08 November 2012 | last updated at 11:31PM
STRESS TEST: Parents need to be open to new methods of assessments to relieve the strain on their children
IT’S Sijil Pelajaran Malaysia week. And it was just announced that the Ujian Pencapaian Sekolah Rendah results will be out on Nov 19.
The students, as well as their parents and relatives, will probably feel as if there is a great Serengeti wildebeest migration in their stomachs right now.
Those who are their Facebook friends know how they feel only too well through the deluge of status updates about public examinations this past week. There was a cacophony of chatter online — some were concerned over the exams, others anguished or despondent. One parent had to be consoled by her son who told her: “Don’t worry”, as she dropped him off for the SPM.
Another became hysterical when her daughter called to inform her that one paper was more difficult than expected.
Failure to secure exemplary results, it appears, continues to be perceived as failing in life. Stress is placed on excellent results, and adulation heaped upon those who score well. This will only, in the long run, serve to permanently damage the self-esteem of pupils with average results.
This emphasis on stellar results has also created unhealthy behavioural patterns in pupils who generally perform better than their classmates.
Cruel taunts of, “I got an A and you only got a C”, and other similar jibes are often heard in the schoolyard. Monsters such as these are created by a society which puts high-achievers on a pedestal. The media, too, shares some of the blame for giving excessive coverage and highlighting only those who scored strings of As.
This scenario stubbornly persists despite all the measures that have been taken by the Education Ministry to make the education system less exam-oriented.
The number of subjects students can take for SPM has been capped to stop the obsession with breaking the illustrious record of As just because it is there to be broken.
The Phase One Assessment Test (Penilaian Tahap Satu) was scrapped in 2001, five years after it was introduced, to prevent parents from using it as an additional avenue to “traumatise their children”.
The test enabled pupils to be promoted from Year Three to Five but it brought about dire repercussions. The ministry said in a statement then: “We found that pupils taking PTS were subjected to unnecessary pressure by their parents who viewed it as a status symbol when their child was promoted. On the other hand, pupils who did not perform well were mentally traumatised as they were made to feel like failures.”
The most recent change introduced to cut the exam knot is the school-based assessment system (PBS), part of wide reforms outlined in the Malaysia Education Blueprint 2013-2025. This, however, is currently being resisted by parents.
Some with children in Year One and Form One are contending that there is a lot of confusion surrounding the PBS. There are claims that not all teachers have been trained and that it allowed for favouritism and discrimination.
“I disagree with some of the assessment methods. For instance, some of the test papers (with the same questions) are given out three times until a child gets a perfect score. What is the rationale for this?
“Then there is the overload of projects, group work and presentations. If you ask the children, they rather sit for exams,” one parent said with arms akimbo.
Another pointed out that there was very little teaching taking place in classrooms as teachers had too much to handle under the new system.
Optimistically, the ministry had acknowledged all these complaints and said on Saturday that the PBS might need some tweaking.
But for the system to work, it needs the support of all parents, and a change in the way they perceive examinations. Indeed, the Malaysian examination system has been reviewed numerous times, but what seems as much in need of an overhaul is the attitudes of parents.
Nothing introduced will work if parents insist on pushing their children to heights unimaginable and impossible.
Examinations should only be for assessing whether a child comprehends what has been learnt so far. It must not instil fear, nor cause a child to be shrouded in an overwhelming sense of worthlessness if one less A shows up on the result slip.
Chok Suat Ling is New Sunday Times editor.