to the standard of the UPSR than the PMR.

How do you reconcile the above two scenarios in terms of what sort of education standards we wish to see in our country? It has been said many times that over the years, right from the time we switched the medium of instruction from English to Bahasa Malaysia, our standard of teaching, the syllabus and examination format has been consistently sliding downwards so much so that our MOE has been accused of dumbing down our students in the public examinations in order to avoid the embarrassment of having to face up to facts. And the fact is, even though year after year we see increasing numbers of straight A scorers in all the public examinations from UPSR right up to SPM, a majority of these same students who eventually graduated from our local universities are somehow lacking in the quality department.

If we look at the scenario some 25 years back, we hardly have such huge numbers of high achievers in public exams, that it was quite a rare feat to achieve straight As in any of the public examinations, much less straight As in 16 subjects in the SPM or back then, called the MCE! But the students of that era were highly employable and their communication skills are generally good enough to secure them any jobs with the private sectors. And our graduates from the local universities then were highly sought after too. And with the elite number of straight A achievers, our PSD never had the present problem of not having enough scholarships to award to all the top scorers, thus never having to deal with the political backlash of disgruntled students and parents as well!

These days, we have come to expect no less than straight As from our students and anything less is deemed as not good enough by the parents, teachers and even news editors alike! Is that one of the reasons why we keep lowering the standards year after year, so that our newspapers can continue to splash the excellent achievements of Malaysian students in public examinations year in and year out? Has anyone made a comparison of our syllabus for primary 6 as against the syllabus of the same grade student from neighbouring Singapore?And for that matter, the Science and Mathematics syllabus for Form 3 and Form 5 for comparisons sake?

Actually, if our MOE is serious in wanting to revamp our education for the sake of our children and our country's future, let it be brave enough to set higher standards and not try to be politically correct all the time. Are we actually producing so many straight A achievers each year just so to make up the numbers, to achieve a certain quota to make us feel good? Another case of "syok sendiri dengan gelaran jaguh kampung"? Has our public examinations become no more than a factory churning out meaningless paper qualifications "par excellence" but not worth the price of the paper it is printed on elsewhere?

We can do without such self-glorification as in so many other areas of life in our country. We don't need to mollycoddle our young in the mistaken belief that they will buckle and fail miserably if put to the real test. If the kids are never allowed to challenge themselves and take the blows, what kind of adults will they be when they grow up? Will the borderless world be merciful and cut some slack to give these same kids a chance to survive? What does the huge number of current unemployable graduates tell us about our present generation of incoming workforce?

If we continue to dumb-down our education system, we can only expect things to get irreparably worse because we will be getting the sort of teachers in our system who are the very product of its flaws. Now, THAT is a scary thought, isn't it? Our MOE can keep clowning around but who's laughing?



Blogger johnleemk said...

In a trial test for the recent PMR, I got questions about the meaning of a sign saying "Danger!" and which profession would use the items shown in a picture that had scissors, thread and a sewing machine. Utter rubbish - it was probably easier than the PTS. And as for the real thing, in the science test, some answers could be found in the questions. Only the easiest portions of the syllabus had questions asked, and whenever you needed a mathematical formula to get an answer (for questions requiring the application of the principle of moments or V=IR in electricity), all you had to do was plug in the numbers into the formulae already provided.

At least the maths section wasn't so blatantly obvious in providing formulae, as you had to apply your knowledge of the terms used in the formulae and know which formula to use.

And if you thought that's bad, wait till you see the teachers and what they teach. And some questions really are hard - but for the wrong reason. (If you want an example, I've had a question about intellectual property piracy asked on a Geography test.)

That's why I'm in the middle of writing a book about our schools. I've already finished adding my personal experiences and anecdotes to the manuscript, but now I'm looking for other viewpoints and stories, like the one posted on this blog not too long ago (which I plan to use). Here's a look at a sample chapter from an early draft.

16/10/05 22:51  
Blogger Anak Merdeka said...

Dear John,
You seem pretty smart for a 15 year old kid (or are you really??).
Anyway, I have read your excerpt and frankly, if you are serious in writing a book that is readable and sellable, you need to make your language & prose readable as well (no offence meant). I guess school sucks for most 15 year-olds regardless of where they come from. The only possible redeeming factor is when you have a great bunch of friends in school or if you excel in some areas which makes you proud to be in school. But it is heartening to note that we have young people like you who take a great interest in such serious stuff like education in the context of nation building. Thanks for your comments.

17/10/05 16:10  
Blogger johnleemk said...

Well, I am 15 years old, but if anyone doesn't want to believe it, I'm okay with being considered a little older. ;-)

Like I said, the book is still in the process of being drafted. I'm not even sure if it'll be published. If you think there are any serious errata, I'm used to handling criticism.

17/10/05 20:21  
Blogger JoeC said...

So, our level of higher education is going to way of the longkang? I'm not surprise but nevertheless there is concern here.

I have a younger sister in primary level and she been to night tuition of her english and math. I wonder why there is a need to do so, is it because parents have lil faith in our existing system?

When I was studying in Canada, ppl there do not sent their child to tuition nor there is an industry existed... no additional classes at schools either. Ditto for UK. Does this means our system is still below par?

I'v always felt that our system do not have a sense of cohesiveness... also the quality of our instructors is in doubt. There are good instructors but not enough. I hope that MOE is not ponying around the future of our lifeline. Cheers!

18/10/05 08:08  
Blogger johnleemk said...

Almost anywhere else, you only go to tuition/summer school if you really need help or have trouble learning. Here, you go to tuition if you have the money to, even if you're the top of your class. The waiting list for entry to private and international schools is overflowing. It's common knowledge our education system is screwed. The problem is nobody's ever tried to define its core problems, and that's what I'm trying to do.

18/10/05 19:30  
Blogger Anak Merdeka said...

I just wish there are more like you (and me) who REALLY want to see a revamp of our education system soon before more and more unemployable graduates keep on passing through our local uni gates.

18/10/05 21:20  
Blogger Lone said...

Our Education Ministers [there are 2 now] are more interested in lowering the bar and ensuring they can feel good regarding the number of "successful" top scoring students whether from schools or the uni. They aren't too bothered whether products coming out have been educated or employable.
We should be having an education system producing citizens who can think and make good use of what they have learn and not just parrot what their "teachers" have read out to them. We should have citizens who know where to seek knowledge and not only run to their school teachers and tuition teachers for help. Under the present system, students who can reason for themselves are not encouraged to do so, just parrot what they are told they are told.

19/10/05 09:50  

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