However, it was a totally different atmosphere this year when only 4,896 pupils achieved straight As for the Ujian Pencapaian Sekolah Rendah (UPSR) examination compared with 38,344 pupils last year.
Unlike previous years, the New Straits Times carried the headline, “In Disbelief Over UPSR”, on its front page. Last week saw teachers and parents — who were seeing UPSR results they could not explain — having to devote more time to help pupils cope with their emotions on that day.
Every year, we have the same philosophical battles when it comes to exams. Why this system? It’s so unfair, it doesn’t measure true ability, it favours those with proficient memories — these were among the questions thrown by parents.
Those who sat the UPSR this year are the first cohort of the new system implemented for Year One pupils in 2011.
The Education Ministry’s reasoning was that the extensive changes in the new UPSR format to test for higher order thinking skills (HOTS) is the reason for the dip in straight As.
With different types of questions this year, it would be wrong to compare with last year’s results.
Critics, meanwhile, blame the sharp decline on an “ill-thought-out” policy, while many others who just do not understand the recent uproar responded, “It is only UPSR. Why are we so kiasu?”
Exams are a rite of passage which help teach these young people discipline and give them structure.
However, failure is not so fashionable because many of us define ourselves by our academic achievement when we were young, using grades to boost self-esteem.
Adults know that the actual UPSR grades are of very little interest by the time these children sit PT3.
But, 12-year-olds are not especially known for their level-headedness and the results — a culmination of a few years of work — are the first momentous event of their school life.
The weight of expectation can be extremely heavy. It can be overt from predicted grades, or more subtle, such as through comparisons with older siblings’ achievements.
When stirred in with any inadvertent reinforcement by schools or parents, it is hardly surprising some pupils are hit hard when they do worse than they had hoped. We have to try and soften the change to protect our children.
For a start though, teachers and parents could have been reminded much earlier on to not compare this year’s UPSR results with last year’s.
Pupils then would have been briefed to not expect too many As to “prepare” them for the disappointment before the results were announced.
But, the real problem actually stems from the drive to keep the proportion of pupils awarded straight As stable year-on-year.
For too many years it has been encouraged and celebrated by us, the adults. For parents, their children’s results are bragging rights for social media sharing and “wall-to-wall” coverage.
No doubt without the straight As, some parents are worried of the effect this would have on their children’s self-esteem and perhaps, future prospect for a place at boarding schools.
At the same time, schools are judged on the proportion of pupils achieving all As.
Earlier, teachers were worried by the “sudden” change in exam format, claiming that they would not have ample time and proper guidelines to prepare the pupils.
That left schools lacking familiar benchmarks while having to adopt the new assessments, and made them more nervous.
The uncertainty undermined the confidence of teachers to prepare pupils, and the results confirmed their worst fears.
It has become a trend in schools for hopeful straight-A pupils to be identified from early in the school year to be groomed for success, sometimes resulting in less effort when teaching very low-ability pupils in the same school.
Inadvertently we have hindered the children’s development by piling pressure on teachers to drive the numbers up.
Some schools went to the extreme in “motivating” these pupils of their potential by getting them to wear button badges on their school uniforms that state they were future straight-A students.
While this has led to teachers focusing their energy on the pupils most likely to score for the exam, disappointment can taste very bitter to those who have been publicly predicted to achieve excellent exam results, but did not.
We are too involved in our children’s results. It’s time to let go. In order to ensure the success of the Malaysia Education Blueprint, we have to tread a delicate line, to encourage pupils to aspire to do their best, while at the same time setting realistic goals.
Education and the exam results that follow should be about what a pupil has gained in terms of knowledge and understanding.
The first step towards this educational reform would require teachers, parents and even social media commentators to stop seeing examination results as the main focus.
Instead of assessing candidates on how they compare with their national year group, it should be on whether they have reached a particular standard.
Parents now need to know what a Grade D means in terms of what their child needs to learn and teachers must be aware of those who are in their class with Grade E.
We have to get to the idea that schools and examinations are about individual pupils’ knowledge and understanding of that knowledge.
For those pupils whose dreams were dashed on results day last week, the danger is that they may be vulnerable when experiencing disappointments in their lives.
They might not want to step up to challenges in the future because it is such a bitter pill to swallow if they don’t succeed.
Support is crucial, not just on the day, but over a period of time. Hazlina Aziz The NST Opinion Columnist 23 November 2016 @ 11:01 AM