KUALA LUMPUR — Come the third quarter of each year, students all over the country are gripped by “exam fever”.
With the Ujian Pencapaian Sekolah Rendah (UPSR) and the Form Three Assessment or Pentaksiran Tingkatan Tiga (PT3), Sijil Pelajaran Malaysia (SPM) and Sijil Tinggi Agama Malaysia (STAM) examinations around the corner, most students are busy making the final preparations to ace the papers.
Their parents are throwing in their full support by motivating them and buying them revision books, and ensuring that they eat nutritious food and get enough rest and sleep.
This year’s UPSR is scheduled for Sept 8 to 10 while the PT3 exam is already well underway with the third formers having completed their case study instrument assessments for History and Geography in July. The oral tests for Bahasa Melayu and English are being conducted this month, while the written exam will take place on Oct 12, 13 and 15. The SPM exam will be held between Nov 2 and Dec 8 while the STAM written exam is scheduled for Oct 19 to 27.
Not very long ago, this writer happened to run into some neighbours discussing their children’s education and future and they appeared very anxious.
A few of them complained that they were finding it hard to help their children with their homework and revision due to the changes in their syllabus in line with the implementation of the School-Based Assessment programme, which tested students on their higher-order thinking skills (HOTS).
Homemaker Ajah Samsuri Samsudin, 50, was all for a better education system but wished that they were kept in the loop where educational reforms were concerned.
“I may be only a homemaker but I don’t want to be left behind where my children’s education is concerned. To me, higher order thinking skills are necessary not only for students but all Malaysians as the nation prepares to attain fully-developed status by 2020,” said the mother-of-five, with two of her children still in school.
FROM ROTE LEARNING TO THINKING
What exactly is HOTS, which is among the aspirations of the Malaysia Education Blueprint 2013-2025 (MEB)?
The MEB defines HOTS as the ability to apply one’s knowledge and skills for problem-solving and decision-making, and to be more innovative and creative.
HOTS is primarily aimed at changing the concept of learning facts by rote to one that required students to think and develop important cognitive skills to enable them to be more creative, as well as be able to analyse and evaluate knowledge, and solve problems.
In other words, HOTS sees a shift from textbook learning to acquiring knowledge and soft skills that can turn children into more well adjusted and all-round individuals.
When last year’s inaugural PT3 exam and SPM (which also incorporated HOTS-oriented questions) results turned out to be far from satisfactory, many quarters, including parents, blamed the new format of the questions for their children’s dismal performance.
INFORMATION EXPLOSION ERA
A senior lecturer at Universiti Malaysia Sabah’s Business, Economics and Accounting Faculty, Roseni Ariffin, said the implementation of the MEB was timely as the Malaysian education system was lagging behind that of other nations, “although at one time we were ahead of them.”
Pointing out that economic development should correlate progress in knowledge, she said: “We’re living in an information explosion era, hence our education system should strive to cultivate students who can think, evaluate and embrace knowledge quickly and holistically.”
She said with Malaysia shifting its focus from the agriculture, manufacturing, and oil and gas industries to the service industry, it was time “we got out of our comfort zones and became groundbreakers and innovators.
“Leadership skills, confidence, boldness and the ability to plan and be innovative all have their beginnings in a strong educational background.”
Hence, the importance of sowing the seeds of creative thinking into the minds of the younger generation while they were still at school, she added.
HOTS NOT NEW TO TEACHERS
Universiti Pendidikan Sultan Idris Deputy Vice Chancellor (Student Affairs and Alumni), Asso Prof Datuk Dr Junaidi Abu Bakar, meanwhile said the HOTS concept was not exactly alien to teachers as they were exposed to it whilst undergoing training at their college or university.
“By right, they should be ready to assist in the implementation of the new system. HOTS is also not new to the more senior teachers who were trained many years ago,” said Junaidi, adding that it was one of the main components of the creative and critical thinking skills programme introduced in the early 1990s.
He said besides enhancing students’ existing skills and competencies, the HOTS concept also gauged the progress made by the students and how much they have learnt.
Stressing the importance for teachers to enhance their thinking skills as well, he said they should attend more courses or pursue higher studies to ensure that they were able to keep up with the times.
Junaidi said teachers played a significant role in ensuring that their students applied higher order thinking skills by exposing them to HOTS-oriented assignments during the teaching and learning process.
He said such assignments would enable the students to apply, analyse, synthesise and evaluate information, instead of merely memorising and reciting facts.
Junaidi also explained that the transformation of Malaysia’s education system would become more complete with the implementation of the Malaysia Higher Education Blueprint 2015-2025 (Higher Education), besides the MEB 2013-2025.
“There’s no need for anyone to have any doubts (about the new system)…just be patient. I’m confident the transformation to be brought about by HOTS will be evident in the long term,” he said.
He said while parents had a right to be concerned about the changes as they were the ones who had to guide their children in their homework, they need not be overly worried because the educational reforms were necessary to ensure that the nation’s future generations were equipped with more critical and creative thinking skills.
“We want to produce the best, and the process begins at the school level. There’s no issue of their children acting as our guinea pig.
“The education system has changed. We’ve to move towards another dimension, and one day Malaysia will become a major economic power at the global level, with our children in the driver’s seat,” he added.