Our education system must be one that allows children to demonstrate their learning and thinking abilities, not just regurgitate facts.
BEING tested is a fundamental part of our existence in all facets of society. The selection process is at work, right from the second our first screams fill the air as we enter the world, until the moment our final breath is exhaled.
People judge you on everything from your looks, the clothes you wear, and the language you use to the company you keep. They form opinions based on how you measure up to their individual standards, and then classify you as they see fit.
Public examinations in this respect are no different, except that the Education Ministry sets the assessment scales for all pupils and students combined.
Just as we evaluate the reactions of others at any given moment, our education system assesses us through the means of public examinations, such as the Ujian Pencapaian Sekolah Rendah (UPSR) and Penilaian Menengah Rendah (PMR). Although such ordeals are supposed to provide a reliable indicator of accumulated knowledge and learning, they actually reflect a simple snapshot image of a pupil’s performance at a particular moment on a given day.
With the nexus of our education system hinging on excelling — or at least, doing well — in these examinations, a poor performance can have drastic effects on a pupil’s future orientation — both at school and the working world.
Not only are pupils and students stressed over the consequences potential bad results may have on their future, but so too are parents, who see straight A’s in these examinations as the be-all and end-all of their child’s education.
Therefore, it is no wonder that the controversy over scrapping these public examinations continues to rage fiercely among the various stakeholders involved.
Examinations, by definition, are supposed to provide measures of what professional exam writers refer to as reliability, validity and backwash.
While the former is to do with minimising measurement error in student performance, validity is concerned with providing a representative sample of what it is supposed to measure, i.e. the syllabi under study.
The follow-on effects that these exam results have on pupils, teachers and the education system is known as harmful or beneficial backwash.
While the standard errors of measurement on the UPSR and PMR can be said to provide nation-wide comparability of scores, the validity of these examinations needs to be called into question.
With the nature of the UPSR and PMR being highly geared towards passive recall of data, pupils are not given the opportunity to show their learning, but rather their capacity to demonstrate how well they can memorise facts.
This kind of exercise can hardly be called a true representative sample of their schoolwork to date.
Consequently, these examinations defeat the very purpose they set out to serve, i.e. that of demonstrating critical thinking ability and skills. Negative backwash then sets in, as both learning and teaching become focused on public examinations as an end in themselves rather than the education syllabi which they were originally meant to serve.
Several additional factors also deserve a mention in the education system and process as part of the ongoing debate regarding the use of public examinations as the sole criterion for assessing a pupil’s performance and deciding on their future.
The exclusive use of public examinations to evaluate a pupil’s performance at a particular level of their schooling does not recognise their schoolwork and classroom contributions throughout the term.
They may be significantly more important than the examination results, due to affective factors of stress and worry caused by these ordeals.
This also begs the question of clearly defining the learning outcomes on multiple levels. Not only should policy-makers refine and revise the levels of knowledge, and the learning abilities pupils and students require at all stages of their schooling, they should also look to cultivate individual student personal development as well.
After all, education is not just about imparting knowledge, but also about forming and informing the wholesome global citizens of tomorrow.
It would seem that the best way to achieve such a goal is by drawing together these different threads of the education process, in the interest of all concerned.
With a leaner curriculum, more suitably trained and qualified teaching staff, a reasonable balance of ongoing class assessments and public examinations constructed with validity and positive backwash in mind, the Ministry will fulfil its goal of providing a truer and fairer education process in the eyes of all of its stakeholders.
In conclusion, it is clear that public examinations such as the USPR and the PMR do indeed have a key role to play in the education system and the selection process at large.
When constructed and used intelligently, they offer a uniform measure of comparability and standardisation of results across the country.
More importantly, they can also be used to pinpoint gaps in pupils’ knowledge, which often go undetected and plague them in the learning process for years to come.
It is therefore not the examination instrument in itself which needs to come under the spotlight, but rather the way it is used and how it is used that needs to be dismantled and re-examined from top to bottom.
Nick Rogers is an experienced language teacher and lecturer. He has taught in Europe and Asia for over two decades.
Source : The Star Education Sunday October 17, 2010