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The Malaysian Geniuses (again) March 17, 2006

Posted by Tim in Malaysia, Thoughts.

The cream doesn't rise?

When my family was making the rounds during Chinese New Year we visited an old family friend, who along with her husband had been teaching secondary school for decades. The conversation got around to education, and she told us that she had friends who were tasked with marking STPM papers. The median mark for STPM Science subjects last year was 20%, she said, and if results actually showed improvement that would say everything there was to say about our marking system.

True enough, the Star reports:

The number of Sijil Tinggi Persekolahan Malaysia (STPM) 2005 candidates who passed four or five subjects increased by about 9%.

Because of all the 43% increase in the number of straight-A SPM, students, Scholarship Department (PSD) is warning scholars to “expect to be disappointed”. The newspapers do their part in publicizing this. Conspicuously missing from the mainstream media is any discussion of why there is such a marked improvement in the results in the first place. And this is not an isolated event either, the number of top scorers has been steadily increasing for years!

Isn’t the purpose of a grading system just that – to grade? An “A” should consistently represent the top percentile of students. If anything, the percentage of As shouldn’t change by much. Otherwise it cheapens its value. If the pass rate of SPM students only varied by 1% from 2004 – and this was also true in previous years, why are the number of As given wildly different?

Issuing scholarships and course placements is not a trivial thing, and SPM results are an important factor. The PSD’s solution is to claim that interviews and co-curricular activities play important roles too. But that evades the issue of the As, and evades any questioning of the education system. As long as we get more and more As, the system is all right and we are all doing fine, only As matter. It also begs the question how a person can be the cream-of-the-crop but not be able to handle an interview.

Co-curricular activities are also a subjective thing. Even when i was in secondary school, I knew some students – bright ones, too – who were reluctant to join any clubs or societies unless they were given a place in the committee. Should co-curricular activities become commodities rather than be an outlet of a student’s interests? I won’t be surprised to see the ever-enterprising Malaysians come up with workshops and books on how to do well in interviews next. We are masters of the rat race.



1. Francis - March 17, 2006

Hi Tim. I like the new blog. Although there still isn’t any tagboard. YAY I AM THE FIRST TO COMMENT…WOOHOOO

2. justchal - March 17, 2006

Well I can’t add a tagboard because it’s not in the template… but in any case, I don’t like tagboards because they don’t keep histories and people tend to spam it anyway…article comments are better

3. joshyeoh - March 26, 2006

aya. you changed to wordpress pulak.

GRADE INFLATION. That’s what’s going on. And I think for standardized tests, they don’t curve the grade. So it’s not that the top percentile will get an A, but if you reach a certain score you get an A. And I guess people are getting better at taking the tests, working the system, etc. But grade inflation is happening everywhere. In the US too.

4. dazstudios - June 23, 2006

It’s probably cliche like for me to bring this up, but it’s the same each year, the A scoring students get hyped up on the papers and media…we should realise that A’s mean nothing when it comes to success in life. It’s all ’bout smart thinking and improvisation…I won’t go on theres a whole back log of articles written on this subject matter already.

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