I REFER to the letters “Education system must champion meritocracy” by Tan Sri Mohd Sheriff Mohd Kassim (The Star, May 4; online at bit.ly/star_merit) and “One exam for entry into universities” by Lee C.P. (The Star, May 3; online at bit.ly/star_exam).
Let me add my comments as a retired teacher, having served 37 years in teaching Form Six Chemistry since the HSC (Higher School Certificate) days under the University of Cambridge.
In 1983, the Malaysian Examination Council took over the task of assessment from Cambridge University, so we had chemistry in the English medium initially, then in Bahasa Malaysia and now back in English. The HSC is now known as the STPM, or Sijil Tinggi Pelajaran Malaysia, open to all Malaysians with SPM (Sijil Pelajaran Malaysia) qualifications.
Matriculation only covers the science and accountancy disciplines and entry is by selection only, with the majority of bright bumiputra students making up 90% of its enrolment and another 10% from non-bumiputra students, chosen after the SPM. The more well-off non-bumiputra students and those residing in the major towns tend to go into private institutions of higher learning after their SPM. This leaves the weaker bumiputra and poorer non-bumiputra students (apart from those in the rural areas) doing the tougher STPM, which is rather ironic. Hence, entry into our public universities is not only along racial but economic lines as well – this isn’t good for the nation.
While the STPM is being perceived as tougher than matriculation, the truth is that the STPM
syllabus has been watered down over the years and, while it is still tougher, the difference is not as great as before, when it was a terminal exam. The syllabi for both exams bear the same topic titles but STPM covers each topic in greater depth, hence STPM students cope better at university level. Moreover, the STPM is now a semester-based exam similar to matriculation except it covers three terms/semesters as opposed to two for matriculation.
It would be a tremendous step forward for our government to merge these two university entrance examinations into a single one. The new standardised university entrance exam can be called the STPM, matriculation or by any other name; however, the STPM name can confer some added benefits as it has been around for so long and is also recognised not only for university entrance throughout the world but also in the pay scales of many institutions. The matriculation certificate is purely for public university entrance and is not recognised when deciding the starting pay of a worker (who will then be paid at SPM level).
Merging Form Six with matriculation will also save the government precious resources besides strengthening the family structure. Students stay with their parents for an extra year or two and study in schools nearby. It is these two years which are so crucial to the overall maturity of a child. I continue to be amazed after seeing so many cases of rowdy students at SPM level who cannot get entry into any pre-U programmes who transform into fully responsible and mature “adults” after the STPM.
Our government has defended the dual science entry qualifications for our public universities by saying that this practice is done all over the world. What our government failed to mention is that when other foreign universities accept several entry qualifications for their programmes, these qualifications are open to all who wish to sit for them. This is not the case in Malaysia. STPM and matriculation must be open to all for true meritocracy to prevail. In countries like the United States, education is a state affair, hence the multiple state exams, but entry into ivy-league universities is still based on a common exam, namely the SATs.
We have a national education curriculum. It is time to streamline Form Six and matriculation into a common university entrance programme. Affirmative actions can still be in place for disadvantaged students such as those from the indigenous or orang asli community and those with special needs or who are differently abled.
I hope that Form Six Science continues to be in English to enable our students to access information fast, be it through the Internet, publications or at seminars and conferences. In turn, our students can publish their findings fast, thereby laying claim to patents and the like. Waiting for translations is time consuming and when science and technology is involved, may mean future revenue lost. Who knows, a Malaysian child may one day lay claim to a finding worthy of a Nobel prize?
Without English, we will always be one step behind. No doubt it will be easier for our teachers to teach and our children to learn science concepts in their respective mother tongues but is that sufficient in today’s borderless world? We are competing on the world stage.
In summary, having a common university entrance exam by merging the STPM and matriculation programmes saves precious resources, strengthens the family structure, reduces racial friction and prepares our young for competition in the real world where meritocracy reigns.
Retired Form Six Teacher
Wakaf Baru, Kelantan
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