Wednesday, December 02, 2009

A Student's Perspective on Semesters for Form 6

One of my friends, Rajan Rishyakaran, has written a response to the lower six student's letter which Tony recently posted. Rajan, himself an alumnus of form six, said most of what I want to say about the issue, and I recommend reading it—this is perhaps the most incisive part of the piece:
If the Ministry of Education really wanted to move to a semester-based, coursework-heavy system, the better policy is to increase enrolment of non-Bumiputras in matriculation programs (though matriculation and Form Six are under different ministries). The cynic in me points out that would defeat the purpose of the dual-track system in Malaysia: as a tool of stealthish discrimination.
I want to tackle something else instead: the issue of time management.

As Rajan says himself, a lot of the people criticising the writer for their ostensible lousy time management probably didn't do STPM. I didn't do it either, but everything I know about it suggests that it is absolutely not a walk in the park.

In the first place, how does the school environment the writer describes train you to manage your time better? The writer is in school from 7.30am to 4pm, which is longer than the typical 9-to-5 workday. Even assuming most Malaysians work longer hours than that, it is unusual for people to bring work home with them and work at home.

Because our schools are so inferior, a lot of Malaysians now attend tuition classes outside school. Most lower six students will have even less time to attend tuition now. And even assuming there isn't tuition, most students will be studying in their spare time, especially for an exam like the STPM.

If you work it out, students operating under this new scheme will have basically little to no free time. What time is there to manage then, if you have to devote all of it to your studies?

A lot of the issues the writer mentions don't exist for pre-university students in other streams, because you tend to get a choice of what (if any) extracurricular activities to participate in, and have more spare time during the day. That's where time management is actually relevant.

Now, the writer obviously is rolling out a laundry list of problems with the school that to other people probably seem a bit ludicrous. Complaints about skin cancer and mamak food are relatively trivial compared to the other points the writer raises. But as Tony said, he or she is a 17-year-old, and in my experience, these complaints are almost ubiquitous amongst students of this age in school. Let's not focus on the trivialities of the writer's complaint: the real issue is that the Education Ministry is rolling out a poorly-thought-out plan, using the entire nation as its guinea pig — and on the face of it, the idea is ridiculous, because it means students are in school for longer than many adult workers.