Students are encouraged to think critically with the new format of the Sijil Pelajaran Malaysia examination for History.
CHRISTINE* feels that studying for her History subject is a chore.
“There’s just too much to memorise, and I’m always worrying about forgetting everything during the examination,” said the secondary school student from the Klang Valley.
Her classmate, Azura* added: “It’s pretty boring; I’d rather do my Mathematics homework during History lessons.”
As they lamented their workload for the subject, the students’ teacher was busy drilling her class on answers to possible questions that may appear in the Sijil Pelajaran Malaysia (SPM) examination.
“Have you all memorised the sample essays I gave you last week?” asked the teacher as a few students nodded their heads half-heartedly.
“If you don’t pay attention, then you can forget about getting your A’s,” reprimanded the teacher.
The above is a typical scenario seen in many History lessons nationwide.
In the curriculum and assessment guidelines set out by the Education Ministry, the goals of History education include enabling students to understand the socio-economic and political development of the country as well as understanding and analysing historical facts in a rational manner.
For all the ministry’s good intentions of encouraging students to think critically and apply their knowledge, the reality is that lessons on the ground may not reflect this.
It is common for teachers to “spot” the questions and for students to memorise wholesale “analytical essays” to be regurgitated in the examinations.
“It’s very well to tell teachers to be more creative with their teaching, but if students don’t make the grade, we get the blame as well,” said a History teacher from Johor.
“Unfortunately, studying for the examination is still seen as being more important than making lessons meaningful to students.”
With History being a must-pass subject in the SPM from 2013 onwards, the Education Ministry has introduced a new format of assessment for the subject.
The current SPM History examination comprises two papers; Paper One is a multiple choice test while Paper Two requires students to answer structured questions and write essays. Come 2013, students will have to tackle an additional paper — a three-hour open book examination.
The move to make History a compulsory subject to pass in the SPM was first announced by Deputy Prime Minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin in 2010.
Muhyiddin, who is also the Education Minister, said then that putting more emphasis on history would create a deeper appreciation of the concept of “negara bangsa”.
He further added that History will be a core subject in primary schools from 2014 under the new Standard Curriculum for Primary Schools (KSSR).
The announcement, made during Muhyiddin’s winding-up speech at the Umno General Assembly, took everyone by surprise.
Media reports credited the move to calls made by several Umno delegates to place more emphasis on the subject; the delegates had apparently argued that the younger generation had scant knowledge of the nation’s history and its Federal Constitution.
In subsequent months, it seemed that everyone from politicians to parents had demanded a review of the History curriculum.
Finally on May 3, 2011, the Education Ministry appointed a 10-member committee to look at possible revisions to the current History syllabus — nation-building and correcting factual inaccuracies was to be the chief focus of the review.
Chaired by Malaysian Historical Society executive committee chairman Datuk Omar Mohd Hashim, the committee included former Universiti Teknologi Mara’s Administrative Science and Policy Studies Faculty dean Prof Datuk Dr Ramlah Adam and historian Prof Emeritus Tan Sri Dr Khoo Kay Kim.
At the same time, certain quarters still debated the merits of the History curriculum, claiming inaccuracies and bias in the current History textbooks.
One high-profile critic was the Campaign for a Truly Malaysian History (also known as Kempen Sejarah Malaysia Sebenar or KSMS), a 22-member committee consisting of parents, academics and representatives of non-governmental organisations.
KSMS was formed to provide independent input to the government-elected panel and its suggestions were forwarded to the ministry late last year.
Meanwhile, the government-appointed panel has also submitted its report to the ministry on improving the History curriculum, but it is unclear what exactly the changes will be.
As Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak is set to launch an education transformation plan on Sept 11, it is likely that the panel’s recommendations will be included in these reforms as well.
The new format of assessment was first detailed in an Education Ministry circular dated Aug 8, 2011.
Paper One (multiple choice) will have 40 questions to be answered within one hour, and accounts for 30% of students’ overall marks.
For Paper Two (subjective), students will answer four structured questions and can choose to write three essays out of the seven questions provided.
This paper lasts for two-and-a-half hours and carries a 50% weightage.
Accounting for 20% of the overall grade, Paper Three (tugasan or task) requires students to write a guided essay in three hours.
A month before the examination, students will be given the general topic of Paper Three so they can carry out their own research on the subject.
While the exact question will only be revealed during the examination itself, students are allowed to bring relevant printed materials such as textbooks, magazines and reference books into the examination hall.
It would appear then that the paper is a mirror to university-styled assignments, and intended at making students look beyond the confines of their textbooks.
An officer from the Malaysian Examinations Syndicate said that the reason for the new examination format is to encourage “higher order thinking skills” instead of rote learning.
“By allowing students to look at other resources (aside from textbooks), we hope to make them analyse and learn in a more in-depth manner,” she said.
“They should be able to formulate their own views on a topic, and support these views with empirical data.
“In that sense, they need to identify the difference between reliable and unreliable sources,” she said.
This method of assessment detailed above will be in place from 2013 to 2017; from 2018 onwards, the subject will be assessed using the Standard Curriculum for Secondary Schools (KSSM).