Wednesday, June 30, 2010

The UPSR and PMR Controversy

Many views and comments have been heard about whether the two exams should be abolished or not and the DPM invites more views on the matter. Yes, we can go on listening to more views while the children and the young students involved grope around in the darkness of uncertainties surrounding their future with the teachers unable to give any help or assurance.

Views are easy to come by. What we lack is expert findings based on research and ground experience with the kids and students. Is the education policy of the nation to be based on popular views, majority vies that will make people happy and support the government even if the future of the Malaysian children is endangered by shortsightedness and political convenience?

I feel strongly that we should be guided by the views of professional educationists from all over the world as contained in learned journals and magazines. What bothers the public most, it seems to me, is not the examinations but the kind of questions asked, the nature of alternatives given in the objective tests, and the quality of teaching that goes into preparing the students for the examination. When the questions asked are so narrow and subject-specific or, on the other hand, too general such that the alternatives given from which to select an answer are so vague and overlapping, the student will surely become confused. UPSR examination must surely be more on testing the IQ and ability to discern between right and wrong (ethics), possible and impossible , logic and illogical. facts and fiction. It must be aimed at bringing out the children's understanding and grasp of the life and the world.

Can such an evaluation be done by the school itself? Yes but sooner or later the school's own standard will prevail or be imposed and you cannot compare the achievement of students in various schoois on the basis of some common criteria. We also have vernacular schools which impose their own priorities and standards. How will you be able to compare the achievement of these UPSR level students on a national basis?

The same can be said for allowing schools to arrange their own PMR level examination. The implication is greater for streaming begins after PMR and a wrong selection will have disastrous effect on the children's education. Even with a nationally standardized examination, the wrong streaming of children can happen resulting in children with no interest in science being forced to go into that stream. Imagine what can happen if a school is given the full authority to select students for the science and arts stream. It might take the heat away from the central authority now responsible but it will not help the students to pursue studies in the field where they have a greater potential to achieve.

In conclusion, I wonder if the continuation or abolition of the UPSR and PMR is the right issue to debate at all. The more pressing issue is on the all-consuming emphasis given to the examinations and what is actually evaluated by the two exams, whether they help evaluate the total personality and capability of the children or just their ability to learn things by rote. Our basic concern today is that school children don't seem to be able to think for themselves and that our education system is not geared towards creating individuals who can think both logically and creatively. Teachers just teach and don't help to develop the personality and mental capability of the children. Leaving the evaluation of their progress to the individual schools will just perpetuate this type of teaching and not arrest the tendency to produce little zombies that will later cause more problems to the nation instead of becoming agents of change and progress.


abdulhalimshah said...

Ya Akhi,
Let me add my past experience of serving the then Education Ministry from 1973 to 1982 with a break of one and a half year as an intermission when I went to Penn State for my Master in Public Admin.
The Ministry of Education could be described in one all encompassing term, that it was then a "Leviathen". As one senior MCS officer who examined its budget in the years following Merdeka, it could never get the figures which were essential for approval of Govt grants based on number of pupils, teachers and schools. The figures were so elastic that it could be described as how some pupils in the interior tell time by the position of the sun in the clear sky because they had no clocks. And he also named a particular Permanent Secretary ( now known as Secretary-General ) who just plucked the figures from the hat by simply using the rule of the thumb as his favourite formula for determining how much money was then needed to pay teacher's salaries and other expenditures which bloated due to the rapid expansion of schoolgoing children after the baby boomers of the fifties.
From what I saw during my tenure in Education Ministry, the so-called education experts were few and far between and we had to rely on foreign expertise from the Colombo Plan or other Commonwealth organisations and even the World Bank. Since these so-called experts were not home grown, they could hardly come out with a sustainable policy in order to ensure continuity. So the scenario was rioe for the picking of politicians who took advantage to turn the chaos in education system for political mileage. So that was why education became such an important Ministry to groom future DPM and PM. The newer holders of PhD's from Stanford or Harvard thus had no chance to hone in their knowledge for the improvement of the system because the Politicians were calling the shots.
I presume the picture remains much the same now where the education experts are being sidelined and most pronouncements are just mere satisficing decisions for political expediency.

norzah said...

A very telling account as to why the political masters throw any important decision to be made to the public. Should the decision be disastrous, they can then blame the public and not themselves. Well a decision will be made soon on the UPSR and PMR issue, What's there to worry. If it proves disastrous govt can always rescind it and make another decision.
That's the modus operadi for popular govt today.

Alan said...

I recently visited your blog. It is a very interesting one. Keep it up.

norzah said...

Thank you Alan. Hope you'll one day join the fray.

abdulhalimshah said...

Akhi Norzah,
Popular governments become unpopular because to please everybody is actually pleasing nobody and in the end they get thrown out.
It would be interesting to see the outcome of the coming GE. Probably N9 too would go to the PR and I would welcome it very much. That is what thinking out of the box shall bear its fruit. I am not surprised if it really happens.

norzah said...

"To please everybody is to please nobody", should become a constant reminder to the government in making important decisions, Akhi Hal. I think this is more true in a multiracial society where there are not only inter-communal problems but also intra-communal issues which need to be addressed. To try and cater to all would be impossible and as such a decision must be made in the interest of all, whether it is popular or not. If the decision is good everyone later on will recognize the wisdom of the choice. Undue recognition given to the wish of any one group can distort a decision to become almost ludicrous.

kaykuala said...

Akhi Norzah,
The target group of youngsters in the UPSR & PMR classes now are not psychologically nor spiritually the same as we were. Their frame of mind, knowledge, wantings and interests are totally foreign.

The adults are trying to impose their will, outdated knowledge, skills and interests which appear like dinosaurs in their eyes. They laugh at us behind our backs.

Here we are trying to decide on them and their future from our context of situation. They just laugh and allow us adults to exhaust our efforts and they then go to their PS2 - forever looking through the corner of their eyes to us 'spoilers to see what we are up to next'.

With a glint in their eyes they snigger among themselves.

This is what's happening with our planners - always missing the target but thinking they've done helluva of a job. Try me!

norzah said...

You hit the issue on the button, Akhi Kaykuala. The kids of today are smarter in some ways than us because of their exposure to mass media and all the modern communication facilities available at their finger tip. Knowledge today is not a matter of not knowing something but not knowing where to find where to find it. You can google almost anything today or get someone to find the info.
So do we need the examinations? Is it the examination that is bad or what the education system set for the exams and what the teachers teach in school, to be swallowed by the students and then regurgitated in the exam hall?
I would rather have the students learn to read and write as good as possible rather than memorize a lot of things that they are not interested in but we force them to learn, as you said.

kaykuala said...

Akhi Norzah,
OP Hal had confirmed to me accessibility difficulties to my blog. Some add-ons d/loaded earlier must have triggered off a firewall of some sort. Desperately trying to unravel. Apologies.

Al-Manar said...

Dear Norzah,
I read this posting and the comments made by our friends AHS and Kayala. It dawns on me that we, the older generation, (I being the eldest to you all!) seem to see the problems in the same way. Is because we are old and there is that generation gap that separates our way of thinking from those young ‘cerdik pandai’ with high qualifications?

I have spent the last sixteen years of my retirement years at the very grass-root level of primary and secondary education, practically on the daily basis, and I have found so many wrong things being put into the system. To worsen the situation far too many teachers should have never been allowed to become one. They are academically very poor and do not possess the correct aptitude. Now with the e-book, the use of calculators the situation worsens. Even some form two pupils find it hard to divide 10 by 2 without calculators. Do you not remember the days when you had to memorise multiplication tables up to 12 before passing standard 3, or being caned? Book publishers make good money from updating of syllabus practically every year; many quacks are harvesting good money from tuition classes and ‘camp motivasi’ etc.

Some want just school-based exams. Are the teachers really capable of preparing exam questions, and are they capable abstaining from leaking out questions? We read the news papers and see that every one seems to have an opinion and they all know the answers! We are too old and are behind time my friends.

norzah said...

Like the Red Indians used to say: Big Chief speaks true. In our time, Pakcik, the older teachers taught the young ones,covering good behavior, cleanliness, etc, on top of the normal studies, reading, writing and arithmetic. My teacher insisted on us reciting multiplication tables up to 25, going round the class from 1x25 to 12/25. I always station myself at no. 10, hehehe. Now, young teachers are asked to teach the younger boys in lower classes. Yes education now is more a business than educating the young. I hope the Ministry concerned will look at some of these issues and not just consider it as an issue of doing away with the exams or not.