THE central-based Sijil Pelajaran Malaysia examination is being conducted now. Tomorrow, the results of another central-based evaluation, Ujian Pencapaian Sekolah Rendah, will be announced. Finally, next month, the results of the third central-based evaluation, Penilaian Menengah Rendah (PMR), will come out.
This is the last year for the PMR. From next year, Pentaksiran Berasaskan Sekolah Menengah Rendah (PBSMR), an "improved version of PMR" (NST, Oct 4), will be carried out. All three central-based evaluations have been part and parcel of the education system for a long time.
As their names imply, these evaluations are standardised (meaning all students in Malaysia sit for them), questions for subjects are set by the Examination Board, exams are conducted simultaneously across the country by teacher-invigilators not in the school they teach in, answer scripts corrected by examiners (not from the students' school), and finally, the results are supposed to be reflective of the students' achievements.
The rigour of precautions taken by the Education Ministry indicates that students' grades are reliable. For example, an "A" grade of a student who studied in a rural school is equivalent to an "A" of a student who studied in an urban school.
In short, Malaysian society will have an overall view of the success or not, of students having gone through the education system with a common curriculum.
However, the trend around the world is to move from central-based to school-based or aspects of school-based (taking small steps at a time so to speak) student evaluation or assessment (SBE).
The Malaysia Education Blueprint is taking these small steps when PMR becomes PBSMR. The main features of SBE is that the central Examination Board will only give guidelines. As such, the schools run the examinations, formulate the examination papers (questions), school teachers mark these papers and accordingly grade and provide the students' results.
Generally, therefore exam questions from one school to another can be different. Positively, this is empowerment: schools become more responsible for student evaluation and no more dependent on an "outside" body/agency.
Why this trend? Top of the reasons, I suppose, is that there are real disadvantages to some students in central-based evaluation.
For example, it is said to be unfair as students in rural schools differ from those in urban schools; grading them with a standard instrument is not reflective of actual ability.
For a student in a rural area to get an "A" in English Language would probably mean more hard work for both student and teacher, while the urban student with access to tuition, exposure to spoken English via media (books, television) and speaking English with friends, has an advantage to score an "A" easily. As such, the ability to study harder, to allocate more time to study or have less help are not known elements in the score/grade.
However, for the blueprint to make a move from central to school-based evaluation is indeed a paradigm shift!
The ministry has to be absolutely clear about implementation. The stakeholders (students) must not unwittingly be "losers". Conducted incorrectly, SBE can be abused, manipulated and any grades/results of students may be worse i.e. less reflective of what they are, than from the central-based evaluation.
But let us not be pessimistic. Generally, teachers say that the most important objective of SBE is to enable them to evaluate their students in a diagnostic manner whereby learning weaknesses and strengths can be detected. This allows teachers to help overcome the learning problems so that these do not accumulate, thus making learning more and more difficult and lead the students to fail and drop out of school.
At the same time, students' strengths can be harnessed and lead them to lay the foundations of their interests for career purposes.
So, the stress on SBE essentially is that students' learning is constantly monitored which is not possible with the central-based evaluation. The latter is a "one-shot do or die" thing -- if you score well, your future is brighter but if you do not, you are deemed "not too smart" which can be far from the truth actually. Maybe you are just not an "exam person" or you just did not know how to overcome your learning problems.
As with many educational ideas, teachers know the worth and potential of SBE but telling them to actually practise and implement it is a tall order. The fear is if it is not properly conducted, the SBE will take the form of a mini central-based evaluation where the goal of being diagnostic in nature is lost.
Finally, innocent students should not be "victimised" if SBE cannot be used to measure their capabilities. Instead, it might be better and wiser to improve the central-based evaluation strategy.
Zaleha Izhab, Kuala Lumpur New Straits Times Letters to the Editor 13/11/2013