I REFER to the report “Many excel amid testing times” (The Star, June 11). The commendable performance of SPM 2020 candidates despite the challenges they encountered while preparing for the exam in the new normal is certainly a cause for celebration.
It also shows the success of Education Ministry officers, teachers and parents in facing off the challenges thrown at them by the Covid-19 pandemic. Many quarters are deservedly happy because this is the best performance in the SPM over the past five years, as revealed by Senior Education Minister Dr Radzi Jidin (pic).
However, some groups are questioning the validity of the results, citing the shorter school term and challenges faced by students with online learning as grounds for their scepticism. They claim that extra attention, including long periods for revision, was given to students taking the exam, and it was possible that some consideration was also given in the marking process.
These issues could be easily resolved if the Education Ministry comes forward with the details.
From an education perspective, there are two aspects of the results that attract my attention. First, there is a lower score for hands-on and practical subjects in vocational schools, which indicates that online learning affected the students’ performance.
This is in line with the findings of internationally published research on the effects of online learning on vocational school students.
Next, there is a lack of details on the narrowing gap in the overall results between urban and rural schools. This outcome has contradicted numerous published research on the subject and also a report by the World Economic Forum in 2021.
Some of the 2020 SPM candidates were students who participated in the 2018 Programme for International Student Assessment (Pisa) survey.
The result of that survey showed that students in urban schools outperformed their counterparts in rural areas in language, Mathematics and Science.
If Malaysia is able to narrow the achievement gap between these two groups in two years despite all the challenges, it would be a significant accomplishment for the government. The government should also accelerate its policy on online learning. If possible, make online learning part of the curriculum delivery (blended learning environment) to prepare students for the culture of distance learning.
There is a need to retrain teachers on this new model of delivery, however. Most importantly, there must be political will and funding to support this policy.
Trust and transparency are two essential elements in the field of education. Adhering to these values will contribute to more positive developments that will benefit the educational fraternity from pre-school to tertiary levels in particular and Malaysians as a whole.
ASSOCIATE PROFESSOR DR TOO WEI KEONG
University of Nottingham Malaysia