August 9th, 2010

School-based assessment: Need to sort out the flaws first

 2010/08/09 K.J., Subang Jaya, Selangor

I REFER to the discussions whether the Ujian Pencapaian Sekolah Rendah (UPSR) and Penilaian Menengah Rendah (PMR) examinations should be abolished. In the event that they are abolished, school-based assessment or PBS will be implemented.

In fact, PBS has been implemented in schools over the past few years and it has been complementing the PMR and SPM examinations in the assessment of students.

As it is, PBS has failed to do its job well in assessing students. Not all students complete their school-based assessment in the form of projects and assignments. But teachers are told that no one should fail in their PBS.

So, some teachers call up the parents of these students, but these parents themselves are unable to get their children to complete the projects or assignments. As a last resort, the parents do the assignments for their children.

Other teachers haul up these students from their normal classes so that they can complete their projects. As a result, these students miss their lessons.

Some students don't complete their projects. They copy from others. Some plagiarise from books and the Internet. And some students are just not bothered. Whether the work is shoddy or late does not matter as long as they are able to go to the next form the following year.

But part of the blame has to go to the number of assignments and projects that a student has to do in a year. Each subject has its own quota of assignments to be done. So one can imagine the workload on the students if the UPSR and PMR examinations are abolished.

It is also a fallacy to claim that teachers will have it easier once PBS is implemented as they won't have to prepare students for examinations anymore. For the reasons I have just mentioned, I can only foresee the teachers' burden increasing manyfold.

The idea of school-based assessment is good but the implementation is fraught with problems. So, before implementing it, go to the ground and look into the problems faced by schools, students and teachers. Or you may get students who score distinctions in Science but don't know how to take a reading with the thermometer.

Source: School-based assessment: Need to sort out the flaws first

School-based assessment: Don't burden students

 2010/08/09 LIONG KAM CHONG, Seremban, Negri Sembilan

Teachers must ensure that school-based assessment in the form of reports and projects do not overburden students.

THE decision to scrap or keep the Ujian Pencapaian Sekolah Rendah (UPSR) and Penilaian Menengah Rendah (PMR) examinations notwithstanding, the Education Ministry seems set to introduce school-based assessment at all levels of schools in the near future.

This is my understanding of the school-based assessment, better known by its Malay acronym PBS (Pentaksiran Berasaskan Sekolah):

- it will reduce the stresses and pressures associated with formal public examinations;

- it will be conducted continually throughout the school year on a modular or topical basis;

- it will facilitate and enhance teachers' (assessors) and students' learning interactions;

- it is holistic and includes a psychometric test; and,

- it will promote creative and critical thinking.

No doubt, it is a policy in the right direction and, therefore, should be supported and encouraged.

Admittedly, much research and pilot studies had been conducted to establish the need for PBS.

Nevertheless, the trust and enthusiasm of the academicians, researchers, planners and administrators alike must be put into effect by the conviction and commitment of teachers who are the ultimate and crucial implementers of this innovative plan. Teachers must be assured of the practicality and effectiveness of PBS.

Research and pilot studies are normally done on a "small" scale, subjects chosen are well aware of their roles and may act or react according to expectations (the so-called Hawthorne effect) and the experimental classroom and school conditions may differ vastly from what actually is on the ground. Results of experimental studies, therefore, do not automatically and wholesomely translate into happenings on a wider field.

And, now, PBS is to be introduced in every school in the country. It will be implemented by hardworking, excellent teachers as well as by recalcitrant, below-par teachers. So, there is a challenging situation at hand. There is a need to proceed with caution.

A prominent aspect of PBS is for students to carry out individual and/or group projects that culminate in report writing. This is part of the innovative approach to drive students to think creatively and critically.

This is not an entirely new experience for our schools, though. Under the present Kurikulum Bersepadu Sekolah Menengah, students do carry out projects and write reports for some subjects, such as Living Skills, History, Geography, Additional Mathematics and Science. We can take a cue from what is happening now.

If under PBS, where every subject requires students to do a project or write a report for the purpose of assessment, then students in Form One to Three will have to do eight projects or reports; and students in Form Four and Five will have to do 10 or 11 projects.

Do we need that many projects or reports just to prove that a student is innovative, creative and critical?

What about the teachers? On an average, a teacher is assigned five classes to teach two different subjects and at two different levels (forms).

Now, if a class has 30 students, the teacher is looking at 150 projects or reports in two different subjects and two different levels to supervise and assess. And that is for only one school term.

Ironically, this sheer abundance of projects or reports may be the very thing that would kill the zeal and interest for innovation and creativity in both students and teachers.

No wonder we hear even now of plagiarism at the school level and there are also plenty of last-minute slipshod work just to complete the projects or reports before the school term closes.

Shouldn't projects or reports be across the curriculum, meaning that a student only does one project, or at most two, that is multi-subject-based, either individually or in groups per school term or per school year?

Schools can then assign teachers to supervise and assess these projects or reports accordingly. The burden then, both for students and teachers, becomes more bearable.

If the subject specialists at the ministry plan separately for their subjects, the tendency is they will come up with each subject having its own requirement for projects and reports, although these projects and reports may necessitate a more-than-one-subject approach.

The result then is students and teachers having a very heavy load of projects and reports to do and to supervise and assess, respectively.

These are aspects that the planners of PBS at the ministry must seriously look into lest the so-called students' projects or reports become sort of "garbage-in, garbage-out" products and the assessments by teachers become meaningless and devoid of any significance.

Source: School-based assessment: Don't burden students

Cut-and-paste students end up being half-baked


THERE is a disturbing trend among college students to “cut-and-paste” their project papers and assignments. The Internet has opened up a new world and life is so much easier in accessing information.

An increasing number of students are resorting to this method because every one is doing it, and the most disconcerting part is that there is absolutely no acknowledgment on the source of information, nor credit given to the authors of the article. In short, no references are made and it would seem as if it is their own work.

Yes, plagiarism is on the rise. It is so blatant that students accept it as another convenient way of learning. The last-minute rush to complete assignments is usually an excuse for resorting to this.

Having taught in private and public universities, I am aware of the gravity of the problem. If one were to grade the project papers, the tell-tale signs are there. There is a lack of coherence and train of thought between paragraphs.

Usually, it is very easy to detect the paragraphs written by the student and those copied wholesale from the Internet. The difference in the standard of English is very apparent.

Sometimes, several students would have the same paragraphs extracted from popular sources such as Wikipedia. It is sad to note that even lecturers who have been so set in their ways in this new culture during their undergraduate days choose to close one eye to such misdemeanours.

But the truth will be revealed in the exams. Students fail miserably in conveying their thoughts in simple language and it becomes clear that they have not grasped a good understanding of the subject matter. They are unable to express their thoughts in a clear fashion. Some learn by heart and vomit out word by word.

Where do we go from here? The management of institutions of higher learning needs to recognise the problem and if not addressed early, it will be blown out of proportion.

There is a need for the Higher Education Ministry to conduct a comprehensive study to get to the root of this problem. Is this practice more prevalent in private or public universities? Taking into account commercial considerations, are private universities more compromising in order to increase the passing rate? How do leading universities in the world address such a problem?

In the final analysis, it is not only the students who suffer but the whole nation. The “half-baked” graduates who have not learned the skills of thinking will hardly be an asset to their employers.

More importantly, these students who had life the easy way will find it difficult to adapt to the challenging and fast-pace work environment.

PAUL SINGH, Kuala Lumpur.

Source : The STAR Home > News > Opinion Monday August 9, 2010

Do we have the right teachers as educators?

THE Malaysian education system has been the subject of much debate lately, particularly on whether or not to abolish the UPSR and PMR examinations.

However, the issue of revamping of the education system was totally ignored.Examination is just a small part in the education system. One of the flaws of our system is making education too exam-oriented. And rote-learning has become ingrained in the minds of our students.

There are many areas in our education system that need revamping. The three most crucial aspects are:

> Getting the right teachers for the job;

> Developing good teachers, and;

> Enabling our system to deliver the best for our students.

If we look at our current system, I fear we are not getting the right people to become teachers.

Our training system doesn’t seem to equip our teachers with the right attitude to teach and it has not provided the best for our students.

We need to employ the best people to the job of nurturing the young minds. These people should have the correct mindset as educators. However, to most of our teachers today, teaching is just another routine job like any other profession.

Teaching demands more than imparting knowledge to students. But the passion for the profession seems to be missing among the current batch of teachers as compared to teachers of yesteryears.

Most countries in the world, including those in Asia, have revamped their education system according to the pressing needs of the 21st Century. But we are still bogged down in our old-age system with frequent stop-gap measures introduced from time to time, as a means to try and make some improvements.

These temporary measures are not working, but rather creates more issues and problems to the system.

We need to move away from an instructive mode to a self-access mode in schools. Our students are too dependent upon teachers. Probably, we need a better and more innovative curriculum to replace the existing one.

DR S. NATHESAN, Muar, Johor

Source : The STAR Home > News > Opinion Monday August 9, 2010