March 16th, 2016

Good education, but at what cost?

WHEN rebuking another’s article, it is imperative to get one’s facts right. I am referring to the letter “System is far from being world-class” (The Star, March 7) by V. Chandran of Singapore.

I wrote that University College London, while ranked seventh overall in the world, is also ranked 50th for engineering and technology. Is this not “a whisker above” Universiti Malaya, ranked 54th for the same discipline?

He wrote that currently 15-year-olds take PMR in Malaysia, forgetting that since 2014, all 15-year-old Malaysian students began taking the PT3 examinations.

He asked how it was disadvantageous to compare our students to those of other countries, although I never mentioned it was disadvantageous in the first place. I merely disagreed with the methods used by the Programme for International Student Assessment (Pisa) since it did some countries injustice.

Rather than slowing down the progress of our students, we encourage them to pursue their hobbies and interests while maintaining equilibrium between work and play. Consider the average Korean high school student attending specialty study institutes called hagwon. They start as early as 2am and continue to study well past midnight every day. Or take a look at Japanese students who attend cram schools (juku), all for the sake of acing their exams. Their entire pre-university life is defined by the number of formulae they can cram into their heads! Is this the nightmare we want to subject our children to?

At age 15, our students sit for PT3 (Year 8 equivalent) instead of Year 9 because education is not a race to finish the syllabus. We need five years of secondary education compared to Singapore’s four to ensure that our students are mentally stable.

Regarding the issue of teaching Maths and Science in English or Malay, the medium of instruction cannot affirm nor negate world-quality status. After all, Japan and Korea use their native language predominantly in education, yet both are considered world-class.

Asking why Malaysia is ranked below Vietnam in the 2012 Pisa Rankings is superfluous; Britain and the United States were ranked below Vietnam too.

He argued that Singapore’s education is a lot more competitive than ours but I fail to see this as a positive. Has education truly degenerated into a competition, where only the smartest succeed while the less academically inclined are left meandering the streets, jobless? Imagine grooming a seven-year-old to best his friends in national level examinations just to claim he had “achieved success” in his life. He would grow up with a perverse view of what success should be!

Referring to SPI C75’s letter, “Need to address other aspects of education” (The Star, March 7), the writer says Malaysian universities “churn out huge numbers of unemployable graduates”, ignoring that Malaysia’s current unemployment rate, at 3.30%, is significantly better than South Korea (3.50%), the US (4.90%), Britain (5.10%), Australia (6%) and Germany (6.20%).

The writer opines that our graduates lack soft skills. But look at an article from the official blog of the National University of Singapore, in which Doreen Ang, career advisor at NUS, said, “We frequently receive feedback from employers that although NUS graduates are well prepared for written and psychometric tests, they are lacking in soft skills like the ability to market themselves well during an interview”. This just shows that everyone is in the same boat.

In questioning the government programme to “retrain unemployed graduates”, we forget that in America, the federal government also retrains the unemployed under the Manpower Development and Training Act 1962.

Education is a necessity, but health is a privilege. Is it worth being at the top of the Pisa or QS Rankings if it means that our children suffer from stress-induced ill health? The fruits of education cannot be harvested at the expense of the physical and mental wellbeing of our children. Chan Weng Kit Ipoh The STAR Home News Opinion Letters 15 Mar 2016

Grading should be made transparent

I REFER to the reports “No easy end to SPM Chinese saga” and “We need a thorough reform” (Sunday Star, March 13).

One of my tuition students, like many top-performing students in the recent SPM exam, also lamented that she scored Grade As in nine subjects but got only a B in Chinese Language.

Apparently, students who took other subjects like Bible Knowledge and English Literature also complained about their relatively lower grades for the aforesaid subjects.

Year in, year out when results are released, high achievers understandably are not satisfied with the score they get, presumably because they are not aware of how the grading is done by the authorities.

Perhaps the authorities should be more transparent and inform the public, parents and students of the marking and grading system in public examinations.

I suppose the exam authorities convert the marks that the candidates achieved on every exam paper into grades, and subsequently scaling the marks and grading the students to fit an appropriate normal distribution curve.

Unfortunately, this system of grading does not truly reflect the students’ performance especially when many students do exceptionally well and score high marks in the exam. Because of the normal distribution curve, not all of these high-performing students will get A or A+.

To avoid any unnecessary suspicions and doubts, the exam papers should be marked in such a way that the mark and grade reflect how well a student has achieved the learning outcomes and in accordance with the marking scheme.

To my knowledge, most schools use the criteria referenced framework in their monthly or term tests and assessments or examinations, which means assessment is made on the basis of performance defined by pre-specified criteria, rather than norm-referenced approaches where assessment is made on the basis of performance relative to that of other members of the class.

Ideally, the marking schemes should be made available to the students so that they know how evaluations and assessments are done and processed; how marks and grades are determined; and ultimately how these marks and corresponding grades are recorded on their certificates.

Certainly, this format of exam certificates will be more comprehensive and informative to colleges and universities.

It would also be absolutely beneficial to employers who may be wondering how some students who have scored Grade A+ in English Language are not able to string a sentence together.

If the marks are also recorded beside the grades, then the employers will get a clearer picture of the academic profile of the students.

I firmly believe that many stakeholders, in particular parents and students, will accept the adoption of the criteria referenced framework in public examinations because of the transparency and accountability in its assessment. Thomas Kok The STAR Home News Opinion Letters 15 Mar 2016