CHOK Suat Ling's article "1 less A is not the end of the world" (NST, Nov 21) in reference to the results of the Ujian Pencapaian Sekolah Rendah (UPSR) had worthy points.
Given our examination-oriented culture, Chok's "failing to score does not equal failing in life" is not going to convince the child who did not get 5As.
One cannot say to the child if you did not get an "A" in English, it does not mean you are not good at it, even though that might be true. However stringent the Education Ministry is in ensuring public examination results do reflect the ability of the student in any one subject, there are numerous examples where a student got an "A" in English but could not even construct a sentence correctly. Going along that line of argument might not be safe, as it could mean then the As scored were not truly As.
But what is more scary is that there have been several media reports on suicide attempts among young people unable to cope with exam stress.
I guess to reduce this unnecessary stress, and for other reasons, the ministry thus embarked on the PBS (SBA or school-based assessment). This would downplay the focus on public exam results or at best would allow students to get better results. Unfortunately, PBS has brought on other woes and stress among teachers.
PBS has taken a form not what it should be like. Teachers are to fill up form after form of students' results online. It is so tedious and getting online is so difficult. Teachers have to get up during the wee hours to access the ministry's portal to key in their work.
Granted, the deputy education minister said both problems would be resolved next year (NST, Nov 17), but for now PBS seems like a bane.
An examination-oriented culture, which has been around for so long, cannot be erased in just a blink of the eye.
The prime minister's stand in many issues is to go for moderation. So maybe this is the way the ministry should approach the student evaluation problem. Moderation means no drastic changes, improve what one already has. A high-ranking education officer once told me "Why burn down the castle (referring to central-based evaluation) we have built for new ventures on unbeaten paths, instead take small steps to a clearly stated end/destination".
Bearing in mind that a culture cannot be erased overnight, the ministry could revamp and improve its central-based evaluation strategy. Continue to have standardised public examinations, but ensure these reflect what they are supposed to reflect. If it only measures the "cognitive domain" say so and be clear that an A, B and C scores really reflect (even if it is only the knowledge level) A, B and C respectively in the subjects. Do not claim they reflect all mental abilities.
Since PBS is the "new kid on the block", the "new venture on unbeaten paths" gives more empowerment to the teachers. Explain to them the concept behind PBS (namely when evaluating their students, detecting their weaknesses and strengths, and taking the appropriate follow-up steps, be they remedial or lateral/self-propelled work, respectively).
Highlight to the teachers the notion of "No child is to be left behind". Emphasis on total development should be reiterated. Teachers are subject specialists, so they know their area of focus towards the total development of the students. Give the teachers this leeway, for they are professionals and they, too, do not want their students to fail in their studies.
Zaleha Izhab, Kuala Lumpur New Straits Times Opinion Letters-to-the-editor 26/11/2013