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Monday, September 29, 2014

Exam paper leak and our quest for A’s – Moris Deri

There is something sinister about coaching school students how to get As in exams.
Not so much because an A is by no means an absolute indicator of excellent grasp of knowledge in a particular subject (anymore), but it has become a soapbox to encourage a contest which smothers independence in thinking and creativity in expressing the knowledge acquired, at the expense of the not so academically inclined. 
I use the word “coach” instead of “teach” for a reason.
There is a demand for these cookie-cutter robots out there to fill various scholarship quotas into universities. What is left for them to do to have a “perfect” school-leaving certificate is perhaps a history of membership with the Red Crescent Society, or be some chorister in a local competition. Or two.
Which is actually a good thing, except it is hardly enough evidence of well-roundedness.  Some sponsors only allocate a maximum of 10 marks to scholarship interviewees under the extra-curricula criterion.
A lot of emphasis is placed on the string of As that the candidate can demonstrate on his papers. There is no doubt that these students are good, but at that stage they are generally only good at what was designed for them: acing the SPM.
There is no bona fide effort to distinguish between a student who has represented the country in an international sporting tournament, and a student who has recited a poem for his class. Both I suspect are rewarded equally.
Perhaps they take into account the fact that some schools do not have the resources to send their talented students to major competitions, which would be a valid affirmative action to create a level playing field for the candidates. This can be hypocritical if the same leverage is not granted to students who perhaps for economic reasons could not afford tuition classes to secure that extra A. But I stand corrected.
I used to attend a school with such similar misplaced priorities. Try asking a question which even if relevant to the subject being taught, was not in the syllabus, and you would be given a dismissive platitude about learning what was in the book first and being curious about the others only once you had trodden foot in university. 
Spotting questions for a major examination may seem innocuous. Some books even use the word “strategy” to market their predictions. The danger lies in how it helps the lazier or craftier students (and perhaps teachers), only to betray them when the spotted questions do not surface on the actual examination.
On another level, it makes a mockery of the prized knowledge presented in the chapters not spotted by the teachers.
“Eh why do you focus so much on this experiment? It came out last year, won’t come out again lah!”
Even teachers would find it pragmatic to practise “touch and go” on topics that were used in national exams in the recent years.
Can you blame them for exploiting this loophole?
It is high time that the schools teach our students how to think, instead of what to think. Quit feeding them with ideas on how to manipulate the examinations.
Perhaps those SPM workshops should revisit their objectives: to impart knowledge which benefits students, or to handcraft “high-achievers” who help raise their teachers’ KPI indices?
And what of those students who do not have interest in let’s say, Biology, but have succeeded in getting an A anyway because of your “strategy”. I contend that if the school did not succeed in cultivating a scintilla of interest, it has failed the student in spite of that A.
At the end of the day, those As are simply vacuous representation of erudition. Our students deserve so much better than that. Many are extremely smart and could definitely benefit from not being dumbed down by a system that underestimates their worth.
I will also hazard a metaphor that the recent leakage of exam questions was a self-made monster that needs vanquishing, all because of this inflated value of straight A.
In microeconomics, supply will more likely decrease in worth if the demand dwindles. If the systemic malefactors (flaws in the education system) motivating this jaded pursuit for meaningless straight As were arrested from the grassroots, I believe we will see more students accepted into Harvard in the coming years. You always reap what you sow.
I urge Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yasin to take a closer look at these glaring weaknesses so as not to repeat Datuk Seri Hishammuddin Hussein’s mistakes.
* Moris Deri reads The Malaysian Insider.

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