Firstly, the English compulsory pass was mooted two years ago by our then education minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin. As for the Science practical exam, it has been in the pipeline since 1½ years ago.
Now, we are back to square one but worse since the students and teachers who had been preparing for both the English compulsory pass and Science practical exam will now just have to pull the handbrakes and change tack.
In fairness, let us see the reasons given. For postponing the compulsory pass in English, the reason given was to “allow teachers and students to have more time and opportunity to prepare”.
For postponing the Science practical exam, it was “to make sure that all the science labs in schools nationwide are fully equipped and up to standard”.
Now, I am not an English person but I am a man of Science. So, I shall leave the English part to my fellow esteemed but equally concerned proponents of good education.
Presently, SPM Science students, which include the subjects Biology, Chemistry, Physics and General Science, sit three papers in November every year.
Paper 1 is objective, multiple choice questions or MCQ. Paper 2 is structure and essay. Paper 3 is the practical paper but this is a misnomer as there is no practical done.
Instead, Paper 3 students are given pictures of lab apparatus and their “readings”. Students then read the “readings” as if they are in the lab and then proceed to answer questions related to the “experiment”.
This system was in place for 10 years from 2003 to 2013.
Then, someone in the Education Ministry (MOE) realised its shortcomings, which was that it grossly incapacitated the Science students’ capabilities when they enter colleges or universities.
You see, without hands-on handling of test tubes, chemicals, vernier calipers or even microscopes, an average student will struggle in a science course at higher levels.
Hence, the plan to reintroduce the practical exam as was the norm for many of us who grew up in the 1970s, 1980s and even 1990s.
I agree that this venture would require schools labs to be adequately equipped.
Unfortunately, I believe that after an audit was done by MOE officers, the conclusion would rightly be that many schools in the country did not have adequately equipped labs. A sad fact but true.
Hence, the decision made to postpone this practical exam as logically so.
Nevertheless, I wish to argue on a different platform. Firstly, let’s get our batches right. This decision affects Form 4 students sitting SPM next year,
But do you know that Form 5 students who are sitting SPM this year also faced similar predicament last year? Yes, the present Form 5 science and pure science students were informed that there will not be Paper 3.
I could hear the “Yahoo!” and “Whoopie!” from all parties. Then, the students looked forward to preparing for the practical exam for the whole of 2014 with zero regard for Paper 3 since it was done away with.
Sadly, in March this year, an MOE circular came out saying “minta maaf” (sorry), the Science practical exam cannot be implemented and would be postponed to 2016, thus affecting this year’s Form 4 students.
So, these students have been told that there is no Paper 3 — until today, when they are informed otherwise. I am as distraught as many students, teachers and parents.
Yet, I am not surprised. I have two questions to ask: why were school labs nationwide allowed to deteriorate from 2002 until today, to the point where they are grossly inadequate to host a science practical exam?
If ever we implement the “fully equipped and up-to-standard” labs, do we have the right personnel to source the equipment and eventually know-how to use them?
Trust me, you can have lab assistants today who are unaware why we store sodium in paraffin and not water.
That was how the Tianjin explosion happened. Firemen unwittingly sprayed water on chemicals that were highly exothermic when they came into contact with water.
Anyway, that is a different story altogether. The state of education in our beloved country is grim. Will things improve?
Only time will tell and only us, the people, can enact a change. Boo Soon Yew, Georgetown NST Opinion 21 August 2015