Archive for the ‘Assessment and Evaluation’ Category

Are report cards a good yardstick?

Sunday, March 4th, 2018
By ARTURO RAMO - March 4, 2018 @ 9:48am

MANY families take advantage of school report cards to talk to their children about school.

Though the report card is important, it should not be the sole standard to evaluate a child’s academic performance since every child is different. And, so are his or her circumstances.

A child’s academic performance is satisfactory when it conforms to his intellectual capacity and effort put in. Performance is sufficient when a student’s grade is “passed” or “progresses adequately”.

Two paradoxical situations may occur:

FIRST,  the student passes with a sufficient grade point average, but his performance is unsatisfactory.

This is because the student could have obtained a better grade by improving his learning capacity according to what was expected of him.

This is the case of gifted students who, with little effort, can manage a passing grade. It also depends, however, on how demanding the teacher is.

SECOND,  the student makes a great effort and dedicates many hours to studying, but does not achieve a good grade. This depends on a few factors: the student’s method of study, his knowledge of the subject and whether the teacher is too demanding.

Nevertheless, parents should not place too much of value on the grades their children obtain in school because they could be making three mistakes:

FIRST, parents demand less from their child than what he is capable of achieving, thus fomenting mediocrity. This may lead him to fail in the future though he is making do with a pass.

SECOND, parents demand more from the child than he is capable of achieving.

Expecting a high performance from an average student who tries hard to progress could create a state of anguish and anxiety in him, thus resulting in him refusing to study.

THIRD, parents and teachers impose the same expectations on students when, in reality, each child has different intellectual capacity.

Comparisons between siblings or classmates produce negative consequences and can lead to jealousy or envy.


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Assessments vital for student learning

Sunday, January 14th, 2018

ASSESSMENT is perhaps the most vital of all the processes in academic and vocational education.

People who understand assessment will always stress on providing a quality assessment system with emphasis on the different aspects of subject matter, appropriate feedback given, ensure learning is sufficient to the right students, and honouring a qualification that is well received.

When the right procedures and proper systematic tasks are in place, students can be assured of the quality of their training and studies, and employers can have confidence in qualified students.

Without them, however, any of these can be placed in jeopardy.

There is also an increasing amount of research and development being carried out in assessment and this has introduced new challenges and given rise to the traditional approaches to assessment that fail to address.

The importance of assessment issues in academic and vocational education is often not appreciated.

There is of course probably more bad practice and ignorance of significant issues in the area of assessment than in any other aspect of education.

The effects of bad practice are far more potent here than for any aspect of teaching.

Students can escape from the impact of poor teaching; they cannot (if they want to succeed in a course) escape the results of poor assessment.

Assessment acts as an instrument to control learners that has more effect on learners than most teachers or administrators are prepared to acknowledge.

Eckstein and Noah (1993) helped summarise the level of concern and debate about assessment by mentioning that:

“If examinations provoke debate and conflict, it is because they are not merely technical devices to evaluate students.

The policies and practices they embody carry ideological and political freight. Educational, ideological and political issues become intertwined, especially over questions of control, who shall control the examinations, and what shall the examinations control?

“Neither of these questions finds permanent solutions in any country. Instead, current examination policies and arrangements are best regarded as the outcome of a series of compromises among competing values, interests, and points of view, or . . . as a set of trade-offs between competing values.”

Assessment is thus important in its own right and it cannot be separated from the social context, and it also aids or inhibits the attempts of educators to improve teaching and learning.

Assessment as in the past, whether it is classroom, school-based or centralised examinations, have always been for comparing individuals with each other or to discriminate ‘the know’ and the ‘don’t know’.

In education, assessment needs to be thought of not as a comparison between individuals, but as “the process of collecting evidence and making judgments on the extent and nature of progress towards the performance requirements set out in a standard, or a learning outcome” (Hagar, Athanasou and Gonczi 1994).

Though many would deny the fact they are actually ‘differentiating learners’ it may be due to that:

* Most assessments are said to emphasise on memory and lower-level skills;

* Most assessments encourage students to focus on those topics which are assessed at the expense of those which are not;

* Students will put more effort and concentrate on graded tasks over those which are ungraded;

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Students’ future begins with PT3

Wednesday, December 27th, 2017

PENTAKSIRAN Tingkatan Tiga (PT3) results were announced on Dec 14. PT3 is a school-based holistic assessment of students on a continuous basis. Schools and teachers are solely responsible for the administration of the examination, marking of exam scripts and release of results on a date fixed by the Education Ministry.

As a teacher, I have come to know that parents are much more enthusiastic and nervous about PT3 results than their children. I have observed various reactions during results announcements. For example, some parents start praying the moment teachers distribute the exam slips. Some parents cry when they learn that their children were not in the best students category. The disappointment is clear.

I do not blame them. As parents, they have most probably tried their best to provide the best guidance to their children to obtain good PT3 results.

As an educator, all I will say is that regardless of what your children scored in PT3, as a parent, do not give up or be disappointed with your children. Please continue to provide the best guidance you can and be motivators to your children. Always remember parents should be their children’s best friend.

PT3 is not the end of your children’s life. It is the beginning. It is just a public examination to determine which stream your children should be in during their upper secondary school.

Do not repeat the common mistakes many parents make. Discard the thought that your child will have a bright future if he or she is in the science stream. Do not pressure your children to be in the science stream if he or she is not inclined to core science subjects. Being unable to perform well in core science subjects such as biology, chemistry and physics, in Form Four and Form Five, will drive them to depression.

Always bear in mind that there are many students from the arts stream who are successful and have a bright future.

Last, but not least, a single written public examination that assessed holistically will never be able to determine your children’s future. I would like to congratulate all PT3 2017 candidates. You are all excellent.


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Revamping exam-oriented system

Wednesday, December 20th, 2017
(File pix) Students congratulating each other after receiving the results of their Pentaksiran Tingkatan Tiga (PT3) last week. The exam results for both Ujian Pencapaian Sekolah Rendah and PT3 now encourage parents and students to celebrate achievements outside, as well as within the academic realm. Pix by Danial Saad

THE country’s examination system is undergoing a radical transformation as we witnessed the recent announcements of Ujian Pencapaian Sekolah Rendah (UPSR) results followed by Pentaksiran Tingkatan Tiga (PT3) results last week

For many years, exam results has become an event in its own right in this country. With social media frenzy and the news taking the space on the front page of most newspapers, everything has become public. There is no such thing as private grief for those who did not score

How can we forget the devastation caused by the poor UPSR nationwide results last year? It was as if national disaster had struck the country when newspapers front-paged pictures of students crying because they did badly in the exams.

The change now is timely although for some it will take time getting used to. We have been too fixated on scores and preparing for the exams that teachers spend too much time preparing material that will appear during the exams. We need to change this “mindset” of what is expected from exam results.

This year, everyone was more prepared for the results. Year Six pupils and their parents received an earlier warning to brace themselves for something different when they picked up their UPSR results.

What are the changes? First, the Primary School Assessment Report (PSSR) as it is termed, consists three other components along with the academic component. The other components were sports, physical and curriculum activities assessment; classroom assessment and psychometric assessment. Each student received four reports in total that evaluate their total development including physical, emotional and spiritual aspects.

This also leads to a change in getting a place in a boarding school (SBP) which in the past, only considered those with straight As. Starting this year, application for SBP is open to all and the candidates will be chosen based on the entrance exam that they have to sit. Aspects like general knowledge, emotional intelligence, intellect, spirituality aspects and social skills will determine their placement.

Finally, there are no mention of best schools, or states with the most straight A scorers on the announcement day. There are also no statistics to compare rural and urban schools or school-to-school. Data comparison shared this year were on the minimum standard achievement for this year’s batch and number of straight As students at the national level.

The first step in reforming our exam-oriented education system began in 2014 when the Education Ministry replaced the Penilaian Menengah Rendah (PMR) with PT3. It has the same scope as PMR except it is not a centralised system. Schools prepare their own examination questions. The Malaysian Examination Board and state education department are the moderator to ensure validity and reliability scores of the candidates.

The exam results for both UPSR and PT3 now encourage parents and students to celebrate achievements outside as well as within the academic realm. At the same time, the results are to provide information on students’ progress and proficiency to parents and teachers as feedback to improve teaching and learning.

However, parents are still unsure with the other information included in the results. They are still holding tight to the number of As from the examination.

PT3’s psychometric assessment for instance, also included the Holland Occupational Themes (RIASEC) –a theory of careers and vocational choice based upon personality types. Many parents are not aware that this assesses their child’s vocational interest and inclination.

The six Holland codes based on six personality types. They are realistic, investigative, artistic, social, enterprising and conventional.

For example, conventional personality types are those who are methodical, logical, efficient and detail-oriented. They are usually accountants, budget analysts or administrative assistants.

If your child is a realistic individual, he values concrete information and rarely enjoys working with abstract concept. Realistic types take on roles that involve repairing or assembling things.

For lower secondary school students this would also be the first step for them to decide their future pathways. This can start with choosing the right subject stream for their higher secondary studies.

Like many issues in public education, standardised testing can be a controversial topic. Many people say exam results provide an accurate measurement of a student’s performance and teacher’s effectiveness. Others say this one-size-fits-all approach to assessing academic achievement is inflexible or even biased.

What’s still missing with these exam changes however, is the accountability of teachers and schools responsible for teaching students on the established standards

It is still unclear how the exam scores can help identify teachers and schools that do not perform up to par and how to make sure that they do. Would, for example, the changes help improve our students’ performance in TIMSS (Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study) and PISA (Programme for International Student Assessment)?


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New entry ‘test’ for residential schools

Monday, December 18th, 2017
The fully residential school entrance exam, comprising five constructs, will test applicants’ intellect and adaptability. (PIC BY YAHYA ZAINUDDIN)

KUALA LUMPUR: AS the education system evolves into a less exam-oriented one, fully residential schools (SBP) will do the same by introducing a new entrance exam that will see students selected based on individual aptitude, aside from academic strength.

The SBP entrance exam held this month will determine if applicants fulfil the criteria for entry into the 69 SBPs nationwide.

The exam, comprising five constructs, will test applicants’ intellect and adaptability.

The Education Ministry’s Fully Residential and Excellent Schools Management Division deputy director Aidie Jantan told the New Sunday Times that preparations for the exam had been set in motion since the middle of the year, and the announcement of the Primary School Assessment Report (PSAR) made it all the more fitting.

The implementation of PSAR was announced by the ministry on Nov 22 with components like academics, sports and co-curriculum, psychometric and classroom assessment being corresponding methods of assessment for primary school pupils.

Ujian Pencapaian Sekolah Rendah (UPSR) was one of the components assessed.

The same system would be adopted for SBP entrance, said Aidie, as other factors would be considered prior to enrolment.

This, he said, gave students more opportunities to excel in a multitude of areas, not just academics.

“The entrance exam is parallel to the paradigm shift the ministry is bringing to our education system. If we remain too exam-oriented, the application of soft skills would not take place.”

Of the entrance exam’s five constructs, two focuse on intellectual capability and general knowledge, and three will gauge a pupil’s suitability for boarding schools.

The other constructs measure emotional quotient, soft skills and spiritual quotient.

“The three constructs will see if a student is independent, if he can live in a boarding school community, how he reacts to shared space, how he interacts with those around him and others. The exam is in line with the Malaysia Education Blueprint (2013-2025), which aims to produce students who are knowledgeable, ethical, spiritual and have leadership skills.”

SBPs are looking to mould students who have global competitiveness and strengths that go beyond books.

This, Aidie said, was the notion behind the implementation of PSAR.

“SBP enrolment requirements give us the chance to assess students based on different components. This means we do not only get academically-inclined students, but also those who have leadership skills, are active and have more to them than just brains.”

The entrance exam, comprising 50 multiple-choice questions, will be held from tomorrow to Friday at 155 examination centres.

A total of 58,130 applicants this year will vie for 9,555 places with results to be announced in the SBP portal on Dec 29.

To keep the exam individualised, it is likely that candidates will not be given the exact same set of questions.


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Moving away from exam-oriented mentality

Tuesday, December 5th, 2017
Pupils taking the Ujian Pencapaian Sekolah Rendah in Kuantan. Psychometric assessments are useful in helping students determine the most suitable academic courses by matching their personality profile with their ideal field of study and career. FILE PIC

THE Education Ministry’s decision to not compare states and schools when announcing the Ujian Pencapaian Sekolah Rendah (UPSR) results on Nov 23 is laudable. There was no mentions of which states or schools had the most straight As, and the list of top scorers was also not an item at the press conference. Instead, Education director-general Datuk Dr Amin Senin focused on the Primary School Assessment Report (PSSR).

PSSR is a holistic evaluation method that incorporates other competencies besides pupils’ performance in UPSR. Pupils were also evaluated on their involvement in sports and physical and co-curricular activities. All these, including classroom evaluation and psychometric reports, provide us with a better assessment of pupils.

For example, pupils were evaluated on their fitness through the body mass index (BMI) and participation in sports, while classroom evaluation comprised assessment on learning and about learning.

The psychometric evaluation looks at pupils’ psychological traits, natural abilities in music, linguistic skills and mathematical logic. It is understandable that the ministry is giving this more emphasis as it provides a clearer picture of the pupils’ overall potential. It is the way forward, as it complements the Pentaksiran Tingkatan 3 (PT3), which also has school assessments and psychometric reports.

Educators have for a long time been interested in psychometric assessments for pupils. Educators, along with decision makers in related agencies, used the input to find ways to make studying and learning more meaningful for students. As a result, education, especially at the higher level, has become broad based, with universities and colleges offering a wide range of courses to not only meet the needs of industries or ensure their survival, but to also provide options based on students’ interests and strengths.

As it measures students’ aptitude, the psychometric assessment is useful in helping students determine the most suitable academic courses by matching their personality profile, including their preferred lifestyle, with their ideal field of study and career.

Students can make better sense of this situation with the help of counsellors or private education consultants to plan academic progression that may help them get ideal jobs.

Interest in psychometric evaluation is also widespread at the workplace. In job interviews, employers conduct similar assessments to evaluate candidates’ competency and personality to see how they will fit in the organisation. The assessment can be tailor-made to provide specific and targeted goals.

In the academic field, the outcomes of psychometric tests have also been used to optimise students’ potential.

A good example at the secondary level is Technical and Vocational Education and Training (TVET). TVET includes formal, non-formal and informal learning that prepare young people with knowledge and specific skills.

To underscore that TVET is a priority, the government proposed an allocation of RM4.9 billion for next year to implement the TVET Malaysia Master Plan, including providing 100 TVET Excellent Students Scholarships worth RM4.5 million.


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Education D-G: Year Six pupils not judged solely on UPSR.

Thursday, November 23rd, 2017
PUTRAJAYA: Year Six pupils are no longer judged formally based on the number of As they score in their Ujian Pencapaian Sekolah Rendah (UPSR) examination.
Starting this year, Education director-general Datuk Dr Amin Senin (pic) said they will also receive formal reports for sports, physical and curriculum activities assessment; classroom assessment and psychometric assessment.
All these components are part of the Primary School Assessment Report (PPSR) or Pelaporan Pentaksiran Sekolah Rendah, he said when announcing the PPSR report analysis on Thursday (Nov 23).
At the national level, sports, physical and curriculum activities assessment, UPSR and psychometric assessment give a general picture of the state of the primary school education system, he said.
“Overall, the results are good but there is still room for improvement,” said Dr Amin.
“Primary school pupils are assessed more meaningfully and holistically, and no longer just focused on their UPSR results.
A large portion of pupils showed good and excellent achievements in co-curricular activities with UPSR scores also improving this year.

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Assessment a bridge between teaching and learning

Thursday, November 16th, 2017
Idris Jusoh (centre) launching the MEA together with (from left) Noor Azlan Ghazali, UPSI chairman Tan Sri Dr Wan Mohd Zahid Mohd Noordin, Deputy Higher Education Minister Datuk Dr Mary Yap Kain Ching and Higher Education Department director general Datin Paduka Dr Siti Hamisah Tapsir.Pic by MOHD KHAIRUL HELMY MOHD DIN

IN the era of globalisation and the Fourth Industrial Revolution, English language plays an important role in commerce and technology, and at the workplace on the world stage.

To compete effectively, Malaysian graduates need more than academic qualifications alone.

Today’s employers expect graduates to possess smart social and soft skills, including the ability to communicate effectively.

The industry and talent recruiters say some job applicants lack communication skills and the Higher Education Ministry has taken steps to deal with this in the Malaysia Education Blueprint 2015-2025 (Higher Education).

The country needs a highly educated workforce with the right combination of knowledge and communication skills.

Tertiary institutions play an important role in raising the standard of English of the country’s graduates and future generations.

Recently, the ministry introduced the Malaysia English Assessment (MEA) which is embedded in the Ecosystem for English Language Learning and Assessment in Higher Education to nurture holistic, entrepreneurial and balanced graduates.


The MEA has three development phases. The first phase, which started in September, involves the construction of the Higher Education English Language Test Repository system — a “question bank” — developed by Universiti Pendidikan Sultan Idris (UPSI).

This question bank will be used to construct standard Common European Framework of Reference for Languages (CEFR) exam questions for the English empowerment programme in the public universities at the end of Semester 1, Session 2017-2018.

CEFR was originally developed to improve language teaching in Europe and it is recognised in practice as the international standard worldwide.

The second phase is the construction of test specifications for formal and informal assessments while the third phase outlines the MEA Guidebook and Test Repository Manual for users.

These developments are expected to be completed in stages by end of next year.

Higher Education Minister Datuk Seri Idris Jusoh said assessment is not only critical to learning as it provides a bridge between teaching and learning, but it can also enhance the latter and drive a student’s educational experience.

“MEA will bring about a paradigm shift in the field of English language assessment,” he said at the launch of MEA in Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia (UKM).

MEA consists of two components — formal assessment (MEA 1) and informal assessment (MEA 2).

Aligned with the CEFR, MEA 1 focuses on English proficiency and includes on-going assessments on listening, reading, writing and speaking. MEA 2 involves evaluating students’ ability to complete tasks using English in different situations comparable to those they will face when they enter employment.

CEFR includes a proficiency scale containing six levels from A1 to C2, and undergraduates are expected to improve their proficiency by at least one level, for example from B1 to B2, by the time they graduate.

In simple terms, the CEFR proficiency scale can be described as A1 (can communicate only about self); A2 (can communicate in simple and routine language); B1 (speaks with limited vocabulary); B2 (speaks fluently); C1 (able to teach English); and C2 (native speaker).

“Accomplishing the assessment tasks will require not only knowledge of English but also its appropriate use within a given cultural and social context,” added Idris.

MEA 2 requires students to go through a review of performance in engagement sites such as extra-curricular and co-curricular activities; interdisciplinary collaboration; online resources; community engagement; industry-academia collaboration; and global engagement, which should be regarded as part of learning (see infographics).

“It is to ensure that undergraduates are active participants in the assessment process, which is necessary for student-centred learning.

“This manner of engagement with English requires the use of a full range of capacities including the intellect, emotions, willpower and practical skills.

“In this way, learning English will be part of the student’s preparation for life after graduation. This is why we have to find ways of making more effective use of resources that are already available on campus.

“There are many informal opportunities for learning English on campus. We need to recognise them and make use of them.”

Chandra Sakaran Khalid and Zuwati Hasim


Dr Zuwati Hasim, a senior lecturer at the Language and Literacy Education Department in University of Malaya (UM), said learning and mastery of another language is an advantage, as being bilingual or multilingual opens up opportunities to build a global network.

She added that the mastery of the English language or accomplishing a certain level of English language proficiency is deemed necessary in the wake of globalisation as it is one of the widely used languages, other than German and French.

“Learning another language will not lower the status of the national language. Being able to communicate in English fluently adds value to graduates, especially in the workplace,” said Zuwati.

Various initiatives have been introduced to promote the learning of English at tertiary institutions such as making the language a part of the compulsory university curriculum.

Other projects include the introduction of English as the medium of instruction for content subjects, commonly known as Content and Language Integrated Learning in the European context.

Taylor’s University Centre for Languages and Cultural Studies head Chandra Sakaran Khalid said: “Today’s workforce is a global one and graduates need to converse ably in English and work well with counterparts from across the world.

“The assessment of performance under MEA, reported in the form of profiles, will provide indicators of students’ abilities and offer feedback on how to better empower students.

“The performance assessments will help teachers decide what to focus on and how to effectively guide students,” added Chandra, a member of a committee set up by the ministry to implement the English Ecosystem at public universities.

“Dr Thilagavathi Shanmuganathan from UM and I proposed that the English Ecosystem, specifically the Global Engagement aspect which we worked on, be implemented as a learning tool at public universities.

“Students from public universities will spend time overseas with partner institutions as a result of the introduction of summer programmes under the Global Engagement platform via MEA 2.

“This global exposure allows undergraduates to form connections with fellow students, both at their home university and partner institution, which will enable them to be more socially and culturally aware,” said Chandra.

Thilagavathi and Chandra came up with this learning tool after using Taylor’s University mobility programmes as a case study.

By Zulita Mustafa.

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Don’t measure success by just good grades.

Sunday, October 29th, 2017
Despite dropping out of college, the late Steve Jobs was a successful entrepreneur and billionaire.

Despite dropping out of college, the late Steve Jobs was a successful entrepreneur and billionaire.

MOST educators and parents focus on making sure their children obtain good scores in school tests or major exams.

Attaining high grades, is seen as the “passport” to high-paying jobs and future success.

This is a statement of fact for there is no one who would want to hire someone without knowledge, skills and competence in the work place.

However, let me point out that there are more successful people and self-made millionaires who did not earn good grades or grade point average (GPAs) in their studies.

More successful people have not always been A students. Who or where you are from in terms of one’s background or status, does not determine who you will be.

To achieve something successful, you need to work for it. It is loaded with entanglements, impediments, disappointments, and oversights.

Achievements require consistency, and mental and emotional toughness, in defeating these entanglements.

Successful individuals are good at postponing satisfaction.

They are capable of holding temptation and overcoming fear in order to do what they need to do. They are bold and brave.

Such qualities require mental strength and toughness, so it’s no coincidence these are some of the traits of successful people.

Successful people go for lifelong learning, they never try to stop learning and getting all the knowledge needed.

Just because you were once a ‘C’ or ‘D’ student does not necessarily mean you will be that way forever.

Your IQ can change, but you are the one who needs to change that.

Successful people will definitely not sit idle, they think out of the box and come out with unique concepts and innovations.

The late Steve Jobs dropped out of college yet he became a successful entrepreneur and was co-founder of Apple Incorporated.

Among those who dropped out of school but pursued their passion to have highly successful lives are singer Elton John and Bill Gates.There are many different types of intelligences and exam scores and grades only measure a select few.

A GPA does not measure a person’s ability to think outside of the box and solve problems. It does not measure a person’s emotional intelligence nor does it look at a person’s leadership ability.

These qualities are just as important to an individual’s success in life and almost none of them are measured by grades.

Grades, GPAs and standardised test scores largely measure one’s ability to answer questions and regurgitate information and not much else. This is why our world isn’t run by valedictorians and straight A students. For every CEO of a major company that graduated with a 4.0 GPA, there are scores more who did not.

What matters in business, and in life, is pursuing goals with a sense of purpose. There are many who are not as ambitious when it comes to academic goals.

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Is education a journey or a race?

Sunday, October 15th, 2017
In today’s competitive world, the rat race starts early. Excellent grades in academic subjects are the primordial benchmark that sets kids apart from their peers. FILE PIC

UPSR, SPM, STPM, GCE — just a few of the acronyms haunting many young minds at this time of the year. Young minds and their parents alike.

Remember the days when everything was a race? First to reach the bathroom in the morning, first to down their Milo, first to call shotgun for the ride to school. First to sit on the swing at recess, first in line for canteen lunch. First on the school bus to secure the best seat and first to reach the front door and ring the bell. A happy childhood consisted mostly of healthy competition among friends and siblings, a race to be the first in all things that, from an adult’s perspective, don’t really matter.

Most children gladly put their competitive mind to rest between recess and lunch. Pupils used to run out of the classroom, not into it. Hardly anyone pushed and shoved to be the first at the blackboard and try their luck at a complex math formula. Oh, happy childhood days. Not the most ambitious of times, but happy days, nonetheless.

So, what happened? Instead of a rambunctious crowd, today’s pupils march in single file from their parents’ cars onto the school grounds, born down by a school bag so big and heavy that the child who carries it could easily find space to sit in it herself. If Malaysian schools run two sessions per day, a fact that absolutely boggles the outsider’s mind, where are all the students that have the other half of the day off?

Why are they not playing outside, in their front yard, in the neighbourhood park? Why are they not hanging out at the local mall or mamak stall? Where and when are today’s children being children, where are the nation’s teens being pubescent?

Youngsters have no time to be childlike, or rebellious, or sullen, or dreaming, anymore. Youngsters are at tuition. They are at tuition centres that have popped up all over the country like “mushrooms growing after the rain”, to borrow a local saying.

In today’s competitive world, the rat race starts early. Excellent grades in academic subjects are the primordial benchmark that sets kids apart from their peers; the yardstick that determines a parent’s measure of success at their job as a progenitor.

Academic excellence is a must in secondary school; it is even the norm in primary school. Parents and guardians send their scions for after school tuition up to seven days a week. Gymnastics and piano lessons are squeezed in somewhere in between.

The “Asian F” is a very real notion. It is the widespread understanding that an A- is not good enough. The pressure on school children and their parents is growing to unhealthy proportions.

At the same time, many life skills are thrown overboard in a constant effort to be the best among the best. Professors in tertiary education lament the fact that they lecture classes of exceptionally well-instructed students who don’t understand what further education is all about. Students are bright and diligent, but they don’t know how to think critically, how to build an argument, how to debate, or how to work towards a solution as a team.

If parents and schoolchildren willingly submit to the burden of pushing for always better grades, it is in an effort to be best prepared for the real rat race, the demands of modern career perspectives.

However, it seems that academic excellence is not the whole ticket. Employers undoubtedly look favourably upon perfect scores. But, recruiters also look for attributes such as individuality, drive, passion, curiosity. These aren’t skills learned in the classroom, nor in a tuition centre, no matter how well intentioned the teachers and tutors might have been. These character traits are fashioned on the playground, on a football field, in a band, even while playing video games.

At first glance, this argument might come across as irresponsible, dismissive of academic values, rebellious even. It is not. It is simply an attempt at widening the scope of modern education.

A healthy education should be a marvelous journey, not a race. It is a plea for restoring a childhood that leaves space for learning how to fail, in order to better succeed, a childhood that is given the opportunity to grow at one’s individual pace.

It is an appeal, to give children the chance to spend time in a meadow, so that they know how to stop and smell the roses when they grow up.


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