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School-based Assessment: Do Not Gamble Away Our Children’s Future

Statements by Education Minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin, Education Minister II, Datuk Seri Idris Jusoh and Head Director of Education Malaysia, Datuk Dr Khair Mohamad Yusof regarding the School-Based Assessment (SBA) are creating more confusion on this issue.

The idea behind SBA is a good idea as it creates more holistic students as compared to the previous exam oriented system.

However, the implementation of this policy has exposed various weaknesses causing difficulties for teachers, parents and most importantly, the students.

Teachers complain that their time is consumed completing clerical work such as uploading data into the SBA computer system. Teachers living in areas with slow internet speed are forced to use their own money to go to cyber cafes. Some have to wait in the middle of the night or in the wee hours of the morning to obtain a better internet connection before they manage to upload data into the SBA computer system.

This is clearly affecting our teachers’ main duty as educators.

Students and parents are uncertain of how they will be assessed, particularly the form three students this year as they are the first batch of students going through the SBA system. Some were told that although there is no PMR, they will be assessed through an assessment similar to PMR. Hence, the aim of SBA itself is failing and more importantly, similar to the case of the Teaching and Learning of Science and Mathematics in English (PPSMI) policy previously, our children once again become the test subjects of a half-baked education system.

Teachers are now brave enough to object this policy causing them to gather in Bangi on last 22nd February to express their stand. They did so not only for concern of their welfare but on the basis of their responsibility towards their students.

Unfortunately a few teachers became victims of this act of expression. It was only due to their collective action and courage that this problem had attracted wide attention but then they were punished.

I urge the Education Ministry to stop any action against teachers involved in protesting SBA. More importantly, the Ministry has to find a fair and practical assessment system for the form three students who are still in the dark on what they will face. The current system must be reshuffled or the items to be analysed must be reduced.

If the items to be analysed are reduced, then exam-based assessment must return. Importantly, this aspect must be rid of the previous political framework where results supposedly improve every year with the number of students getting straight A’s are increasing year by year while our position in the international assessments is deteriorating.

The system can be reshuffled by finding more efficient ways to update the SBA computer system whether at the school, district or state level. This will immediately reduce the teachers’ burden.

In the long term, any structural changes like SBA requires broad discussion involving educational experts, parents and teachers and also needs to be clearly and thoroughly explained at all levels. As mentioned, this SBA idea is indeed a good idea in principal but SBA should be conditioned on school-level autonomy and accountability which does not exist in Malaysia.

The World Bank report in December 201 3 recorded that the main problem in our education system is the centralised power in the education sector. Schools should be given the power to choose text books and teaching methods before a system like SBA is introduced. Infrastructure should also be properly maintained to avoid the current problems from recurring.

The fact is that we are being left behind in terms of education, with the current international assessments, Trends in International Mathematics and Science Studies (TIMSS) 2011 and Programme in International Students Assessment (PISA) 2012 where our students recorded a decline as compared to previous assessments. This is a worrying trend as not only are we far behind as compared to Singapore but are behind other neighbouring countries such as Thailand and Vietnam.

The defective implementation of SBA, previously like PPSMI, will leave a great impact on the students of lower secondary school today. The rakyat must know who are responsible for these mistakes. We must identify how the educational policies, which are crucial for the country’s development, are decided; are the policies based on comprehensive research and consultations? Is there a monitoring and assessment mechanism when any educational policy is implemented?