Thursday, July 12, 2012
HARD WORK: Many students are giving the exam a wide berth and, instead, opt for easier assessments
IT has been called “archaic”, “anachronistic” and “a remnant of the Stone Age”. It is also known as “the hardest exam in the world”. Given a choice between wading chest-deep though crocodile-infested waters and sitting the Sijil Tinggi Persekolahan Malaysia examination, most students say they would choose the former. Indeed, it has been pointed out that only the extremely masochistic or one whose life provides no other options will attempt STPM. Or journalism.
STPM is certainly not for the weak of heart and feeble of will. Many have sat it, with disastrous results. I was one of those who scraped through, despite being an (almost) straight-A scorer in Sijil Pelajaran Malaysia. It took several years to overcome the humiliation and post-apocalyptic fallout that came with an almost failing grade in Physics.
As a result of this cataclysmic episode, I have, until today, nothing but the deepest respect and admiration for STPM top scorers, especially those who make it look so easy, scoring 5As even in the face of seemingly insurmountable odds. They manage it despite being blind, wheelchair-bound, afflicted with lung infection, or in the case of Ayah Pin’s son, being the offspring of a cult leader.
It is mercilessly tough, and this is why it is unsurprising that many students usually give Form Six a wide berth after SPM, preferring instead, if they have the means, to enrol for matriculation programmes offered by private colleges, or to take the A Levels.
These programmes are perceived to be superior and better able to prepare students for university education.
Form Six student numbers have, thus, dwindled through the years, so much so that there was a proposal that it be abolished. Some schools have noted that up to 90 per cent of their students enrol in private colleges after SPM. Schools offering Form Six struggle to fill up classrooms.
Students cannot be blamed for choosing what they perceive as being a less arduous route. The programmes in private colleges use the modular or semester system and students feel it is easier for them to score good grades or pass rather than attempt STPM, which is based on one examination. One wrong move, or a queasy stomach on exam day, is capable of derailing two years of hard work.
The programmes offered in private colleges also do away with non-essential subjects and prepare students directly for their intended careers.
The perception, therefore, is that Sixth Formers are the system’s leftovers, or those who cannot afford private education or gain entry into matriculation programmes. That is as good for their self-esteem as being the target of a school bully’s cruel jibes.
It was against this scenario that an announcement was made last week to re-brand Form Six to make it more attractive for SPM-leavers. It is not exactly a new endeavour as at least one other move to revitalise Form Six has been made in the past.
Some educationists believe, however, that the more pertinent question about STPM is not so much about its diminishing popularity but whether it should be there at all. Should it be scrapped together with matriculation, and a common entrance examination into public universities be introduced in their stead?
That there are two systems for university entry — STPM and matriculation — has been a source of discontentment for many years, more so since intake into public universities became merit-based in 2002.
This year, there are 83,000 Form Six students and 26,000 matriculation students nationwide.
Matriculation programmes, some say, give students an unfair advantage as they are “easier”.
They have different evaluation procedures: STPM is affiliated with the Cambridge Local Examinations Syndicate, while matriculation is based on coursework, exams and lecturer evaluation.
Some of the disgruntlement with matriculation, however, eased somewhat when entry requirements for matriculation colleges were relaxed to admit up to 10 per cent non-Bumiputera students. Just recently, too, MIC demanded additional seats for Indian students, and the numbers were increased to 1,500 from 500.
But it’s still there. Perhaps one way forward is for universities to work together to come up with a common entrance examination, like SAT (Standard Assessment Test) used in the United States.
Indeed, to put STPM and matriculation in one basket for comparison for places in public universities has long been described as iniquitous. We cannot compare them as they are essentially two different examinations.