Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Less Examinations

It's all in the frontpage headlines of the Star today. And the New Straits Times says it here.
Among the measures proposed are:
  • Reducing the number of subjects in public examinations and testing only certain subjects at school level;

  • Introducing a semester system instead of the current term-based school system;

  • Emphasising skills and abilities rather than focusing on content and achievements;

  • Encouraging personal development through subjects like Art and Physical Education; and

  • Improving teaching-learning methods by encouraging more project-based assignments.
Students will rejoice for they will have to sit for less examinations. They will also be happy that examinations have been given an official "demotion" in terms of importance. There have after all been a fair bit of groaning and moaning in the newspaper forums and letter pages in recent times.

Teachers will be happy because they will have less subjects to teach. They'll also be happy that their performance will be less correlated with the actual performance of their students. Correspondingly, the "evaluation" of students, if such a term is even allowed to be used on students at all, will be based on subjective matters such as co-curricular activities.

Are students and teachers however, happy for the right reasons?

I am more than a tad sceptical with regards to the proposals by the Ministry of Education, as announced by Datuk Seri Hishammuddin Hussein. Mind you, I'm not a examination fanatic such that everything must be examinations based - for example, "Moral Studies" for SPM. Neither am I satisfied with the nature of our current examination system which is probably a tad overly reliant on rote learning and memorisation techniques, and less on critical thinking and analytical skills.

I am concerned that we are changing our examinations system for the wrong reasons. I am also wary that these wrong reasons will lead to a "new" system which have counter-productive impact on the education experienced by our students. Instead of raising the standards of the "output" of our education system, are we taking an unintended step backwards, and as a result fail to fully realise the potentials of our young ones?

I have much to say on the above topic. And I've been meaning to write about it for the past couple of weeks. But I must get back to work (or sleep) after returning from China in the wee hours of this morning. I'll catch up on this later this evening to put my thoughts down on paper.

In the meantime, I'll be expecting plenty of "angry" mails lecturing me on the futility of an examinations based system. Well, have your say here and I'll put in my replies later and we can have an eventful discussion. :)

15 comments:

Anonymous said...

exams are good....

Assessment at Oxford and Cambridge are 100% examination based and these universties still churn out great individuals.........................

Anonymous said...

Looks like we are moving towards the US system and away from the UK system.

I think I like the idea... too much theory with less practical assignments is also not healthy. Just has to make sure everything is balanced.

Anonymous said...

Perhaps should look into the maximum subjects a student can sit in the SPM, say 10 or 12 subjects only.

Anonymous said...

why not a twin system then? let the students decide which one suits them better and let them pursue that way, as not everyone has the same ability. some might be better in memorising while some practically. :D

daniel said...

Exams are not in themselves, bad; it's due to the over indulgence of parents in the exams that is giving it a bad name. I believe that it is necessary as a yardstick to benchmark both the students' level of understanding and the teachers' performance.

Our local public exams have also degenerated to a level where students only need to regurgitate the textbook contents to achieve their A's. Exams should be formulated to test the students understanding and application in each subject.

I also do not understand the obsession with project assignments. We are talking about primary and secondary education (that's the jurisdiction of the MoE, right?); what projects can we talk about when the students cannot begin to grapple with the basic facts and figures and their simple application?

Semester school system as a panacea for all the schools' deficiencies and failures? There's a raging debate going on in the US and Canada on its effectiveness.

Anonymous said...

i have nothing against examinations. creating a balance of coursework and exams is perhaps a good method. BUT such a system will introduce new problems like teachers or even entire schools being grade-happy and simply evaluating their students with excellent results.

johnleemk said...

I think the problem is more about standardised examinations, not examinations themselves. When everything is standardised, teachers "teach to the test". When they set the test and are free to decide the format, then they actually have to teach properly.

I agree with Tony that the government is probably not going to implement this properly. Knowing how lackadaisical bureaucrats, teachers and students are, it will need a lot of dedication to hold firm and implement a proper policy. In the first place, I have doubts that they'll even come up with a good policy. What they have sketched out sounds nice, but the devil is always in the details.

Rajan R said...

On the Ministry's proposal, I'm like you - though not a big fan of examinations, the track record of Ministers of Education past don't actually summoun much trust.

However, on the role of examination, I think a system much like the International Baccalaurette diploma might be a better idea - a combination of external, standardized examinations, and externally-moderated internal examinations and other forms of assessments (including group projects and extend essays).

However, back on the MoE's suggestions - and this is why I'm suspicious - what reason is there that non-examination assessments don't detoriate along the same lines as standardize examinations. Just say now teachers have to set out projects for their students to do - from experiences of doing public examination practical exams and my Add Maths project - it would turn out to be even worse than public examinations. Teachers would spoon feed you and you learn nothing from such as well as display any learnt knowledge in doing so (I got an A, for example, in my Add Maths project and a 6C in the actual exam).

But the crux of the issue is that there are some students who do exceptionally well in examinations and not in many other non-examination assessments as well as some who do horribly in exams. The thing is that many, including the Minister himself, is approaching the issue the wrong way: he's trying to institute a one-size-fits-all system, disregarding very different talents and aptitudes, as well as learning styles of individual students.

That's the problem with our - and many other - education systems around the world. Afterall, our education dates back to the Prussian education system used to produce soldiers, rather than independent thinking individuals with strengths polished and weaknesses covered.

clk said...

With integrity of standarised exams as well as non-standardised exams in this country continues to be questioned year-in year-out, what happens when we embark on other forms of assessment where there are no external examiners, accreditations nor an independent external bodies certifying them?

I can imagine the worst case scenario, lack of recognition or even no recognition beyond our borders!

Anonymous said...

I agree to the anon that it is absurd to hear that students can take so many subjects in SPM. There should be a limit, let's say max 12 subjects, min 8 subjects.

Well, I feel that teenagers of 14 to 17 years old are the best age to learn the basics of sciences and maths. Why we want to make their life easier? It is their time to have strong foundation in languages, sciences and maths.

In addition, in order to have a balanced learning experiences, students should be made to participate in sports/ uniformed
bodies/ voluntary organizations.

Remember there are 4 dimensions besides mental development i.e. social, physical, emotional.

They need the experiences in co-curricular to have their EQ developed.

The current race of having the most A's is absurd. Why I say so?

A secondary school of 6 years in other part of world like Taiwan, Japan, Indonesia, Australia will prepared one for entrance in University straight away.

But what about of SPM? It takes 5 years. But in overseas, 6 years will get you into University.

Perhaps students should be allowed to sit SPM after 4 years of secondary school, and then pre-u.

Anonymous said...

What is the hurry to implement project based assignment.

They have their time ahead to have all sorts of project based assignments once they join varsities.

Project-based assignment would be practical in sciences only.

Getting the right basics is more important.

Anonymous said...

One funny thing about Malaysian education is we want to have a uniform system for everyone.

well..my humble opinion is that not everybody likes project based assignment.

And besides, there is not much meaning for project based assignmet in arts or languages sugjects ?

Besides, what can a 14-year old creates something with brilliant ideas if he/she has not even complete the standard courses in sciences...

Any comment from the floor?

zuekn said...

There's nothing wrong with examinations. But what need to be further improved is on the test constructions. We should stop assessing students on facts but focus more on application questions. Rote learning is no longer a practice! Understanding and applying concepts is the most important.

Anonymous said...

I think practical or project assignments will help a student achieve better understanding of a theory or concept, I mean to have a feel of it instead everything just abstract.

If you really understand and feel it, you'll remember for life! otherwise, once you graduated if you don't use the theory, you'll forget it in just a few months.

Also, too much exams sometimes will force a student to MEMORISE things instead of UNDERSTANDING it. You didn't realise it but it already happen and you are like a robot, not an intelligent being.

Anonymous said...

Interesting discussion about exams. While exams do more good than harm, I think an education system focusing too much on exams is perhaps futile in creating a society/community that is capable of being innovative and creative. I recently heard a TV interview with Sir Ken Robinson (http://www.sirkenrobinson.com/) on a topic concerning creativity. He mentioned that the education systems around the world in fact degenerates individual's creativity. He said that the solution is to create the necessary environment and providing the tools to children and educators to enable creativity to flourish. Perhaps the question is not whether we should have more or less exams, but rather the needs to enabling innovation and creativity, especially in our quest to achieving Vision 2020 and independence from foreigners.