Schools are encouraging the Science option but, ultimately, students should choose based on their interest.
YOU CAN’T always get what you want...that refrain from a popular song could also apply to many post-PMR students. In urban schools at least, the demand for a place in the Science stream often outstrips supply.
The fact that Maths and Science subjects are now taught in English has made the Science stream even more popular.
Although the determining factor for streaming is academic results, many schools also use aptitude tests and take into consideration the students’ interest.
With the Government targeting a 60:40 ratio of Science to Arts students, the minimum requirement to enter the Science stream is a C in Maths and Science at PMR level. However, many schools have set the bar much higher, often requiring distinctions in these subjects for students to qualify for the Science stream.
Schools division director Noor Rezan Bapoo Hashim says that although streaming may not always be the best option, it is still the most practical system to use.
“Not every student can cope with subjects like Physics, Chemistry and Biology. We don’t want to force students to do subjects they are not good at; that would be disastrous. We want students to achieve in school.”
SMK Seri Bintang Utara senior assistant Norrizan Bahari says students are allowed to switch streams, as long as there are places available.
“Some students qualify for the Science stream but there aren't enough places because others have done even better,” she says.
More options in Science
Principal Hasnah Hamid* says her school in Petaling Jaya has six Science, two Business and two Social Science classes.
This ratio of Science to Arts is the norm in most urban and premier schools.
“We cannot stream students based on interest alone. If their results are not that good and they don’t get at least 5As, we will advise them not to do Pure Science.”
Hasnah believes that streaming optimises a student’s potential.
“At the end of the day, we want students to enjoy learning and to excel in their SPM.
“Generally, good students prefer to do Science as they find it more challenging compared to Arts,’’ she adds.
Another principal, Mary Wong*, whose school is located in an economically-disadvantaged area in Kuala Lumpur, has only one Science class but four Arts classes.
“Most of my students cannot cope with the Science stream. My entry requirement of a minimum of 2As is much lower than what other schools require.”
However, students who do not meet the school’s minimum criteria but are adamant about doing Science are allowed to do so, provided places are available and they pledge to work hard.
“We give them three months and gauge how they are faring. If they cannot cope, we will ask them to switch to the Arts.”
Coming from a Science background herself, Wong says she usually encourages better students to opt for Science.
“Doing Science forces you to be more analytical and diligent. And you can still do Arts and Humanities courses after your SPM.
“I don’t think it's bad to stream students as it gives them a foundation for their future and forces them to think about where their inclinations lie.”
A broadbased system
The preference for Science is also evident in higher education. Last year, 59% of those who gained places in university did Science courses compared to only 41% for the Arts.
Taylor’s University College Subang Jaya principal and chief operating officer Anucia Jeganathan says that this trend is reflected in her college too.
“About 70% of our students are doing Science-based courses. Even many in the Arts and Humanities stream did Science in Form Five.”
“Students feel that there are more opportunities in Science and that if they do Arts too early, they will be burning their bridges and closing the door to several careers.
“Some universities and colleges also prefer students who have been through the Science stream even though they are applying for Arts-based courses,” she adds.
However, Jeganathan believes that the current system is not balanced and that a healthy mix of both Arts and Science subjects after the PMR should be encouraged as “it makes for better students.”
The answer may lie in having a more broad-based education system, similar to that practised in Britain and the United States, where labels like Arts or Science stream are not used.
Jeganathan says that for this to happen, Science and Arts students should take more subjects from the other stream. However, there first needs to be a wider range of Arts subjects offered in Malaysian schools, she says, such as music, drama and public speaking.
“Currently, we don’t have many Arts subjects that engage and involve the students.”
Constraints in school
Advanced Studies Advisors director Yow Lop Siaw says that the methodology used in the teaching of Arts subjects in schools also needs to be improved.
“It should be more project based – that's how real learning takes place.”
He adds that there are actually three streams now offered at government schools: Arts, Science, and Business/Commerce.
“This is in response to market demand as more students want to do Business courses.”
However, creative subject packages within the three streams are rarely offered in Malaysian schools because of infrastructure and scheduling problems.
Hasnah says that students who would like to take subjects not offered in school, either because of personal interest or in their quest to score more As, usually don't get to do so.
“These extra subjects cannot be fitted into the regular timetable; the students have to go for tuition or extra classes on their own.”
Noor Rezan points out that there are sometimes constraints preventing schools from offering students a greater choice of subject combinations.
“For instance, there may be no teachers teaching a particular subject that the students are interested in, or perhaps not enough students want to take up the subject.
“There must be a minimum of 15 students to make up a class.”
Right subject combination
Yow’s advice to post-PMR students is to choose Science even though they may want to do Business later as “you are training yourself to be more analytical.”
However, he cautions that a student’s PMR grades are not a good indicator of academic ability.
“The PMR is a fairly easy exam as the questions are objective in nature.
“Students who choose the Science stream must be prepared to work hard as the SPM is much more difficult.”
He echoes Jeganathan’s statement that Science students are considered more favourably by universities even when they apply for Arts courses. Another emerging trend, he reveals, is investment banks’ preference for hiring engineering graduates.
Most Malaysians continue to hold stereotypical views of the strengths and disadvantages of doing the Arts or Sciences.
Top scorers are advised to do Science which is more “challenging” while weak students are advised to opt for Arts as it is less “taxing”.
Essentially, what matters is not whether students do Science or Arts subjects, but that they take subjects that they enjoy and subsequently pursue related careers.
Yow says that many students do not understand the consequences of choosing the right subject at SPM level.
For example, students intending to do a Business Administration degree sometimes opt for the Arts stream, not realising that Additional Mathematics is essential.
“They don’t know that the first year in university requires a strong grounding in Mathematics, including Additional Mathematics.
“Students should be aware of this when choosing their subjects for SPM.”
* The names have been changed to protect their privacy.
Related Story:Taking up the challenge
Did you find this article insightful?