The abolition of the Form 3 national assessment, Pentaksiran Tingkatan 3 (PT3), came as no surprise. It was just a matter of time before this national-level examination would be axed for good, following a two-year hiatus.
What would this mean for the already troubled education system? How is this move going to improve the overall quality of education and boost student outcomes? Are the powers that be ignoring the elephant in the room?
In announcing the move on June 2, the Minister of Education seemed to be preoccupied with explaining the school-based assessment methods that will replace PT3 as though they would be any different from what has already been in practice since 2014. In fact, the PT3 format and assessment method are not quite taken away, but being repackaged so that it can be done at school level instead of at the national level.
The advantage of the repurposed PT3 is that there is no cumulative three-year learning content to be tested at the end of Form 3. The school-based assessment is also easier and more convenient to conduct. It omits the necessity for a simultaneous wide-scale national exam arrangement involving the Examination Syndicate (Lembaga Peperiksaan) and the need to mobilise resources at the national level, along with all the shenanigans of exam result announcements.
The drawback and concern about the removal of a national-scale examination boils down to the attitudes of teachers and students. Will they be motivated enough and take the teaching and learning seriously? There are many unanswered questions that need to be addressed to give confidence to parents that their children will continue to thrive, learn and be able to keep up according to the standards that have been set.
There must be a yardstick to identify that no one is slacking or lagging behind, and that there are measures in place for remedial actions and intervention plans for those in need, be it teacher or student.
While we agree that school-based assessment is a better way of measuring student learning compared to high stakes testing and teaching to the test, we are sceptical about the readiness of our system and the ability of teachers to fulfil their roles in this regard.
The data from the trust school programme only confirms our worst fears that all is not well with the assessment method. Quoting the executive director from LeapEd which runs the trust school programme, out of 6,000 teachers at trust schools nationwide, only 25% are confident of doing the assessments. This is despite the fact that trust schools have a better support system and teaching methods than the rest of the government schools.
On top of that, even the frameworks to evaluate the quality of education within the schools — to assess the schools, teachers, students and leadership by the Ministry of Education’s (MoE) standards — are not effectively utilised, and are only applied with 40% accuracy. This means that schools are still grappling with the process of assessing themselves.
Despite having the Malaysia Education Blueprint (MEB) as a guide and roadmap for improvements since 2013, the proposed reforms have not borne fruit. Many improvements and developments outlined in the MEB have not taken place.
Let us look at one example, pertaining to the problems at hand. In chapter 4, which dwells on Student Learning, the roadmap prescribes “Developing and applying a 21st-century curriculum and assessment”. In this area, Wave 1, which was supposed to take place from 2013 to 2015, is about giving support for teachers to improve the delivery of the curriculum.
It details the plan and the role of school improvement specialist coaches (SISC+) to be deployed at district level so they can be a touch point at ground level between the MOE and teachers. Had this been done right from the beginning, teachers would have been better able, prepared and supported to execute and implement the school-based assessment.
As long as the MOE keeps talking about big concepts and ideas while making promises to improve, nothing will change as long as the crux of the problem is not addressed.
Contrast this with the experience of Finland, which sets the benchmark for best practices in education. It does not utilise high stakes testing, but puts students at the centre of the learning process. Their teachers are highly educated and respected professionals.
We need our system to be one that we can trust and that is accountable. It must be one that we can be proud of so that our children can reap the rewards and our nation can progress. We cannot go on pretending that all is well with our education system when clearly there are many issues that need to be dealt with truthfully. It is a long and tedious process, but as long as we keep dodging the problem, it is our children and the country that will continue to suffer for years to come.
Tunku Munawirah Putra is the honorary secretary of the Parent Action Group for Education (PAGE) Malaysia