Meeting the needs of new learners

The current evaluation system in schools does not measure a dynamic learner’s capabilities. To be globally relevant, we need to encourage innovative thinking.

THE Internet’s effects on education have been vast. Neither governments nor education stakeholders foresaw the extent to which it would revolutionise educational systems, educators, learners, educational delivery and research platforms and mechanisms.

Today, at the beginning of a new decade, events are repeating themselves. The same cohort of controlling players, especially governments, still do not acknowledge that the Internet is again transforming learners’ demands – and the very concept of learning.

The restricting borders and guidelines defining elements constituting knowledge are dissolving, and along with this, the word ‘curriculum’ is evolving into uncharted territories.

At this juncture, we need to stop using the word “Evaluation” and switch to “Measuring”.

Evaluating implies “to see how good or how bad the focus of the evaluation process is”, while measuring “passes no judgments, but only tells what is or is not present in the focus of the measuring process”.

To start this transformation process, let us ask the question: How should evaluation systems change to meet the demands of a dynamic learner?

A broad and deep analysis of policy might cover the following:

· What is the definition and construction of the new “measuring” system that will measure, and not test?

· Will the new system be capable of measuring Innovation and Disruptive thinking — crucial skills that can only evolve after complete understanding and application of knowledge is achieved?

· Can we have an accountable system in place that constantly monitors the new system, to ensure it evolves and remains meaningful?

· What is the new learning space in the new classroom of the future where measuring will occur? Does it even need to occur in classrooms?

· Who are the new Educators that will administer the new system? Should measuring even have to be exclusively administered?

· How can Malaysian classrooms evolve to meet the demands of and be recognised as credible by new market places and global communities, where sustainability and Sejahtera values (and not profits) are key issues?

· How can Malaysian education prepare for the current surge in innovations and the convergence of NBIC (Nano, Bio, Info and Cogno) Technologies that are already placing new pressures both at the schooling and higher education levels?

In considering the above, it is crucial to realise the implications of the solutions, and there are no easy or seemingly apparent answers.

Solutions cannot and must not be formulated with the same, tired ways of thinking.

Disruptive thinking is needed to create innovations and take calculated risks, possibly resulting in mistakes, but it will be mistakes made minimally and with innovative and clear thought — in other words, mistakes made early, quickly and cheaply.

Flaws of testing

Current testing systems are based on:

· Flawed assumptions about hoped for or expected student outcomes, clearly denoted by the word “testing”.

· Unachievable expectations and single, standardised testing for schools everywhere as outlined by National Exams. Standardised testing in schools also determine A, B, C and D students who are consigned into favourite and favoured classes and annually consign “failures” to sustained oblivion.

· Unusual and extreme pressures on educators, and schools that force educators to become mindless machines, who teach only to address the testing outcomes demanded.

· Procedures that traumatise the most vulnerable and poorly performing learners, and educators who will never fit in or be successful again due to perceived inadequacies.

· Exclusive and focused control of power to determine testing and results.

When considering issues dealing with a new measuring system in Malaysian education, it is important to remember that we are not just measuring learners, but also the educators, the curriculum and the measuring systems themselves.

This should perhaps be the opening gambit in the process of initiating transformations in current testing systems.

When implemented in a comprehensive manner that deals with the breadth and depth of all these issues, it could perhaps be summed up that the final product has to be able to take students to levels of knowledge that will sustain Malaysia in the future.

Levels of knowledge

Education experts have classified knowledge into:

1. Declarative Knowledge — knowing what

2. Procedural Knowledge — knowing how

3. Schematic Knowledge — knowing why

4. Strategic Knowledge — knowing application

Almost all testing systems in existence today test students on 1 and 2, which is the most rudimentary of knowledge levels, and also the most easily tested.

Doesn’t that tell you why we are stuck with testing systems that have no meaning and purpose?

Levels 1 and 2 knowledge are essential so that learners are able to evolve to the higher levels of Schematic and Strategic Knowledge.

However, Procedural and Declarative Knowledge is for anyone, anywhere and anytime.

Learners know more than educators where these types of knowledge are concerned, and often educators are unable to answer students’ questions about these because knowledge has reached singularity – it is limitless, and what you know to be fact and true today, may no longer be so tomorrow.

Marketplaces, industry and knowledge creators are no longer interested in learners who are able to babble data and recite by rote – this does not create innovations, new concepts and theories.

Yet, these are exactly what are being tested over and over again at hallowed halls of learning not just in Malaysia, but globally as well.

Strategic knowledge used to be perceived as the ultimate rung of knowledge, but along came the Internet and destroyed that particular perception. It used to bring about innovation and change, simply because knowledge was the near exclusive domain of highly educated individuals discovering new ideas.

Now, almost anything you can think of will already be on the Internet and being explored collaboratively by groups of experts all over the world.

What we now need is the highest levels of planned intuition and ‘leaps of logic’ that will enable logical disruptive thinking, that will in turn create innovations at new levels.

Now we come to the crux of the matter. We need measuring systems that will be capable of measuring these leaps of logic, disruptive and innovative thinking.

This is extremely difficult to do, and it certainly cannot be done exclusively in the classroom, because so many other learner attributes are linked to it.

A measuring system will inform stakeholders what a person is capable of doing, and this is needed simply because the world operates on compartmentalised expertise.

We do not have to stick to static testing systems that label learners once and for all.

Instead, with enough effort, professional and political will, thoughtful reflections and an open, innovative mind, we could have a dynamic measuring system that will inform stakeholders and the learner being measured as to what his strengths and weaknesses are. The learner will thus have the chance to constantly evolve and create new labels for himself.

by Dr Theva, a senior lecturer at The School of Educational Studies, Universiti Sains Malaysia. Through this fortnightly column, he and his colleagues hope to help transform the landscape of Malaysian schooling and higher education systems. He can be contacted at

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