The Iron Fist
Chief Editor of ReMag
Join Date: Apr 2008
Re: UPSR. PMR to be scrapped?
Okay, here it is. Brace yourselves, guys! This will, again, be published on CEKU once the site is up and running again.
P.S. Sorry for the incoherent rambling. It was getting late and I was getting tired. To summarize, I disagree with almost everyone. I disagree with supporters of the motion. I agree with opposers of the motion that we should not abolish the examinations, at least for the time being, but disagree with the mainstream reasoning that they use. Happy reading, guys!
Commentary: Should UPSR & PMR be abolished?
The proposal to abolish UPSR and PMR, two public examinations which most of us [especially the current generation] have come to recognize as being almost central to our education system, has generated much controversy and discussion – with opposing sides of the heated debate raising very persuasive and solid arguments. For reference’s sake, this essay will first provide a brief explanation as to what these examinations are. The UPSR and PMR are examination-based assessments taken at the end of a student’s primary and lower secondary education respectively, with the goal of assessing one’s academic progress for the corresponding level of education.
Outlining the Debate
The chief criticism of the current education system is that it is simply too examination-oriented and leaves no room for a more holistic and well-rounded development. The government’s main reason for proposing the abolishment of UPSR and PMR is an attempt to address exactly that. The rationale for doing away with two of our education system’s most important examinations is so that we can move away from an examination-oriented system.
Needless to say, such a controversial move has raised many objections, which may be summarized in two broad grounds: Firstly, that with UPSR and PMR no longer in place, we would lack an objective method for assessing a student’s academic progress. It has been argued with considerable force, that students studying in rural-area schools with fewer facilities and resources, would especially stand to lose out to their urban-area counterparts as these examinations, at the very least, form an objective goal that they can focus their efforts on and strive to achieve in order to compete with students in the urban areas. Secondly, a natural consequence that follows from the first reason, students would lack motivation to perform in their studies. To quote a commentator: “The only reason why students study is precisely because they need to pass an examination, and schools without examinations will soon cease to exist.”
Having outlined the main arguments from both ends of the debate, this essay will now proceed to present its own opinion in a three-part analysis. It will ultimately draw the conclusion that at this stage in time, neither UPSR nor PMR should be abolished, for the reason that abolishing these two examinations does not necessarily provide an effective way of moving away from an examination-oriented system. However, it will also go on to argue that the reasons raised in favour of retaining these examinations – that one would lack an objective method of assessment and a source of motivation for students to perform well in school are fundamentally flawed in substance and more importantly, fail in principle to address the crux of the issue. In essence, this essay agrees that UPSR and PMR should not be abolished but disagrees with the mainstream rationale submitted by fellow commentators.
What Happens if We Abolish UPSR and PMR?
This essay submits that the merits of a proposal should be evaluated using a three-stage analysis. Firstly, it will assess the extent to which the proposal solves the problem that it is intended to solve. Secondly, it will proceed to examine the issue of any additional consequences that the proposal could possibly give rise to, and thirdly, if so, whether any possible negative consequences may be justified by the benefits such a proposal might offer.
(i) To what extent is abolishing UPSR/PMR solving the problem? Does this move really fulfill our objective in moving away from an examination-oriented education system?
This essay would like to argue that doing away with these two examinations does not necessarily signify a departure from a focus on examination-based assessments. For starters, there will still be tests and examinations conducted at school-level – that much is certain.
More importantly, however, it should be stressed that, contrary to popular belief, the underlying concern is not so much about the existence of the examinations, but rather what the teachers do in the classrooms. The main stinging point of the fundamental criticism of our education system is that students spend too much time at school mugging for exams by memorizing facts and regurgitating them on past-year papers, and not the fact that the final assessments are conducted in the form of an examination. One must take heed not to fall into the trap of this common misconception.
While it is true that having an examinations-based form of assessment contributes significantly to the problem today, it is far from being the be-all-and-end-all to this matter. This essay submits that change must come not only from the form of final assessment, but also the shape of the curriculum and how teaching is conducted. Not having an examination-oriented education system does not necessarily entail having a system that places relatively minor emphasis on examinations. It is entirely possible to have an assessment that gives, say, a comparatively heavy 80% weightage to a final examination and 20% weightage to other ‘holistic’ components, while having a teaching system that incorporates the development of critical thinking, creativity, and teamwork.
To return to the question, no, the abolishment of UPSR and PMR does not per se solve the problem of our examination-oriented system. Removing these exams may be helpful in taking a step towards the right direction, but the biggest change required is in the classroom. Other measures, such as changes in the teaching approach and curriculum must accompany the move to abolish these examinations, if this proposal is to have any positive effect. Otherwise, we would be in a position where we would have a “well-rounded” assessment scheme, but be stuck with an inadequate teaching method that fails to address the needs of the system.
(ii) What other consequences might there be?
The answer to this question has been conveniently provided and elaborated by the opposers of the proposal. The abolishment of these examinations would leave us with no objective method of assessing a student’s academic performance in school. This means that certain ‘academically-elite’ secondary schools which typically depend on UPSR and PMR results for admission purposes would be left without a way of deciding which students to admit. More importantly, without PMR, there would now be difficulties in the streaming process – the sorting of students into the science and arts streams at upper secondary level would be impossible. Students of rural areas, being confined to their schools with poorer facilities and fewer resources, would stand to lose out in the long run, without a centralized benchmark which they can focus their efforts on and work towards achieving.
This is a very powerful consequential argument for opposing the proposal, but this essay contends that it is unfortunately not entirely flawless. It is flawed because it can easily be countered. The problem of having a way to distinguish academically sound students from the weaker ones for streaming or admission purposes can easily be solved by requiring the schools in question to conduct independent assessments of their own – a good example would be to carry out their own admissions or aptitude tests. Doing so would have the advantage of providing a more tailored way to handpick students based on an individual school’s capabilities and corresponding standards.
The objection that rural-area students would be harmed by this proposal is also unconvincing. The truth is, there is more than enough criticism that rural students are losing out in our current system as it is, simply due to the state of facilities and resources available to the schools in rural areas. The fact that we have had to controversially lower the passing grade threshold in our public examinations in order to allow more students to pass already speaks volumes about how the examination system in principle is not incredibly friendly to the rural-area students who statistically tend to produce lower scores in exams. The problem of the rural-area students must be addressed using other measures; it has little to do with an examination-based assessment.
Another submitted consequence is that without examinations in place, students would lack motivation to work hard and perform well in school. Without UPSR and PMR, it would be pointless going to school. As with the argument about the rural-area students, this appears to be a rather ancillary objection. The government has already made it clear that there will be another form of assessment in place of UPSR and PMR, though the exact details are still hazy as of now. Students will still be assessed in some way, even if more holistic components will be incorporated into the assessment scheme, so there should not be an issue of a lack of motivation. Lastly, it should be noted that many students who are not motivated to put effort into their schoolwork are likely to have the same attitude regardless of the type of final assessment anyway.
All in all, however, this essay acknowledges the merits of having a centralized, objective way of assessing a student’s achievements, and there is no denying that having an examination can be a major source of motivation for students. However, the point this essay is trying to make is that while these consequence-based arguments are persuasive in their own right, they immediately lose a lot of their initial punch once countered and are secondary in comparison to an objection that is based on whether the abolishment of UPSR/PMR does what it is supposed to do.
(iii) Can the advantages justify the disadvantages?
We have explored the possible benefits of the proposal in part (i) and its potential drawbacks in part (ii). It has been seen that, upon closer examination, much of the reasoning backing the mainstream objections carry a lot less bite than their bark. On the other hand, one would also be hard-pressed to say that the abolishment would do much to solve the problem of an examination-oriented education system. Ultimately, however, the fact that it does not do what it is supposed to do, and the fact that without additional measures [in terms of a change in teaching approach and curriculum] to complement and support the abolishment would yield no results, supply good enough reasons to oppose the proposal.
On its own, the abolishment of UPSR and PMR does not solve the problems inherent of an examination-oriented system. This fact alone should be able to provide a solid basis to oppose the move to abolish the exams, at least until the government rolls out concrete and clear-cut plans on the next step to be taken. This essay would like to reiterate that the biggest and most important change should, in principle, first be done in the teaching approach and curriculum; we can then decide on what to do with our assessments schemes after that. There are also powerful consequence-based reasons challenging the abolishment, but on their own, they do not provide a sufficiently strong case for going against the abolishment. It is only by proving that the proposal does not accomplish what it is supposed to accomplish that we may have a solid reason for choosing the opposing stance.
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Compliment yourself today!
Last edited by Glassylicious; 01-07-2010 at 10:00 AM.