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.