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The government wants to move STPM away from its terminus exam system to a modular, less exam-focused system. Which is stupid.

Firstly, pre-university education (where STPM falls under) is meant to give a strong foundation to university education. Subjects in STPM are broad in focus (overarching subjects like Physics, Economics and Mathematics are there, instead of more specialized subjects). By making into a modular system with three semesters, where subjects are read only throughout one semester, you would undermine the foundational aspect of pre-university education.

Secondly, a modular system would necessary limit the scope teachers could use to teach subjects – what should be taught first, what should taught next, etc. Teachers already have so little teaching autonomy, a modular system would hamper teachers from finding their individual teaching styles that serves them and their students better.

Thirdly, the new STPM would have significantly more coursework than presently (where for most subjects, the entire result comes from the exam). I don’t know how it would play out, but if it is anything like present-day coursework, it won’t end well. It invariably lead to standard problems/questions/projects students can do, and to make grading more objective, the outcomes of projects is also standardized.

There is little control on cheating, especially in urban schools. I remember my SPM coursework for Additional Mathematics was entirely copied, with words paraphrased, and the report pretty-fied. Those who do as little as copying and pasting, with just changing the names, didn’t get into much trouble. Coursework can undermine the key benefit of a closed examination: integrity.

It isn’t to say that I believe secondary education must be entirely based on examination. And that’s the bit I think needs reforming most.

For local universities, the idea is to have as much objective information as possible on the application (no things like personal statements, essays or the like), with everything quantifiable (even co-curricular activities – there is a point system standard to all schools in Malaysia). Not only would UPU’s (the central clearinghouse and admission office for most public universities) job be simplified, there would be little room for subjective evaluation.

This is clearly wrong-headed. For one, the Ministry of Higher Education, and not individual universities, that decide admissions of individual students – the diseconomy of scale is clearly present. Beyond the risk to applications (they can’t diversify if there is only one bureaucracy that handles their future), a single bureaucracy to deal with the variety of programs, universities and applications surely cannot be efficient.

This inefficiency as well as the lack of diversification of applicant risk prevents subjective, qualitative information from being used in the admissions process. However, when universities and individual faculties take over the admissions process, they can start taking into account more and more subjective information, like essays, portfolios, working experience, community involvement, talents, and the like.

Since the problem the Ministry is trying to solve is that of rote learning and heavy emphasis on memorization, broadening the sort of information used in admission applications will reduce the emphasis on standardized, central examinations. Getting a good grade in STPM will no longer be sufficient to get a good place in university, neither is doing badly in STPM will keep you from entering university.

Politically, I can see why there is little incentive to reform the system this drastically – the heavy centralization evident in Malaysia is due to the persistent fear of autonomy and the ease in manipulating the education systems for political gain.

As for STPM, I’m not saying it shouldn’t be reformed. But I think it still should remain an examination to remain relevant in any admissions system. Things like reducing the rigidity of the grading rubrics, introducing open book papers, reducing Form 6 to one year – all these would help. Introducing non-examable elements to STPM will undermine the effectiveness of STPM without solving the problem reforms was set out to solve.

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3 Comments

  1. Well, the main problem faced by stpm graduates is the unfair uni admission process.

    To keep the current terminal system is important, but to me, the more important part is to make sure stpm students can compete with matrikulasi students in getting a place in the course they want at universities.

    nice post!

  2. My name is mustafa i am under graduated student i am looking for admission.

  3. I am looking for admission


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