On The Beat
By WONG CHUN WAI
THERE was a time when being a top public scorer meant getting 5As in the Lower Certificate of Examination (LCE) in Form Three and failing was not an option – it means dropping out of school at 15 years old or entering a private school to re-sit the examination.
Private schools were not elitist, unlike now, as they were perceived to be a place for failures, second-raters or students with disciplinary problems.
The LCE also required a candidate to pass Bahasa Malaysia and English as they were compulsory subjects. A distinction then really meant a distinction.
Then, there was the Malaysian Certificate of Examination (MCE) where a top student was equivalent to someone who scored 9As or 10As.
These were the students who eventually got scholarships to study in Harvard, Cambridge or Oxford, and their achievements would be published in the newspapers.
Before this, there were the Queen’s Scholars who were sent by the British to be educated in the United Kingdom.
We could recognise the best of the best. It was much simpler then trying to gauge the scholastic achievements of our students.
Now, we read of students in the UPSR for Year Six getting 7As while at the PMR level for Form Three students, they can get up to 9As. In the SPM, there are even those with 16As or more.
It’s good that the choice of exam papers has become wider and candidates have the options of taking their pick. But some principals also impose a restriction on the number of papers a candidate can sit for while some insist on their students taking specific subjects.
But there is a nagging feeling that the standards have dropped. Parents and students get a sense of unrealistic expectations when they get these result slips with straight distinctions.
Students who have slogged hard, particularly with moral support from their parents, deserve the results they get, no doubt, but they should also be a little guarded.
Our students who scored As in English at PMR or SPM levels may think they are tops and are able to browse through works of Shakespeare with ease.
But the reality is that at college entrance examinations for UK and US colleges, many of them have fared badly.
At job interviews, employers are shocked to find that these A scorers can’t even string a sentence in English correctly and many cannot communicate in the language well.
Parents who have the means to send their children to international or private schools after PMR have found their children being rejected by these schools because tutors found these A scorers not as proficient in the language as their test results suggest.
Many also take a highly sceptical view of the Mathematics and Additional Mathematics results at SPM level because the perception is grading has been lowered.
In short, it is easy to score distinctions because the bell curve is adjusted to reduce the number of failures.
The point is this – we have compromised the quality of our education. We have refused to admit it, preferring to live with the delusion that all is well. Worse, our politicians get carried away sometimes with their rhetoric of “world class education” when they should worry more about the basics of the education system.
We have so many students with so many As who think they deserve to be in medical schools now and get JPA scholarships. It is a bottleneck created by the administration and it doesn’t help that every year, there is a feeling of unfairness in the awarding of these scholarships.
There are now over 60,000 unemployed graduates simply because they are not marketable or they are ill prepared for the job market because of poor linguistic and social skills.
Many are unable to express themselves because of poor communication skills, thus limiting their job options.
We will continue with our euphoria of top scorers, three times a year, and newspapers carry the same stories of such top scorers.
We also know we are not attracting dedicated fresh teachers in schools because we are not paying as much as they deserve.
We know that the level of English among our students are at ICU level, to borrow a hospital term, but we are unlikely to do anything because we lack the political will to face the narrow-minded nationalists, many of whom benefited from the English medium schools of yesteryear or they just lack proficiency in English themselves.
To cover up their inadequacies, they use race and nationalism to stop the advance of English, not realising that those who suffer the most would be the young Malaysians, regardless of their race.
The rich would not be affected because they would be sending their kids overseas but the rest would have to cope with the system.
This is the reality – in 2006, the number of college students who spoke and could write English in India was reportedly 100% while in 10 years, it has been estimated that China would have the largest number of English speakers. As they say, who would have expected this 60 years ago?
English is the language of commerce and science and now, the Internet. Don’t let the slide continue; our children deserve better.