I STUDIED under a school system practised in the post-war period before Merdeka (1946 to 1956), where promotion to the next higher class depended on passing the two-term examinations and the final year-end examination. The two-term examinations contributed to 30 per cent of the marks in the final year-end examination.
Coursework recorded in the science lab logbook of the students also contributed some marks to the final year-end examinations.
The examinations were set and corrected by the class teachers who taught the various subjects. Failing the year-end examination for the first time in one's school career meant being retained for an extra year in the same class.
Failing for the second year in one's school career meant being expelled from school. The teachers then wielded much power to make or break a student's career.
Teachers being humans with normal weaknesses -- of prejudices, likes and dislikes, coupled with the power to make or break a student's career -- led, in some cases, to abuse of power.
It was not unusual for teachers giving private tuition to favour such students by coaching them on the answers to the examination questions set by the teacher and/or favourably marking their answer scripts.
A teacher may develop a prejudice against a pupil who asks awkward questions that expose the teacher's shortcomings in his knowledge, and embarrasses him in front of the class. Or he could have a grudge against the pupil's father and take it out on the son. Worse still, he could pass on his prejudice to other teachers who he regularly meets in the staff room or outside.
So a prejudice formed by a teacher against a pupil in the lower classes tends to stick with him throughout his school career until he sits the Cambridge Overseas School Certificate (OSC) examination, which is an independently conducted public examination.
The results of the OSC examination, in some cases, produces surprising results, with some teachers' favourites getting disappointing results and some "black sheep" performing spectacularly.
There is also uniformity in grading in centrally conducted public examinations regardless of which school the pupil attended or even if he or she is an independent candidate. But then, there is also the obsession by some schools to produce good results.
So, now that the Education Ministry is working towards class-based assessments, could we learn from the past and could the assessment system be tweaked to produce better results?
By M.G.D., Kuala Lumpur
Source: New Straits Times Letters to the Editors 24 April 2012