The ‘A’s mentality – UPSR and PMR


The ‘A’s mentality – UPSR and PMR

There are  suggestions that we use a school based system to replace the standardised national examinations  like UPSR and PMR.

In countries like Finland, indeed the first stage of education is based on school grading and students did not need to sit for any standardised examination  until they finish their upper secondary school.

In some of the international schools in the country, students  do not have to sit for any external examination from Form 1 to Form 4, and they sit  for Cambridge O level at the end of form 5. From Form 1 to Form 5, the assessment of students were school based, and the streaming done in Form 4 were based on the assessment of  teachers and the scholastic aptitude of the students.

School based system can have less stress on students and can be very good , but in the Malaysian context, I do not think it is workable at this moment. This is because in Malaysia, everything finally boils down to ethnicity.

What is there to prevent certain racist headmaster to abuse his power and give a poor assessment of a bright student of another race?  What is there to prevent parents bribing certain teachers to give a good assessment of their children so that they get good grade even though the child may not even know ABCs? It is like the driving license now. How easy to get a pass even with just 3 hours of driving training.

School based assessment  can only be applied here when we have done away with 2 most important aspects of our society:

1. when race based politics is abolished and a fair and equitable system has been adopted with affirmative action only towards the poor and the handicapped,

2. When corruption culture is wiped out (it may not be totally but at least there must be a drastic reduction of corruption).

Even so, in a school based assessment system, a grade of a child cannot be determined by one teacher only, but by a group of teachers who have taught that particular student, and there must be a good check and balance system on top of this assessment group.

The reasons why students now are so examination orientated is not because of assessment examinations like PMR or UPSR. It is rather the glorification of the all ‘A’s students, resulting in  parents wanting  their children to  get all ‘A’s in order to show off to their neighbours or friends. Never mind that the ‘A’s students may have got only 6 answers right out of ten.

In the culture of glorification, it is not what they know that matters, it is what they can show off in a certificate that becomes the more important objective.

They have forgotten that the aim of education is to let the students learn and acquire knowledge, and examination is only the assessment to determine whether they have acquired the knowledge that what they are supposed to learn.

It is really a  serious case of Kiasu, compounded of course by their love for their kids and not wishing to see their kids losing out to their peers.

In the 60s, this problem was not that acute. Very few of us were chasing  ‘A’s. In those days, the passing marks were high and to get an ‘A’ needed really high marks, so only very few got all ‘A’ results, and because of that , most students were quite satisfied with getting credits instead of distinctions for their subjects (A credit is like the ‘B’s Now). Those who got credits in fact were more knowledgeable than some of the ‘A’ students now.

We need to tighten up our examination markings, raise the marks for getting As,  so that only the very top students get all ‘A’s, and not like the scenario now, in which almost  every Tom Dick and Harry come home with 16, 17 As.. If there are really so many good As students, Malaysia would have surpassed Korea or Taiwan long ago in technical areas.…

So while the whole system needs to be revamped,  in the mean time we should still retain the exams,  but  the markings and the awards of As must be made TRANSPARENT, so that every parent will know how the whole marking curve is positioned. You cannot skew your passing  curve so low that 30 marks are considered a pass, and 60 marks are considered as As.

Those ‘A’s would have no meaning at all. The perception is that  it is  this kind of marking system that has helped to cultivate the exam orientated mindsets in Malaysia, both among the parents as well as the students.


8 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. klm
    Jun 25, 2010 @ 12:59:37

    Dr Hsu

    May I add that education is no longer about comparing with internal standards. In an economy that is globalised, the education system must consider the need of the global market place. Failure to prepare the children adequately i.e. to the standards of a globalised world will handicap them in the global labour market.

    Getting many A’s in a local examination has no meaning if it is not of global standards.

    A conversation with my daughter led me to realise that the effect of globalisation is closer to home than I thought. Globalisation is no longer a vague concept. It means job opportunities.

    This daughter of mine was offered an internship by a major bio pharmaceutical company in its International Procurement department in New Jersey, USA. She majored in supply chain management in undergraduate study and she is doing her Master in Industrial Engineering majoring in Operational Research. According to her, this biopharm company outsourced many processes to China and India but the US drives all the strategies and R&D. Outsourcing is one of the strategic initiatives of this company.

    My eldest son worked for a major computer company in Austin, Texas, USA. His job is to manage the engineering development work for computers servers sold by the company. Again, the company outsourced many engineering works and manufacturing to companies in Taiwan. In his job, he has to work with engineers in the US and in Taiwan.

    Today, companies move work around to different areas based on cost and availability of cheap labour and skills. One major driving force of globalisation is outsourcing by major corporations in the developed countries. It is cheaper for these corporations to subcontract work to other countries where these work can be done at the same level or even better but at lower cost. In this process, a global supply chain is created. Work processes are spread out to areas or countries where there are cheap manual labours or cheap knowledge workers.

    We may not have realised it. Many of our children are working in globalised sectors. Globalisation have opened job opportunities for our children. The issue is whether to work at the head of the chain, the middle or tail end of the supply chain i.e. Managing and planning, R&D and design or manufacturing. The choice is between brain work and grunt work. It is all about good education.

    I am glad my children have the opportunity to work at the head of the globalised supply chain. They have a chance to get interesting and challenging work. I am glad that my wife and I can give them the chance to have this opportunity.


  2. Dr Hsu
    Jun 25, 2010 @ 13:40:17


    education should be knowledge based rather than “A” based.

    You are right. If our ‘A’ is equivalent to ‘C’ of other countries, getting 18 or 20 As would be only be self gratifying, with no substance at all, like so many instances of Malaysia Boleh.

    It is like producing 4000 of doctors a years and there may come a day when a patient will be attended to in a hospital by 10 doctors, none of them know how to even diagnose correctly the illness of the patient. It is like the 7 blind men and the elephant, the one touching the ear will say the elephant is like a leaf, the one touching the leg will say elephant is a pillar…


  3. CYC
    Jun 25, 2010 @ 15:09:08

    General paper used to be the toughest HSC/A level subject as far as scoring good grade is concerned. But we hardly have enough good teachers qualified to teach this subject nowadays. So, we produced students with half past six general knowledge because the teachers are also tiga suku.

    I can understand why some student (especially the rural poor) choose to take up as many subjects as possible because it is the only way to guarantee a scholarship. They don’t intend to show off but a mean to address their financial hurdle. Rich men in the city failed to understand their predicament thinking these kids are too shallow to go for self glorification. Of course there are some who did so as a matter of kiasu.

    This A’s syndrome affects mostly Chinese students and parents. This is very bad addiction which poisoned the children mind from young with lasting effect.


  4. disgusted
    Jun 25, 2010 @ 17:24:01

    The difference between “classic” and “modern 21st century” education. The old days of “education” really means not just getting a qualification (be a district magistrate. i.e.) or a skilled artisan but also learn humane, moral and virtuous values of how to be a good person (human).

    Today, education is all about running towards a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow and how to be a billionaire, at best or ideally. Look at all the specialization, professionals in health and almost all fields of human endeavors. Especially in health cum medical and healing. It is cheaper to die than getting healed.

    So now, the human world is all screwed up and the system rotten. By right as knowledge advances and human becomes more intelligent with “education”, the world should be a better place. Remember, most see “education” as a positive phenomenon, learning and cultivating knowledge. Then why is the world now completely screwed up. The environment, wars, corruption etc.???? What has education done? In the right direction?


  5. cilipadi
    Jun 25, 2010 @ 21:19:22

    Very few buy my view, morality is very important in politics.

    See what is happening now in Malaysia.

    Morality is not important, why bother the quality of ‘As’.

    As become ‘Assholes’.

    As makan cili, Assholes rasa pedas


  6. WEC
    Jun 26, 2010 @ 09:06:17

    I have a lady friend working as an admin staff in public sector. She has to do all donkey works from telephone operator to phototating. In developing countries this is workplace discrimination.

    When it comes to year end asessment, she only manage to score 6 out of 10 after confronting her superior though she is the one working “full time” while her colleagues were busy kopi-chatting or ferrying children to/from school. The office boy clocks in whenever he likes and then missing in action. Amazingly, he scores 10 of 10 and get yearly pay increment despite zero performance. This is how our KIP system works.

    You can’t find “Globalization” in our Malaysian dictionary and if one day in the future we realise this word exist, don’t expect “reformasi”. Though our bodies are in the developed cites, our brains are still in the kampungs.


  7. stevent
    Jun 26, 2010 @ 10:20:31

    It’s the public examinations that enable education in asia to be much better than their western counterparts. The fact is that we train more students who can perform better in science and math. As for creativity and innovation, the greater role in play is culture and wealth. We adore how creative the americans are and we should. One must not forget that during the southern Song dynasty, China has the most innovative people. In fact, several researches has shown that creativity and innovation derive from societies which are already well fed alongside financial security. Japan is a good example.

    The underlying foundation has to be strong in order for us to manufacture smart students. Just compare the students from Hong Kong and Singapore. Lee Kuan Yew had once acknowledged that Singaporeans lacked the drive to explore beyond their safe harbour. It’s our culture that is the problem and our education system enforces the negativity of our culture in which we are trying very hard to get away from.

    Finally we should just adapt what our other neighbors do do their public examinations, which is to fix the scores for As and Bs etc. No curving. This way we could see whether our generation is getting smarter or not. Or we could just use the Harvard and other top law schools system where, due to to intense competition in attracting students (law schools are superbly expensive), many schools are gradually changing to a pass/fail system. This way they would be no discrimination between students as ‘everyone’ will pass. Then perhaps we should evaluate scholarships base on interviews and some other IQ/SAT tests.


  8. Albert
    Jun 26, 2010 @ 19:40:59

    4-5 years ago while I was on holidays in New York with my family, I took them to visit few Universities in the surrounding states,include the Ivy League Universities such a PENN STATE UNI and MIT(well, I can afford the trips). We joined campus tours organised by these Universities for intending new students. I asked criteria to become students of the universities. Officials of the Student Department , include those of PENN and MIT emphazised they are interested ONLY on academic results, not extracurral activities- quote ” ask yr children to get as high marks as possible, incl subjects and those SAT and TOEFL’


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