September 15th, 2015

Complaints over UPSR paper

PETALING JAYA: Deputy Education Minister Senator Chong Sin Woon has called for a briefing with the Malaysian Examinations Syndicate (MES) to discuss the difficult Ujian Pencapaian Sekolah Rendah (UPSR) Chinese Language examination paper.

“I can only comment once I have received the briefing and explanation from the MES,” he told The Star.

According to MCA deputy president Datuk Dr Wee Ka Siong, the UPSR Chinese Language examination questions were copied from an SPM workbook.

The MES is in charge of UPSR, Pentaksiran Tingkatan Tiga (PT3) and SPM.

Chong said he had seen social media posts by upset parents regarding the difficult Chinese Language paper and would bring it up when he meets with the MES.

On Saturday, Dr Wee, whose son recently sat for the UPSR examinations, posted pictures of an SPM workbook cover, on Facebook.

In the post, Dr Wee said he was unsure whether the questions were set to “test students” or to “intentionally make answering hard” for them.

“I hope examiners in the future can have the right ‘mindset’ in setting questions,” he added.

Several newspapers had reported about UPSR pupils leaving the examination hall almost crying after their Chinese paper. The UPSR took place from Sept 8 to Sept 10.

MCA president Datuk Seri Liow Tiong Lai said the party’s education consultative committee would look into the problem.

Liow said the committee – led by his deputy Dr Wee – would also get the feedback and suggestions from the educationists and parents, before making recommendations to solve the problem.

He said the difficulty level of an examination did not equate to the standard or quality of the subject.

“An examination is to test the students’ grasp of the knowledge they gained in school.

“What’s most important is that the students can put what they have learned to good use,” said Liow, adding that a difficult test could also undermine the students’ confidence in the subject.

Beh Yuen Hui and Rebecca Rajaendram The STAR Home News Nation 14 September 2015

UPSR Chinese and Science papers difficult

PETALING JAYA: Pupils are finding the UPSR exam papers difficult because of the Higher Order Thinking Skills (HOTS) questions.

It was so challenging that many of them left the examination hall last week in tears after taking the Chinese and Science papers.

The HOTS questions were introduced in last year’s examinations for UPSR (Year Six), PT3 (Form Three) and SPM (Form Five).

HOTS refers to thinking that requires greater cognitive processing compared to other types of thinking. It involves critical, reflective thinking as well as decision-making, problem-solving and reasoning.

A parent, who only wanted to be identified as Shirley, said her daughter and a few other pupils from the top class of a primary school in Kuala Lumpur left the examination hall crying after sitting for the Science paper.

“Almost the entire Science Paper II had HOTS questions. There were some really ridiculous ones, too, such as how temperature affects rust, and which would rust faster – a bicycle left in a room or a bicycle left in a house compound,” said Shirley.

“My daughter Sara also complained that there wasn’t enough time to complete the Maths Paper I, as some questions were very tough,” she said.

Shirley, who works full-time, said she took leave from work to help her daughter revise for the UPSR examinations and knew how well-prepared Sara was.

“Sara is an A student. But based on what she told me, Sara is unlikely to get 5As. Even adults wouldn’t have been able to answer the questions in the Science paper.

“Our education system puts too much undue stress. It looks like whatever effort Sara and other children put into preparing for the exams will be wasted,” said Shirley.

Shirley said she spoke to fellow parents and several teachers, who agreed that the Science paper was particularly difficult.

“The teachers even said ‘please don’t blame us’, for fear of being blamed by parents for their children’s bad exam results. They also complained about how the exams were beyond what had been set in the syllabus,” she said.

Commenting on the Chinese paper, Tan, a teacher from a Chinese school in Puchong, said her colleagues said that only the comprehension section of the UPSR Chinese language paper was difficult.

“They said the section was tricky as the answers were similar, but the rest of the paper was okay. The teachers have done the necessary to ensure our pupils are prepared to answer the HOTS questions,” she said.

A school senior assistant named Chia said: “The HOTS element trains children to think further. Perhaps the students and teachers are not ready, and have to change their way of thinking to better prepare for change.”

When contacted, a representative from the Education Ministry said the matter would be referred to the Examinations Syndicate.National Union of Teaching Profession secretary-general Datuk Lok Yim Pheng said those who set the questions for the UPSR Chinese language paper should be made answerable.

“There have never been reports of the paper being difficult until now. The UPSR is an exam to evaluate a student’s performance after six years of education, and they shouldn’t be tortured with difficult papers.

“The Chinese subject allows students to acquire an additional language. The emphasis should be on the Bahasa Malaysia paper,” said Lok.

More to results than CGPA

I REFER to the views on CGPA, “In a fix over classification and rating of CGPA results” and “Have a CGPA rating system that cuts across the board” (The Star, Sept 7 and Sept 11 respectively).

Back on Feb 6, 2004, I wrote in the Sunday Star Education pullout on the need for a standard yardstick on the honours system for the degrees awarded by local universities both private or government. Sad to say, no one paid any attention.

The system of awarding honours in many local universities brings to argument several issues that must be addressed to safeguard the integrity and the quality of the graduates.

Firstly, the categorisation in the system of level of class of honours in many local universities provides no provision for the award of a general degree. Granted that a programme offered is officially known as an honours programme, it does not mean that every student who passes deserves an honours degree, however.

Secondly, apart from grades scored there are no prerequisites as indications of a student’s competence in the course or subject taken as proof of his/her prowess and thus deserving an honours degree.

For example, a student needs to pass every course or subject at the first attempt. Over and above it, he needs to pass every question attempted in each paper in the final examination. Also, as a display of competence, an honours student must complete his dissertation, assignments, etc., on or before a given deadline. Added to all these, he must not have any disciplinary record especially pertaining to his academic performance. Failure to meet these criteria is an indication of a student’s academic weakness.

Thirdly, to qualify for honours a student must complete her programme within a given period.

Simply put, quality of the student can be measured by her ability to complete her studies or programme within a specific period. An extension of a stipulated period is tantamount to a student being weak. Even though she attained a high CGPA (cumulative grade point average), an extension gave a student added advantage over other students who completed their programme within a stipulated period. What is worse is that in some universities, if a student repeats a subject, her previous failed result will not be counted for the CGPA. This is unfair to those who passed at the first attempt.

Suffice to say that a student who failed to meet the criteria as described above can be classified as unsatisfactory though not to an extent warranting a failure. Therefore he deserves only a “pass” without honours.

The academic system in many countries including Malaysia has undergone great changes. Perhaps the most important is the phenomenon of “massification” which is a neologism denoting the shift from elite to nearly universal access. To reward deserving cases, stringent rules must be imposed for reasons of integrity.

If an institution wants to be and to remain at the pinnacle of excellence in academia, it has to have a gauging system of high quality respected by others as fair and just to give priority to deserving cases.

It is imperative that quality of graduates be paramount and be maintained to safeguard the reputation of an institution. When a student enters a university he must realise that it is a place where a degree is earned. He must not hope for a remedial time as preparation before entering for a course or programme.

Simply put, if a student does not meet the requirements needed, he must not be admitted. Failure to cope with a course or programme, which is normally indicated by failure in a subject or/and inability to meet deadlines, means a student is not in with the mainstream group and has to be weeded out. If necessary, he must be asked to leave. Henceforth, a division is created distinguishing the straight passers from the stragglers. This division is not a case of creating a class in society as education is no longer for the elite but for everyone who meet the qualifications.

Taking two semesters to pass a subject is tantamount to using the first semester for remedial purposes and the second as the one to pass. Potential students should know what the university expects of them before setting foot on the campus. There should not be a compromise on the standard expected. Potential students must know that to be successful in a university, they must be able to work independently. With that, there will be less money and time spent on developing students’ learning skill even if subjects or courses are new to them. A positive culture is thus born in the campus for the workplace.

The allocation on education in the national budget is an indication that education here is heavily subsidised by the Federal Government. It means that funds available come mainly via taxing the working community. Therefore education is a national investment.

Conventional wisdom states that any amount invested must be cost effective and returns must be realised as soon as possible. One way is for students to graduate not only with high grades but also within a specific period. Failure to do so is tantamount to them being stragglers.

Simply put, agencies that promise to convert loans to scholarships should add the length of period in completing a programme over and above the grades achieved. Dr Arzmi Yaacob Subang Jaya The STAR Home News Opinion Letters 15 September 2015