THE announcement by the Education Ministry to decentralise the Form 3 (PT3) exam starting from 2018 is extremely disappointing news.
This policy to decentralise our national exams will destroy our education system and produce the disastrous outcomes we are observing in other decentralised education systems like the United States where students from middle class and upper middle class households who have the resources and privileges to attend better schools continue to outperform their peers from the working class and poor households.
This disparity is widely exacerbated in the US because schools, rather than the state, have the power to assess the students.
When this power is given to schools, the quality of education in the nation is determined by the schools rather than by the centralised and standardised national exams.
Eventually, inconsistencies among schools in assessing students would lead to parents and students battling for the few select high-quality schools.
Parents would then need to move to districts where “good” schools are located in order to get quality education for their children. Those parents who could not afford to move would compromise the education and future of their children.
The scenarios above are not merely concocted projections but rather the natural pathways of our nation in the coming years if decentralisation of the education system is allowed to take place.
It is imperative to remember that our centralised and standardised national exams have long served as the ladder for our upward socioeconomic mobility. In three generations, our illiterate grandparents were followed by our high school dropout parents and now by a new generation of Malaysians who have earned doctoral degrees from the best institutions in the US.
This progress was possible because we have had standardised and centralised national exams that provided equal playing fields.
The school one attended mattered very little because all students in Malaysia, whether at the foothills of Mount Kinabalu or footsteps of KL Tower, sat for the same exam papers and answered the same questions.
This they did after studying the same syllabi and answering similar questions.
It was because of our centralised and standardised national exams that pictures of our nation’s top students standing in a padi field with her father while holding her exam results or standing solemnly in front of her ramshackle house appeared on the front pages of our newspapers – affirming the possibilities of rising to the pinnacle regardless of the school one attended.
These possibilities would be taken away by this experiment to decentralise PT3.
Additionally, our centralised national exams have provided sufficient room for our students to fail and enough time to improve themselves before sitting for one final national exam that would be the ultimate to judge them. This is a privilege that should not be taken away.
Some educationists would argue that the standardised and centralised national exams have destroyed the passion for learning. However, these same educationists could not produce any alternative method to assess the students other than recommending for the decentralising of PT3.
PT3 is already a difficult exam. It is mind-boggling to think that the PT3 Science and Maths papers, which are difficult, contain a limited number of basic Science and Maths questions. They also have no multiple choice questions despite the presence of this type of questions all the way to the professional board exams in the country.
It is perplexing to think that PT3 students are judged solely on course work for Geography and History even when SPM History, which would determine whether they receive the sacrosanct SPM certificate, is tested with written exams.
It is shocking to think that the same criteria used in PMR and SRP to determine streaming in Form 4 is used in PT3 despite the latter’s Maths and Science exams being far more difficult, leading to ever- shrinking number of students allowed to learn Physics, Chemistry and Biology in Malaysia.
Instead of decentralising PT3, the Education Ministry should concentrate on creating inclusive questions in this exam that would accommodate students of all strengths and aptitudes. They might want to diversify the modes of assessment in PT3 by adding course work to represent 30% of the final grades, as is being done in institutions of higher learning. These are better approaches than decentralising PT3.
It is too late to change the policy for PT3 2018. However, the first batch of KSSM (Standard Based Curriculum for Secondary Schools) students will be sitting for PT3 in 2019. These students born in the year 2004 have gone through so many changes due to our quest to climb up the world’s education rankings. Please keep their PT3 as a centralised and standardised national exam. They would benefit immensely like the previous cohort of students in Malaysia once did. After all, our SPM is standardised and centralised for good reasons.