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M. Bakri Musa

Seeing Malaysia My Way

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Location: Morgan Hill, California, United States

Malaysian-born Bakri Musa writes frequently on issues affecting his native land. His essays have appeared in the Far Eastern Economic Review, Asiaweek, International Herald Tribune, Education Quarterly, SIngapore's Straits Times, and The New Straits Times. His commentary has aired on National Public Radio's Marketplace. His regular column Seeing It My Way appears in Malaysiakini. Bakri is also a regular contributor to th eSun (Malaysia). He has previously written "The Malay Dilemma Revisited: Race Dynamics in Modern Malaysia" as well as "Malaysia in the Era of Globalization," "An Education System Worthy of Malaysia," "Seeing Malaysia My Way," and "With Love, From Malaysia." Bakri's day job (and frequently night time too!) is as a surgeon in private practice in Silicon Valley, California. He and his wife Karen live on a ranch in Morgan Hill. This website is updated twice a week on Sundays and Wednesdays at 5 PM California time.

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

An Education System Worthy of Malaysia #59

Chapter 9: Mow Down MOE (Cont’d)

Examination Syndicate

The ministry is also involved in the testing business. In the past the private Cambridge Local Examination Syndicate undertook such activities. Since independence, as a manifestation of the merdeka (independent) spirit, the ministry felt that it could do the job better.

When I took my Form V examination back in 1960, I do not remember the cost but it was certainly not substantial as it did not impose a particular burden on my parents. And the examination results were released in late February or early March at the latest. Today we read stories of school children unable to sit for the test because of lack of funds, and the results not published until late May (there has been some improvement in 2002). From late November until the results are released six months later, students are left in limbo. These are the youths one sees loitering in the shopping malls or otherwise unoccupied. They have nothing to do but wait. Parents who are smart or can afford it enroll their children at private institutions. By the time the examination results are released they would have completed over a semester’s course work.

The Year 6 examination takes place in early September. From then until the beginning of yearend vacation (early December) these pupils are essentially wasting their time. No learning takes place; those precious long months are simply wasted away.

The ministry has two examination bodies: Malaysian Examination Syndicate (Lembaga Pepereksaan Malaysia – LPM) that runs the tests for the end of Years 6, 9, and 11, and the Malaysian Examination Council (Majlis Peperkesaan Malaysia – MPM) that administers the Form 6 examination and the Malaysian Universities English Test (MUET).

Why two entities? My cynical view is that there would then be two departmental heads and doubling of the establishment. Many more top jobs for civil servants!

The excuse given for the late release of results is that there are now so many more candidates. True, but the American College Board administers SAT to millions worldwide and releases the results in weeks not months. The delay is due to other more mundane reasons.

Once while vacationing in Malaysia during December, I met a senior official from the Examination Syndicate who was also on holidays. I was surprised as I expected December to be the busiest time for him, being after the school examination season. I inquired why he took the vacation then, and his answer was as direct as it was frank. It was precisely because his department was busy that he took time off. No point taking a vacation when you are not busy at the office, he rationalized! It is such an attitude that accounts for the delays, not lack of staff and money, or too many candidates.

Civil servants staff both bodies; they lack professional training in the psychology of testing, testing methodology, or statistical analysis. There are no studies assessing the reliability, predictability, or even internal consistency of these tests. The general public has little confidence in these tests, with speculations that the results are often tampered, and the authorities have done little to allay those misgivings.

The recent scandal over the examination for lawyers (administered by another body) heightens those suspicions. The central figure in that scandal (now awaiting trial) was the former deputy dean of one of the public law faculties. That such a prominent academic could be involved with something so slimy is unnerving.

The rules for examinations too are not without controversy. One is the silly requirement for candidates to state their race and religion. This adds to the general unease and suspicion that such information would be used for sinister purposes. Get rid of that unnecessary data.

These examination bodies have not done any research to validate their tests. There are no longitudinal studies correlating students’ performances on these tests and their later college careers. Nor are there studies to validate the internal consistency of the tests, or correlating them with class performance. Similarly there are no detailed analyses of the questions to differentiate between the truly discriminative ones from those that are not. The best questions are obviously those that are answered correctly by the top scorers; the worse or least discriminative are those answered correctly at random. The only way to discover this is to subject each question to statistical analysis. Such analyses would help the examiners get rid of useless, non-discriminative questions and enhance the overall quality of the tests.

Examination bodies can do more than simply grade students and be their gatekeepers. The data they generate could help parents in making their choices; schools in monitoring their performances; and the ministry to guide where to focus its resources.

Next: Land LAN Elsewhere

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