Wednesday, June 18, 2014

School-based assessment, why the rush?

School-Based Assessment (SBA) started in 2012 among the Form Ones. Yet, after various chorus of disapproval among the public especially from teachers and parents highlighting different issues, it was postponed in February until April 2014. Then, on the 15th of June, after only a few months of ‘re-examining’ SBA, Deputy Prime Minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin announced that all secondary schools have to conduct their SBA namely Pentaksiran Tingkatan 3 (PT3) between July and October 2014.
The question is, why the rush?

Allow me to start with a statement, I believe the people in charge of researching and planning the SBA have yet to realise the realities of our education. Please bear in mind; by reality, I do not only talk about slow-servers to key-in marks.

If we observe the current world trend, many countries had or are moving towards decentralisation of education. One of it is by submitting to SBA approach. Countries like United States of America, New Zealand, Australia, and Finland; often regarded as advanced countries, have already used SBA for many years, some since the 1970s. Yes, they took SBA only after years and years of research and adapting it to suit their context!

In a newspaper report, Wan Saiful Wan Jan and Dr. Arran Hamilton from CfBT Education Malaysia suggested, “The Ministry of Education did the right thing in implementing School-Based Assessment.”

Simplistically speaking, I tend to agree with their general statement. However, before jumping on the bandwagon hastily, we need to first examine and identify our current context. Then, we will find out the reason why, despite being the favoured education approach by most education powerhouse, SBA cannot be fully-utilised in Malaysia before we address our realities. In this write-up, I will focus on three main realities we have to first deal with.

Reality Number One: Writing focused examination-based v/s the new whole-rounded English PT3 and our perception

Being an English teacher, I prefer to touch on the English subject. As I have written extensively in an open reply to a letter before, the target and the focus of our education have always been examination. By examination, it is the reading and writing but mostly writing, and yeah, grammar accuracy at the top of it.

Here comes PT3, introducing the idea of 3 different tests in English. Written test almost similar to the previous PMR type papers and another two tests involving speaking and listening.

I have no further question for the written exam but speaking and listening? Without much explanation to teachers and students of the format since SBA first started in 2012, now, there are listening and speaking tests?

Ideally, I agree to the listening and speaking tests. As an English teacher, it is my highest hope to have students who are able to read, write, listen and speak using English confidently, accurately and fluently.  Yet, the question arises, why the rush? Why can’t we stop and prepare the teachers for this new approach first? Why can’t we take time to develop the assessment method to be shared among teachers?

How are we even going to run the listening test? Are we supplying the schools with enough headphones and computers or are we only going to play the audio on that cheap, used school’s speakers? It is a fact that many schools lack the facility to conduct a decent listening examination.

Or maybe we ask the teachers to read the text loudly to students? I believe we need to address all these matters because they bring about the issue of validity and reliability to the assessment.

Most importantly, are the schools and the public ready? And how are we going to grade the students to be clustered into SBP, MRSM, Premier and Science schools? Many parents will want to know this and how will PT3 affect their children’s chances to enter prestigious boarding schools.

In fact, the fact that there are many teachers clueless about PT3, including me and many others you can find in teacher’s Facebook groups, already indicates that we are not ready to carry it out. If we are not fully ready, then why are we forcing it on our current Form Three students? Don’t they deserve to go through an education which is already tried and tested through numerous pilot projects?

Therefore, again, I agree PT3 is a right step forward. Nonetheless, if we are hasty in carrying it out the results may not turn out as expected. It is a proven case with rushed policy such as PPSMI, the kind of decision which has cost us not only the millions, but also the bright future of our youths.

Reality Number Two: The right man for the right job

I took the liberty to read a paper by Salmiah Jaba (2013). She mentioned something of great education importance, even greater than the debate of whether PT3 or SBA should be continued. 

The never-ending issue of non-option teachers which is long overdue, but still remain unsolved. My dear fellow Malaysians who care for our education, ultimately, this is among the key concerns we need to address. The biggest hindrance, a major obstacle which needs to be challenged before we can start thinking about implementing new education policy. 

It is to be noted that Salmiah’s notion was based from various other reports, journals and academic papers written by Mohamad Azhar (2006), Rohayah (2007), Abdul Zubir (2007) and Tan (2010) to name a few. There are many more out there, even formal education reports sent to the Education Ministry which touched on this grave matter.

Siva Subramaniam (1995) in his paper ‘Upholding the Dignity of the Teaching Profession’ also mentioned there are cases of teachers being transferred without referring to option quota. This in turn results to lack of teachers in certain options. 

In addition, Malaysia’s biggest teaching union, NUTP laid a claim in 2012 that there were more than 25,000 non-option teachers teaching English. And you wonder why our standard of English is declining?

Basically, it is useless to blame the teacher when he was trained in another major but then forced to teach English at school simply because ‘there is no English teacher’. Obviously, the solution to this matter must come from the top level through good management of human resources.

Why do we need teachers to teach their major subject? Simply because we want them to teach what they know, what they are good at. We cannot afford to have someone with English major teaching the students Kemahiran Hidup Bersepadu. It will be a disaster. Sadly, in Malaysia, this kind of disaster is common, rampant and considered normal. You know, the tidak apa attitude. It is eating us alive.

Think about it, no good policy, not even the internationally-used SBA, can be implemented effectively when you do not have the right person doing the right job. Maybe that is why we have yet to fully develop the potential of our ideally constructed education policies and ideas, because of poor human resources management.

Reality Number Three: Heavy Non-Teaching Related Workloads

In her paper, Salmiah Jaba also suggested that teachers, the main education workforce who are supposed to support the idea of holistic, continuous and formative assessments in schools – have yet to fully accept SBA. 

One of the reasons for it is the adverse emotions caused by heavy workloads, especially as teachers are also required to perform too much of the non-teaching related clerical tasks.
Honestly, when I entered the teaching workforce, I taught my main role is to teach. Yet, after I met the reality of teaching in Malaysia, I have to admit there are times when teaching are not the top priority of a teacher. Times like when you have to chase datelines of keying in the same type of marks repeatedly because some people just cannot develop a one-stop-database, which is functional and not slow of course! Some of us simply prefer teachers to do things (which are non-teaching related) repeatedly rather than efficiently.

Or such time like when you know you have to finish those non-teaching related files because a superior is going to come and rate you based on them, like is it colourful or not? Or is your file divider attractive enough? It does not really matter if the contents of the file do not help you improve your teaching.

Oh, talking about files. Try guessing the number of files being wasted in our recent attempt of SBA before it was postponed? You know, when teachers were asked to keep one file of evidences for each student they have for each subject before being told recently (after teachers doing it obediently for 2 years) that they do not need to keep those evidences anymore. What are to happen to the already kept files and evidences? What about the time spent by these teachers to make sure the files were kept nicely? Apparently, a teacher’s time is not something we value as a society.

Hence, in order to fully-utilise good education policy like the SBA approach, we should first consider having Management Officer or Clerical Helper to assist with school administration so that teachers can concentrate on teaching. Teaching which is more than just a teacher entering the classroom to chalk-and-talk. Teaching which involves pre-lesson planning, while-lesson facilitation, post-lesson reflection, suitable assessment instruments and materials building, emotional and psychological bonding with students, understanding of social reality, lesson differentiation and many more than what we understood of it.

No, I am not merely saying this. Try to imagine a hospital where the doctors, other than treating patients, need to take care of the files, hospital management system, inventory-keeping, drugs-labelling and other clerical tasks. The precious skills of the doctor will then be wasted doing work that can be done by a semi-skilled worker.

Until we learn to look at teaching as a professional career, no education policy is going to be good enough, not until then. Now, if we are to ask ourselves should we continue with SBA?

The ultimate question rings again, why the rush?

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