Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Academic Studies Support Retaining Examinations

The call by Ministry of Education to abolish UPSR and PMR examinations must not be based on proper quantitative and qualitative studies and not based on unsubstantiated fads or whims of the day

The Ministry of Education is currently studying seriously on the proposal to abolish UPSR and PMR examinations in order to improve the standards of education and to create more “thinking” students rather than those relying purely on 'regurgitation' to pass examinations.

The response from the public and interested parties to date has been generally in favour of such abolition, with some expressing reservation.

I'll like to call upon the Ministry of Education to conduct a more scientific or quantitative study determine the effects of examinations on a student and his or her achievements before taking the hasty and drastic measure of abolishing examinations only to suffer irreversible damage to the quality of our education subsequently.

There are a lot of studies conducted by academics at top universities around the world on the impact of “central exams” and their effects on the educational achievements of the students. Most of these studies however almost always concludes that central examinations have substantial positive impact on the students. The following findings by eminent academics are as follow:

1. “How Central Exams Affect Educational Achievement: International Evidence from TIMSS and TIMSS-Repeat” by Ludger Woessmann (2002) of John F Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University

The data used in the paper are sourced from the Third International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS; 1994-1995) and the TIMSS-Repeat (1998-1999) covering 40 nations. They include performance data in both math and science for about 450,000 students, as well as background data on families, school resources and institutional setting for individual students, teachers and schools.

This study showed that “students in countries with central exit-exam systems perform 35 to 47 percent of an international standard deviation in test scores better in their middle-school years in both mathematics and science than students in countries without central exams.”

2. “The Effect Of Central Exit Examinations On Student Achievement: Quasi-Experimental Evidence From TIMSS Germany” by Hendrik Jürges & Kerstin Schneider & Felix Büchel, 2003.

This paper makes use of the regional variation in schooling legislation within the German secondary education system to estimate the effect of central exit examinations on student performance. The study concluded that “students in federal states with central exit examinations clearly outperform students in other federal states” although they did qualify that part of the difference could be attributable to other factors.

3. “Are National Exit Examinations Important for Educational Efficiency?” by John H. Bishop (1999), Cornell University

Students in countries with national exit exams exams tend to outperform students in other countries in science, math, reading, and geography, when national economic development levels are accounted for.

A study of the elimination of the Swedish exit examination system in the 1970s, in combination with changes in the way university applicants were selected, also “appears to have led to a decline in the number of upper secondary school students taking rigorous courses in mathematics and science.”

This study covered extensively data sourced from (i) TIMSS, (ii) the reading literacy of 14 year olds in the International Association of the Evaluation of Educational Achievement's (IEA) Reading Study, Science, (iii) math and geography scores of 13 year olds on the International Assessment of Educational Progress (IAEP) for 16 nations and (iv) Science and math scores of 13 year olds in nine Canadian provinces.

4. “The Effect of National Standard and Curriculum-Based Exams on Achievement” by John H. Bishop (1997)

In this study, Bishop concluded that “our review of the evidence suggests that the claims of the advocates of standards and examination based reform of American secondary education my be right. The countries and Canadian provinces with such system outperform other countries at comparable levels of development.

This study also looked at the (i) TIMSS data, (ii) the International Assessment of Educational Progress 1991 covering 15 nations including England, Switzerland, Taiwan and Korea and (iii) the Canada IAEP 1990-91 with data from more than 1,400 schools.

Studies which provides contrary conclusions are few and far in between and often focuses on the negative impact of excessive stress on a student while accepting that a moderate amount of stress for the students is beneficial in terms of student achievement.

Given the above studies, I'll like to reiterate my earlier assertion that it is the nature of examinations and teaching methods which will determine the quality of student achievements and not the fact as to whether examinations are abolished.

Even if the UPSR and PMR is abolished, but the nature of the Form 5 SPM examination as well as the teaching methods and quality remains unchanged, then the student output from our education system will remain little changed from what it is today. In fact, the removal of examinations may disincentivise students, particularly from the lower income groups as well as from families with lower educational qualifications to fare worse than before due to the lack of uniform achievement standards.


Anonymous said...

I am wonder why in the first place this idea of abolishing UPSR or PMR is even mooted. Going forward, the world is going to be more competitive and challenging with prized skills in numeracy. If we want more FDI with high value added in areas like nanotech, biotech, etc in line with our vision 2020, then we must be ready to supply Engineers and other skilled manpower for our industries need. Stop useless discussion on whether to abolish exam. Instead spend time how to enhance our curiculum.
More debate should be on curriculum review of our university.

Our ministers must think forward:
Why we still cannot offer double degree to undergraduates in Malaysian IPTA? Why? Because of red type? Because our admin staff afraid of too much paper work? Australia uni can do it, so does NTU. When we can see this actualize in Malaysian uni????

How to make Malaysian students to be in the top five position in next TIMSS? Study how Japanese and Singapore do it. Why we cannot?

If we still engage in this useless discussion. One fine day, you will find Vietnamese students get more medals in Olympiad mathematics than Malaysians.


Anonymous said...

"If we still engage in this useless discussion. One fine day, you will find Vietnamese students get more medals in Olympiad mathematics than Malaysians..."

This is possible. Vietnam has special schools for gifted students in Mathematics.


Anonymous said...

In this most recent concluded international mathematics olympiad

The hard facts!!!!!!!

Malaysia is ranked at 54.
Vietnam is ranked at 11.
Thailand is ranked at 5.
Indonesia is ranked at 30.
Japan is ranked at 7.


Wake up call for our minister.

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