Friday, March 24, 2006

Illiterate Undergraduates

Here's what Professor Khoo Kay Kim, Professor Emeritus at the History Department of Universiti Malaya have to say about the typical undergraduate today:
"I don't know how to talk to university students any more... They don't understand what I am saying, it is that bad. I cannot communicate with them."
While I'm in complete agreement with the state of affairs for many students entering universities today, I disagree with the diagnosis provided by the various parties as per the report in the New Straits Times.

Everybody seems to have something to say about the high achievers from the recent bunch of SPM and STPM graduates. Many are "complaining" about the number of subjects being taken by some of these students, enabling them to score 10-15 straight 1As.

And now, it appears that the fact that the number of subjects these students are sitting for in the examinations is the cause of undergrad illiteracy in the universities.
The Education Ministry understands that things have to change, so students coming from secondary schools are not just note-memorising, straight-A students with little creativity or people skills. That is why it is going back to the drawing board.
So the argument is that these students are just "note-memorising" to score straight-As and hence are unable to communicate in universities. That's just so rubbish.

Is the Ministry of Education now telling us that all these 15A students are unable to communicate, cannot understand tutors and lecturers and cannot think on their own two feet? Well, if that is really the case, then I have wronged the Public Service Department (PSD) all these while. These students clearly do not deserve the offers of scholarship from PSD or any other bodies. We should instead "ban" scholarships for these 15A students for have little or no creativity and people skills, for they have taken too many subjects!

What nonsense!

Here is a clear case whereby a problem with our education system has been identified but have wrongly identified causes attributed to the problem.

First of all, are these students Professor Khoo is referring to these "15A" type students? As far as I'm concerned, very probably not. And safely assuming that they are students of the History Department or even the Social Sciences faculty, they are unlikely to be the supposed "15A" type top students.

In fact, I dare say, a substantial majority of these students are the those who were not able to secure their preferred subjects, and have little choice but to take up the offer of History or other subjects in Arts and Social Sciences. Yes, unfortunately in Malaysia where the Arts and Social Science faculties are an ostracised lot, these will mean that the median student in these faculties will have grades like D,D,E,F for their STPM or a range of 4B to 9F for their STPM.

Hence to attribute the blame of "illiteracy" amongst university students to the number of subjects some of these top scorers are taking is absolutely incredulous.

Secondly, the next most likely reason for the drop in standards in the students enrolled into our universities has to do with the fact that the number of spaces available to Malaysian students in the local public and private universities and colleges have increased at a much much faster rate than the rise in standards of student output from our secondary school system.

This is a very simple straightforward argument. As outlined in my earlier post here, the number of places available to tertiary students have increased by some 350% over a period of only 15 years from 1985 to 1999. I'm certain the rate of growth would only have accelerated further in the 2000s. It is more than reasonable to assume that the standards of the students enrolling into tertiary education in Malaysia could not possibly have been maintained. It's just humanly impossible for the tertiary students to have increased from 170,000 in 1985 to more than 550,000 in 1999 to have maintained the same entry standards.

Hence its only expected that the quality of students entering our universities would have declined dramatically over the past few years. Students who would have previously (had they been born 10 years ago) been unable to enter universities would now have easy access to a degree certification.

At the same time, while our examination system isn't perfect, it's not imperfect because students are allowed to take up to some 16 examination subjects. To me, if the students have the ability to cope with the load, let them challenge their own individual potentials. Why try to limit the students exploration of their academic and intellectual abilities?

To me, the reason why the secondary education and examination system is churning out rubbish input into our universities is because the manner in which the secondary school subjects are taught and examined is weak and focused on the wrong areas.

I've written on this issue before and you may read it here. But the key sections is repeated here as follows:
I find that the problem is not with an examination system (which I regard as critical) and tweaking with experiments like taking fewer subjects, but in changing the approach to examinations - beginning with the teachers and the examination questions. Let me give an example of comparative question from the much maligned subject of history. Compare the following three questions:
1. What are the events leading to the fall of the Melaka Sultanate?

2. What are the factors which caused the fall of the Melaka Sultanate?

3. Was the fall of the Melaka Sultanate inevitable?
The questions to me, represents different degrees of thinking and analytical skills despite dealing with the same subject as well as probably comprising the very same content in the answers. The approach to the first question probably involves a semi-chrological listing of the events leading to the fall of the sultanate with cursory linkages to the reasons behind the fall of the sultanate.

The approach to the 2nd question will be slightly more analytical as the student will have to discern and derive the factors behind the fall, from the actual historical events.

However, the 3rd question is probably the hardest as it requires the student to think and analyse hardest as to the inevitability of the fall of the sultanate given the events and factors. However, you would note that the students, irrespective of the question are required to learn and know in hand, the facts with regards to the fall of the sultanate.

Hence, my brief argument in an issue which can spawn volumes of theses, is that there is nothing wrong with examinations per se, as well as learning facts and figures as part of the curriculum. However, what is important is for the educators to take the next step and inculcate analytical and critical thinking skills for application on the facts and figures learnt.
Less examinations is not an answer to better critical thinking, creativity and people skills. Better teaching and examinations is the right approach.

But do we have the right experts in our Ministry of Education to make the right decisions? I usually fear the most when ancient and archaic civil servants make the calls with regards to changes in our educational policies. How are those without critical thinking, creativity and people skills going to be able to institute policies which encourage and inculcate the same such skills? Hmmm...

31 comments:

sadlion said...

Dear Tony,

Do you know that tuition centre now teach only how to score As. They are given notes and the students only memorise these notes and is already enough to score As. There are many students who can't even elaborate what they memorise and eventually there are straight As student. So what is so great about straight As student.

Also, do you know that a student who use to get 60 to 70 marks in his/her school text is already assure of getting As in PMR or SPM.
This is why we get so many straight As students now. Ask any of these students about general knowledge and see for yourself how much they know? I have come across a straight As and he do not know there is a country call Sweden because in science stream they don't study geography.

Tony, the syllabus now is very different from last time. Do a bit of survey and you were know what I mean. 10 to 15As now is nothing?

Tony P said...

Hey sadlion,

Of course I'm aware.

But your points don't equate to all 10-15A students being all rote-memorisers.

Your points also don't mean that these students are not better than those with say, 2As.

That's why I argue that it's not the quantity or type of examination subjects but the nature in which the subjects are taught and examined which matters, which needs reform.

But your points do lead to another one of my contentions - that scholarships should not be awarded to SPM students but only at the STPM level, where critical thinking and analytical skills are required to a larger extent in examinations.

Tony P :)

sadlion said...

Dear Tony,

I do agree that our education system need reform. I do not mean all straight As student are like that but majority. There are only a 5 marks different between A1 and A2.

As regards to scholarship why is awarded to SPM because the majority of bumis do not take STPM and political issue comes in. Before the year 2000 it is only awarded to bumi and only lately some places is allocated for others. Before the new syllabus in 2003 at straight A1s are assure a place because there are not so many students. But after this new syllabus we see so many A1s and that is why all this problem comes.

Anonymous said...

dear tony and fellow readers,

pls read page 35 of The Star main edition today.

LET UM's REPUTATION SPEAK FOR ITSELF.

i almost fell off my chair looking at the headlines.

Ay Lyn said...

the recent reports bashing on the standard of university education and quality of local grads has really been making the local grads lost confidence in themselves, questioning their capabilities and feel crappy. I am speaking from my perspective. I am very proud of the fact that I am a local grad and has worked hard to be a good student during my undergraduate years. However nowadays society labelling "local grads" as incompetent,complaining lot, don't possess the ability to think critically.. and all the rest of the negative traits that has been use to describe the standards of local grads is really bogging me down.

I mean come on, are we really that bad??

I had problems securing jobs with MNCs in Malaysia but got accepted to work for Spore based US I-banking firm after sitting for the IQ test. None of my ex coursemates are jobless and a handful are working for mncs in spore. Go figure

Tony P said...

Hey Ai Lyn,

I usually don't like to comment too much in my own posts 'cos once I've stated my points, I let others make their case.

But I think I needed to make this comment to correct the possibly wrong impression if not read in the right context.

I have absolutely no problems with the top local grads. In fact I love them - the top grads from UM, USM, UPM, UKM, MMU, UTM - more than many who graduate from possibly famous places like Monash or RMIT. Practically 80% of my very own staff are local graduates, and 90% of them joined me as fresh gradautes.

However, as Kian Ming reminded me in one of the earlier posts, many of you did well, despite and inspite of the system which is deteriorating, and not because of the system.

So don't take this the wrong way. The fact that the local universities, even "premier" ones like Universiti Malaya is subject to criticism here does not imply that all its graduates are hence useless. Far from it.

I'll put a footnote in my head to write more about this at a later stage, I promise. :)

Tony P

Anonymous said...

I always believed Malaysia are superb planner but lousy executioner. Hence with regards to all this education system weakness, I don't think we need a major revamp. We might only need to twik one or two things to make it right again. Good example - increase the grade for A1 from say 85 to 90 or in university case just add a presentation session for all the classes the student take and give it like 20% from the total mark. Sometime, simple things works better than larger than life solutions. Making a big change will involve changing about 10,000 schools,300,000 teachers, 5,000,000 pupil, over 500 higher education institution, over 30,000 Pofessors and Associate Professors and more than 500,000 students. So think about the effort needed to change all these.

The Cat's Meow said...

I totally get where sadlion is coming from ; many high-scoring students are just awful at general knowledge and mostly likely, they don't really care. Besides, knowing where Benin is and wrote 'Crime and Punishment'isn't going to make bragging material anyway.

Anonymous said...

Getting 15 A's in SPM or 10A's or whatever is a necessary condition for a good student. NOT, I repeat NOT sufficient. If a student manage to handle SPM with tuition or without tuition or what not, that means he has certain degree of competency. Yes I agree most of the students do memorise notes, even in university alone tonnes of people memorise stuff not just understanding them, but the key here is able to use them in varying circumstances. Hell I bet even a lot of you people out there do memorise stuff you dont understand too given the circumstances you are pressured to know the stuff and going to be presenting to your boss like 1 day from now. If let say a student is asked to memorise notes from chemistry, if the he has taken the initiative to ask why, to the teacher, I am sure he would have learned quite a bit. If the students didnt even bother to ask why or how to the teacher when he or she doesnt understand, can you really blame the tuition center for this? I think not. If the tuition center's lecturer reply by not answering the question, then you always have the right to change teacher. How do you tell? Performance of their midterms should give you a good idea. Complaining is probably the least productive action here. Most parents ask too much out of teacher because they felt their son or daughter deserves everything in A's. That is the trend I am seeing here.
Of course one may argue that 'Dont you want the best for your children?' The answer is, depends. I do want them to do well in whatever studies they want to, but what if they cant? Ask yourself, is this scenario possible ? Most children have thinking of their own, they might do bad or good in SPM or other studies but eventually do well in things to come in the future. I have seen such things.

Pur.Boy

E Chong said...

I know that this is not a discussion about history but I think the subject of history IS the BEST example of where our education system fails. For example: When I took my SPM History in 1996, our Guru Pakar (Expert Teacher) short-listed a few "possible topics that would come out in the exam" & we were all asked to memorize them. There were just too much topics to cover. There was no easier way to secure an A than to hard-memorize it. (Mind you, the marking scheme was VERY STRICT - which I think is ironic - NO HARD FACTS, NO POINTS.) After all, we all had 8 other subjects to worry about and the easiest way to tackle History is to...memorize and regurgitate (and forget) it! And what about now? Do you think teenagers today will have time to seriously think about whether the fall of Melaka sultanate was evitable (for example) when they have another 15 or 16 or 17 subjects on their plate?

KBSM History in Form 4 circles around Islamic Civilization with a few chapters about world history & how the major religions came about. For instance, you had to memorize all the names of the famous inventors & what they contributed to the world, literally. How many students had time to care about WHAT THEY CAN LEARN FROM IT? On the other hand, History in Form 5 reinstated what we had learnt all along in History from Form 1-3 i.e. how Melaka started and how the other states were created up to Merdeka & Malaysia, BUT in greater details. Don't get me started on WHY we need to memorize how many musical instruments there were in the "nobat di-raja".

I am ranting because I am mad. Our education system needs to be revamp in order for future generations to compete in the global stage. Why should we be afraid to study from the past & the people around us in order to have a better future? Why should we be denied that opportunity (12 years of education?!) to develop our minds? Why does our government want (deliberately or not?) to suppress the critical thinking of its people? (Another topic altogether but I think it is the crux of the problem!)

It is not the undergrads' fault. The education system has failed the people. There are more people getting As, but the quality of most students left much to be desired. The students were taught from young that we need to be spoon-fed, to be told what to think of ourselves & others, and that the ability to memorize is good - so that you can become a doctor next time (I'm saying this sarcastically). We were trained to be conformists, to "not question the generally accepted ideas".

Do you want your kids to grow up and obtain 20A1s (apparently it's increasing at an average norm of 5A1s per 10 years since my time) but don't have much analytical skills??

Anonymous said...

For me, scoring Straight As is plain non-sense. In this competative world, people, communication skills and common sense is important...not some As in the papers.

Anonymous said...

Oh goodness the good o'islamic history the I remember the names drive me insane too.

Pur.Boy

Anonymous said...

OOpss sorry for the typo

Pur.Boy

Anonymous said...

Dear Anon (Sat Mar 25, 11:33:43 AM), scoring straight As is not plain nonsense. They open up the door for you in the future, like gaining entrance into a better university or securing a better job. That is why, our students are so obsessed with the number of As they can achieved.

While students are working hard to scoring As, parents will have to be held responsible for instilling these kind of perceptions.

Next, the government, as usual, will deny that there is nothing wrong with their "carefully planned" system. Do they seriously think that this is the plausible system for us to achieve vision 2020? Then, why few or none of those politicians' children are experiencing their "one of the best education system in the world"?

It is obvious isnt it.....

peer said...

I believe that many of the opinions stated here regarding straight A students being incapable are blatantly ingenuous and grossly misplaced. Too many false generalizations have been made about the current state of the straight A students in the nation, and many people are perpetrating this myth which, in my opinion, is very unfortunate.

It is despicable, even myopic, to say that communication skills and technical abilities outweigh the merits of 'bookish' intelligence. When you refer that employers look for certain type of skills in an employee, I hope that this refers to a certain vacancy in a post, not to a person's lack of certain character. Given an option between a talented mathematician who can solve third degree differential equations but can't communicate well and another imbecile who knows nothing but can speak eloquently, tell me which will you hire? Of course it depends on the requirements for the task an employer is looking for, such as if you're managing a scientific and research based company, obviously you'd choose the former, and the latter instead for a promotional advert. Therefore, the basis that only social skills are required to survive are eseentially baseless.

On the matter of the education system, I believe that the student can benefit from the system if he sets his mind in studying thoroughly the material presented. As a straight A student currently in one of the most prestigious Ivy Leagues, I am convinced that the education I received from the Malaysian system has sufficiently prepared me to confront and present my arguments fluetly.

Benkaiser said...

Hi Tony P,

What is wrong with students from RMIT that you relagate as your second tier of considerations?

Anonymous said...

which ivy are u at peer

johnleemk said...

peer:
I believe that many of the opinions stated here regarding straight A students being incapable are blatantly ingenuous and grossly misplaced. Too many false generalizations have been made about the current state of the straight A students in the nation, and many people are perpetrating this myth which, in my opinion, is very unfortunate.
Although I've strenously criticised the exam system, I do agree that there are many intelligent top scorers. I've personally known many of them -- although they didn't get into the headlines because they were just one of many. I'm sure that in any other system, they would still have been top scorers, however.

The problem is that many more of the "top scorers" in our system wouldn't make the cut in other systems. Talk to any lecturer in any pre-university programme, and they can tell you tonnes of stories about straight A SPM students who bombed when they went for the A Levels/South Australian Matriculation/University X's Foundation Programme.

It is despicable, even myopic, to say that communication skills and technical abilities outweigh the merits of 'bookish' intelligence.
Maybe Thomas Edison's famous statement on perspiration and inspiration applies here; just change the names a little.

Given an option between a talented mathematician who can solve third degree differential equations but can't communicate well and another imbecile who knows nothing but can speak eloquently, tell me which will you hire?
Counterpoint: Given an option between a talented mathematician who can solve third degree differential equations but can't communicate well and a guy with decent but not outstanding grades and excellent communication skills, tell me, which would you hire? (Of course, as you said, there are actually other variables which we have not factored in here; for instance, a salesperson would probably not need much more than communication skills, while a sales executive almost certainly would need at least some book smarts.)

Therefore, the basis that only social skills are required to survive are eseentially baseless.
I believe the only person who said anything like that stated: "For me, scoring Straight As is plain non-sense. In this competative world, people, communication skills and common sense is important...not some As in the papers." So you're essentially attacking a strawman, as nobody said only social skills are required to survive.

On the matter of the education system, I believe that the student can benefit from the system if he sets his mind in studying thoroughly the material presented.
That's true of all but the most useless education systems. The problem, of course, is weeding out the false positives and finding the false negatives. Under our current system, those intelligent students who don't mind memorising will score straight As, so no problem there. Those who do, however, won't, leading to false negatives. (Common counter-arguments here tend to discuss discipline, etc., but you'd think there are better ways to discipline students than force them to do something which they know is inane and almost certainly useless.) The academically challenged with enough money for tuition and/or discipline to diligently memorise by rote without understanding also score straight As, leading to false positives. Could we weed these out with a less exam-oriented system? I think the answer is yes.

As a straight A student currently in one of the most prestigious Ivy Leagues, I am convinced that the education I received from the Malaysian system has sufficiently prepared me to confront and present my arguments fluetly.
Wow, congratulations. Which Ivy is it? Regarding your point on communication, however, you must bear in mind that it varies from school to school. Not all of us benefit from teachers willing to go beyond the call of duty as set by the Education Ministry.

Anonymous said...

Better still why don't institutions like some already do charge never ending fees like Charles Sturt University and earn profits and not worry about the student's progress.

Anonymous said...

peer and johnleemk,

you both have your points and arguments. while i am worried with the trend of malaysian students only targetting to score straight As, i believe there is no other better statistical way to gauge students' abilities and assess them accordingly. as tony has pointed out, the best immediate change would be to create exam questions that tests more on analytical/critical thinking skills. i do not believe that the suggestion for a more holistic assessment via curricular activities can be easily implemented. such a move will present its own set of new problems i.e. teachers assessing based on selectivity. as it is, selection is already based not on merit.

Jane said...

There are many bads in our education system, however as all things, there is a good side to it as well. There have been many who did well but ALOT more who did not fare so well.

Many of my friend and myself have been through the whole ordeal and believe that the tertiary education system does need improvement.

Majority of my friends argued that if the system is built as such and we cannot change it, the next best thing for students to do is for you to decide to either go with the system or do it the hard way. I don't deny that the syllabus covered in our secondary education is too limited especially on world history and mathematics. Personally, I have never fancy Sejarah Melayu but has manage to score a good mark for it. WHY? Yes, I memorize pratically the whole book! The names are confusing, not to mention the class and the teacher was boring. But that doesn't mean that I did the same for other subjects such as Biology and Economics. There are many subjects that you simply cannot memorize but need to work your way to the heart of the questions to get the point, one good example is Physics and Pure Maths.

Same goes in the universities.It's a common practise in the university that lecturers would let students know what topics will be included for the exams, this way student will be able to focus on what chapters to read and study. This has it pros and cons as well, if you're keen and willing to go the extra mile, you would research more on the topic, refer to some core reading, in the exams then you would be able to articulate the question more confidently, discussing current issues in regards to the topic and state personal opinion on the matter. No doubt there are students who opt for the easy way out and just read the text book and "vomit out" the content, some may not even make any effort to do anything, some just don't care. Here is an example of how some local graduates approaches examanations.

So with the current system now, what else can be done? What can the students do? It's really a pity that at the end of the day people seems to forget that the students are merely a "victims" of the system yet they are the ones that has been as Ay Lyn said "getting bashed up". sad sad world :(

Rajan R said...

Actually, you need 3 principal credits other than in Pengajian Am to apply for university, no less matriculate into it - that is the minimum requirement. D+ onwards aren't principal credits. And there is no 9F grade in STPM, there's the G grade (grade point: 0.0) The grade points ranging from 4.0 to 2.0 are between the grades A, A-, B+, B, B-, C+ and C.

While I agree with you that most in history or social science departments probably didn't make it their first choice (though it is mine in my university applications), it's quite insulting really to go on to the lurch of saying most of the undergrads doing such degrees are borderline failures in STPM. They certainly didn't get their string of A's and B's (I've got mine, though), but for STPM, C's pretty respectable.

After all, out of all the STPM students who took the test in 2005, a little more than 470 candidates got straight-A's and only 9 (NINE) got an A in every paper in five subjects.

Impressive as it may be on how subjects can take many subjects in SPM - it does not indicate their knowledge of the subjects nor their aptitude. It merely measures their ability to take tests. Why is it top students in Singapore and Hong Kong don't take a dozen subjects in their O-Levels or Certificate of Education? In fact, in Hong Kong, there is actually a limitation of subjects one can take. Ironically, the limit of subjects - ten - is the minimum requirement for today's science stream students. There are 15 students last year that got 10A's.

In Malaysia, that would be in the thousands.

Personally, I would think it would be better if students are allowed to choose harder examinations instead of taking more examinations. In other words, offer each subject with differing levels of difficulty, where an increasing breath and depth is needed. It's quite easy getting A's in subjects with low grading curve and an easy syllabus because of its target audience, it's quite another thing to take a few harder subjects.

But that's how you judge interest and aptitude. Anyone in the Science Stream can get A in General Science if they put a little effort, how many can do an higher level paper in Chemistry or Physics? Students with a string of A's to their name get it by doing easier subjects, not harder ones.

But you have to ask - how balance are students who get 15, 16 A's? Their schools offer only 10 subjects, which means they have to attend *at least* 5-6 tuition classes, and most likely even more.

But I don't think limiting the amount of subjects taken in SPM is required. Just raise the standards - if getting an A in SPM as hard as getting an A in Singapore-Cambridge's GCE O Levels, I don't think there would be many candidates applying for several subjects on top of that offered by their schools.

It also does not mean admission criteria at universities must be based completely on examinations. Just say you have the measles in November (as my friend did doing his STPM) - would whatever grade he gets representative of his academic capabilities?

september said...

I agree that illiterate undergrads in malaysia is the failure of its education system. However if you do aware of it, the worst problem is that, when the new generations are actually smarter than the earlier, yet they are too unmotivated to think more than what they asked/needed to. We can't blame everything to the system itself because if we do, don't you think it makes no diferrence at all to asking "students, follow the instructions" again?

I experienced this before I went to Form 6. Where there was a big change to my study pattern comparing to Form 5. Teachers told us that we should read more newspapers. I couldn't understand why because I didn't understand how could reading newspapers could be able to help me in passing the papers with flying colors. I began to realize why teachers say we should read more latest issues during my Uni years. There was a great lecturer in my course that really impressed me. Yes, he is Associate Prof Dr Hou Kok Chung.

The education system in Malaysia is giving the people a wrong impression that "the more As you can get the better you are." Please forgive me for being straight forward.

When my lecturer Dr Hou told us that "we as a student should not be afraid or worry to give our own opinion, and stand on our own." I'm sorry I can't remember well how he said it but well what he meant was, meaning do not copy round and square what you jotted during during the lecture or tutorial because of worrying that may affect your points. Or giving irrelevant answers to questions asked in the paper, because students expect what the notes given by the lecturers during the lecture and tutorial is what the question wants! That is exactly the same like what they did in secondary school when almost all the answers were prepared according to forecast questions, students just need to memorize them in order to get the highest points. And easier for teachers doing their work.

In reality, I think students misinterpret why they need going to school. So I think the root to reasons of failure in the malaysian education systems is that students were being educated on ways of how to get more As instead of getting knowledge and experience or self building.

Thus besides the education system, a good character of a teacher is very important. A "teacher" does not necessary mean to be teacher that teaches at school but from home. The parents should guide their kids from young about moral and ethics, most importantly the ability to think on their own.

Today we see alot of complaints and comments about education systems in Malaysia. Why not we just start changing the mindset first.


Teachers and lecturers should aware of this problem. Create better teaching techniques that would make students think.

They should have good ethics in the profession of teaching or as a teacher and their roles in it at all time.

Students should aware of what's happening around them and always be motivated to study smart not only the text. Curricular activites is one of the way of it.

All Malaysians should have self respect and not self centered. Do not look down on your own country because it is just like your family.

Be motivated always because if one dont change the whole community will not.

There are so many quotes and proverbs from different nations giving the same perception of "change".
http://www.worldofquotes.com/search.php

I believe, "to change" is the way to improve the standards.

Anonymous said...

Here's a parodoxical example I wish to share. In my years of higher ed at a private college, I've always thought that we should do more than just what's presented on our plates. Unfortunately, the lecturers themselves are the ones that aren't inspiring us to think critically.

For example, they give us projects and assignments but expect us to produce results that match their scripts. Anything out of the ordinary is met with low marks, even though we try to justify our points. In fact, there was once a heated argument between students and a particular lecturer over her explanation for failing them in their projects. All because it didn't match exactly her answers, and mind you, most subjects at tertiary level are highly subjective unless it's totally out of context then it is clear the reason for failing.

Even worst are lecturers who give the same marks for all our group projects (about 8-10 grps) and marked within 30 mins. Best of all, each project documentation was at least 50-70 pages long. So go figure on his incredible marking speed.

It had come to a situation where we just pointlessly memorised chapters and regurgitate them on exam day. Most students are unfortunately, preferring these sort of assessment. Less effort and studying throughout the semester weeks, and just cramming a few days before finals.

So in conclusion, what I'm trying to say is that we can't only blame the students for their inabilities. The system in place is definitely at fault, but like any system, it takes more than just the students to actively participate. The educators have to change their culture and mentality. It all starts at the grassroots.

peer said...

The problem is that many more of the "top scorers" in our system ...Foundation Programme.

Personally, I am not convinced by this argument. If “top scorers” aren’t capable of success in other systems, how would you address the question of those who weren’t considered “top scorers”? To become a “top scorer”, one must have had a certain degree of talent, luck, or in our system, capability to memorize. It would be fallacious to expect one who does badly in high school to be a success in tertiary level education; not being a “top scorer” ‘generally’ implies that either the individual has a less than satisfactory comprehension levels about the materials presented and/ or ability to analytically think (with all respect, there are instances when high school material forces one to ponder, although it is possibly lacking). With this lack of skill, you really do not believe the less than “top scorer” to really grasp the syllabus do you? (I’m basing my opinion on the fact that even preparatory programs and universities do require memorization skills etc)

Counterpoint: Given an option between… some book smarts.)

I think you missed my point here. To fully grasp my statement, I believe I should use distinctions to illustrate their differing characteristics; let me use an analogy between an artist and artisan. In this context, I am comparing an artist to the mathematician and the guy you mentioned to the artisan. As thus, we can expect for the artist to produce moments of inspiration and flashes of brilliance; in contrast, the artisan will be the effective and industrious worker. Now, if you were an employer hiring a worker, which would you hire? It really depends on your companies’ requirements- whether you would prefer to have a zealous, assiduous worker, or a talented but flawed worker. But in the world of scientific research, and which I was implying but didn’t make clear in my previous post, you really want the artist who can create and not just conform.

I believe the... required to survive.
In my haste of replying I overlooked my erroneous statement, but which I definitely did not intend to. My apologies.

That's true… answer is yes.
To a certain degree I believe that memorization is imperative; you cannot avoid that even in university courses. The point of memorization is to be able to act accordingly depending on a certain circumstance; for example, while a doctor should understand how the bodily system works, memorization does help him diagonize infections when he sees them. Subsequently, knowing and remembering the disease will help him make a judgment on what medicine to prescribe.

Wow, congratulations… by the Education Ministry.
With all respect, I’d prefer to be anonymous, which rather explains my reluctance to reveal which university I’m currently attending. And just a statement: I believe that personal motivation matters much more than teachers going beyond their responsibilities, although that is an entirely different matter.

johnleemk said...

Personally, I am not convinced by this argument. If “top scorers” aren’t capable of success in other systems, how would you address the question of those who weren’t considered “top scorers”?
As I said, under our existing system, a substantial number of the top scorers are there only by a quirk of the system, because it favours those with the time and energy to memorise -- even if they don't necessarily understand what they have "learnt". There may be those who understand what they have learnt, but don't know the exact details as demanded by our exams and are therefore penalised. (You might not know the name of all of the first transportation companies in Malaysia, but if you can explain their significance to our history, surely you at least deserve to receive a higher grade than someone who can regurgitate all he has been taught but doesn't have a clue about it? Tony's excellent example about the Malaccan sultanate is quite appropriate here.)

To become a “top scorer”, one must have had a certain degree of talent, luck, or in our system, capability to memorize.
Just because a talent exists does not mean it must be rewarded. If it is of little (or at best, minimal) practical use, the exam system should not be oriented around it.

It would be fallacious to expect one who does badly in high school to be a success in tertiary level education; not being a “top scorer” ‘generally’ implies that either the individual has a less than satisfactory comprehension levels about the materials presented and/ or ability to analytically think (with all respect, there are instances when high school material forces one to ponder, although it is possibly lacking).
Those who are not top scorers are not automatically those who do "badly in high school". I know a number of people who won't ever get straight As or flunk their classes, but would probably fit in quite well under a less memorisation-oriented system. I'm far from a top scorer (4As, 3Bs for the PMR in a school where nearly every subject saw ~50% of those sitting for the paper score an A) but I've done quite well since I left the normal education stream. I'm probably an odd case, but I can't be the only one. Certainly, I think there are number of average students who could be at least above average if we weren't so focused on memorising for the exam.

With this lack of skill, you really do not believe the less than “top scorer” to really grasp the syllabus do you? (I’m basing my opinion on the fact that even preparatory programs and universities do require memorization skills etc)
You seem to be making the fallacy of putting all students into two groups - one for the top scorers, and the other for those just not cut out for school. I think there are a number of average or above average students who could be doing much better under a different system.

But in the world of scientific research, and which I was implying but didn’t make clear in my previous post, you really want the artist who can create and not just conform.
So it appears as if we are vehemently agreeing with one another.

To a certain degree I believe that memorization is imperative; you cannot avoid that even in university courses. The point of memorization is to be able to act accordingly depending on a certain circumstance; for example, while a doctor should understand how the bodily system works, memorization does help him diagonize infections when he sees them. Subsequently, knowing and remembering the disease will help him make a judgment on what medicine to prescribe.
Exactly. The problem is rote memorisation, which emphasises memorising over understanding. Pupils are encouraged to just throw themselves at the problem again and again, go through the textbook again and again, until they "get it" and can score As because they happened to memorise everything the test happens to test, and in a particular way. (One wonders how many former top scorers in English would retain their status if the literature portion of the exam was revised, even if the material covered was the same.) This approach tends to work for the sciences and mathematics (you can't get anything down pat here without a lot of practice on similar questions), but it fails miserably with almost anything else, from history to geography to moral education.

And just a statement: I believe that personal motivation matters much more than teachers going beyond their responsibilities, although that is an entirely different matter.
Of course. I was(obliquely) saying that the problem is that right now, the only real responsibility of teachers is to lecture students a little, give some problems, mark the answers, and then answer some questions (if there are any at all). Those who want further help can ask, but the problem is that nearly everyone needs further help (otherwise the tuition industry wouldn't be booming in our country). And even then, some (although this is purely anecdotal) teachers don't manage to meet these standards -- for instance, I know of biology and mathematics teachers who only go to class to dish out homework (and when asked why they don't lecture, they bring up the lame excuse of students needing to be independent -- in university or college, maybe, but secondary school?).

Seymour Cakes said...

When I was in form 2, my school assigned a "Ustaz" as our moral class teacher. The first day he came in, he said, "You can do whatever you want I do not really care, as long as you pass up the work I gave you." For the next whole year, he came in briefly, wrote the notes on the black board for us to copy, and leave the class on the dot.

"Saya tak peduli".

It stucked me as odd years later that we have such people teaching in our schools. This is a grave disease that started to rots years ago.

The system is broken.

surfwarrior said...

The increasing numbers of students attaining straight As is the result of our Education System and the way scholarships are awarded. In this aspect the system had achieved its objective but not necessarily the correct objective in the competitive global market.

Almost every students I come across including straight As achievers are less interested in critical analysis but would rather memorise the correct answers to any questions. For example, I once to tried to explain the critical facts supporting the answer to a question but the student was too impatient and asked I reveal the answers only because he is too busy with other subjects.

Lets compare the typical biology question asked in Malaysian School,

"What is the function of a stomach?"

compared to what the British school would ask,

"What is the eating habit if you do not have a stomach?"

Essentially both are testing your knowledge of the basic function of the stomach. But the second question goes one step further in critical thinking. The answer would of course be, the patient would have to eat digested food frequetly because without the stomach it cannot store and digest food.

The short answer to the first question is simply, the stomach acts as a storage, digest food and destroy contaminants such as bacteria and other micro-organisms.

The students who are asked the first question need only to remember the facts. The second question make the student think!

Do you think our Govt really want our graduates to think critically especially against their public policies and agendas?

Anonymous said...

Hey surfwarrior,

You dont see the bigger plan do u? This is obviously in line with the government's plan of making every1 follow and dont question

Anonymous said...

this is definately out of topic man!

Anonymous said...

sorry i'm compelled to say something...those people here who diminished the importance of scoring straight A1s were obviously not top scorers!! Lol!!