A well-rounded education

21 December 2016 @ 11:00 AM

REPORTS of this year’s Pentaksiran Tingkatan 3 (PT3) examinations are still on the accumulation of As scored by Form 3 students despite the new assessment system, the Lower Secondary School-Based Assessment (PBSMR), as opposed to the previous centralised Penilaian Menengah Rendah (PMR). School-based assessment (SBA) is gaining popularity in many countries and has been implemented in Finland, South Africa, Hong Kong and Australia with considerable success. The yardstick is the measure of a student’s ability to think critically and analytically, and more. The Malaysian SBA comprises four assessment components: central — the PT3 element; school ; physical, sports and co-curricular activities; and, psychometric. In short, the intention is to develop a well-rounded individual with the nerdy aspect as simply another facet, albeit an important one.

Critics of the system point out that the weakness is caused by the “continued control” of the Education Ministry, which has compromised the outcome. Contrast this with what is being done, for instance, in public schools in Hong Kong. There, schools carry out the assessment, and this is done by the student’s own subject teacher. This integrates learning and teaching with assessments, which helps a student identify his strength and weaknesses. It, too, reduces the dependence of a student on public examination, boosting the “student’s confidence and motivation to learn”, enhancing autonomous learning. The central authority in countries where the SBA is being implemented is concerned to ensure universal standards, without which the system degrades into chaos.

Here, the Examination Syndicate provides the instruments, scoring guides, sets the guidelines according to which school assessments are made and, the PT3, which assesses the student’s ability and intellectual capacity after three years of lower secondary schooling. Unfortunately, the system suffers in its implementation as emphasis is still given to grading and does not reflect learning, despite changes in the examination format from multiple-choice objective questions to the more subjective open-response approach.

There appears to be confusion in the system itself. Experts say the education system has not changed because of the tenacious hold of the Examination Syndicate, that emphasise PT3 at the expense of the other components of the PBSMR. The well-rounded aspect, the objective of the reform, is being sacrificed at the altar of academic and intellectual excellence. In the Hong Kong example, one perceives a desire to facilitate better grades, better learning and less dependence on public examinations. The experimental phase in Hong Kong generally shows school assessments account for, on the average, some 20 per cent of a student’s final results in a public examination. And, for subjects such as Visual Arts, Design and Applied Technology, SBA accounts for a larger proportion of the grade achieved. The need then in this country is to further define the objectives of the reform and provide students with experiences that nurture aptitude in, among others, critical thinking, problem-solving and teamwork. Focus, too, must be on how “well-rounded” schools are to be able to produce well-rounded individuals and not the quantity of As scored as the benchmark for education excellence.