On the Beat | By Wong Chun Wai

Muhyiddin has his hands full

Muyhiddin is right in stating that the consensus among Malaysian parents is that our students are overloaded with examinations.

The schoolbags have been getting heavier. The media have already reported on how these bags could damage the backs of our students but nothing much has really changed.

Most parents would agree that the fun has been taken out of schooling.

Students have little time for anything after school except tuition classes while sports is hardly on the priority list.

Yet, there seems to be some apprehension over the proposal to do away with the two exams.

Really, a Year Six student should not be facing exam pressure at that age. In most countries, and especially those in Europe, taking exams at an early age is unheard of.

This uncertainty among parents could be due to the fact that they have seen so much backtracking – a more polite word for flip-flop decisions – in the past.

Every new Education Minister seems to be eager to leave their mark behind and even if their decisions come with the best of intentions, they could be disruptive to our students if they are changed every few years.

We have tried teaching Mathematics and Science in English. Every politician seems to have commended the move when it was implemented but these same politicians would find more reasons to argue against it later.

It makes Malaysians wonder why these politicians did not have the hindsight of all these arguments before the decision was made.

So, the students are now back to square one – learning these two subjects in their mother tongues.

When Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim was Education Minister, he imposed the tongue-twisting Bahasa Baku. Every newscaster seemed eager to please Anwar then with the best and correct pronunciation, even if an hour after the news bulletin, P. Ramlee was speaking a different kind of Bahasa in a movie.

Muhyiddin could be right. Without these exams, the media could stop highlighting the top scorers. Over the years, the media have in fact started to feel that we should not be promoting such an exam-oriented culture.

So many Malaysian students seem to be able to score so many distinctions that many are asking whether their strings of As accurately reflect their capabilities.

Many employers who have interviewed these scorers have the right to be sceptical because for many a distinction in English for the Sijil Persekolahan Menengah (SPM), for example, is really a D in the days of the Malaysia Certificate of Education (MCE) of the 70s.

Put simply, our standards have plunged. We have compromised on our grading. Many school leavers and graduates are unable to speak and write proper English but they believe they are proficient because they have passed the exams.

Worse, there is a false sense of confidence and hope among our students, thus the demand for places in universities.

Many students seeking to enter international schools in Malaysia and boarding schools overseas have found themselves failing the entrance examinations. This has come as a rude jolt because many of them are from well-to-do families and speak English at home.

The entry point into a prestigious British university such as Oxford, the London School of Economics or the University College of London is only a maximum three distinctions. They do not need a Malaysian with 14As but the rules are rigid and the standards high.

There is also a serious lack of analytical and communications skills among our students but that is also partly because our teachers, the product of our education system, have failed miserably in these areas.

Many students are ill-prepared for working life, unable to write a proper e-mail to apply for a job or to express oneself at interviews. Many employers in the private sector have long expressed their frustrations and alarm at this state of affairs.

Muhyiddin is aware of these problems. It would appear that he wants to end the examination culture, the long teaching hours, the endless tuition classes and homework.

The education system seriously needs fixing. This could be a first step but he needs to clearly comb out the problems, point out the priorities and tackle them one by one because there is so much that is wrong with the system.

Malaysians want him to succeed, to get it right, so that there will be no need to shift gear midway. It is all right to seek more views before implementing them because our students should not be guinea pigs for any decision.