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Where is the real cream of the crop?

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We have so many students with a string of As but, at the international level, they do not seem to fare as well, observes Nicholas Chan.


Over the previous week, the newspapers, especially the Chinese-language ones have been rife with reports of STPM top scorers not being admitted to their choice of study.

Ritualistically, fingers were pointed; sentiments flared, hastily assembled reasons were raised to try to make sense of the situation with some obliviously deflected away by the government.

No matter how the drama unfolds every year, the indisputable fact is that we are annually losing some of our best and brightest after years of national education to other countries that are more than happy to receive our rejected goods. Or questionably, the rejected “best”.

With a new crop of politicians voted into the parliament, it would be normal for one to expect more innovative, yet practical solutions to this yearly malaise. One of the more concrete ones came from DAP vice-chairman M.Kulasegaran in urging the government to replace the STPM examination with matriculation.

This may sound fine and logical in argument, as the dual track system practiced in Malaysia has been long lambasted for being the major reason in hampering fair and transparent university intakes in Malaysia. The two systems were accused of having incomparable examination standards, and are also responsible for the allegations of stream-based bias in the selection of students into universities. And of course with the government not dishing out any useful statistics at all, allegations like this could not be sadly proved nor happily disproved.

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Without a doubt, having a bifurcated system that has converging ends is a recipe for disaster; hence, solving the problem would first require a reconcilable, measurable and synchronised pre-university education and assessment package. However, should we just take the easy way out by opting for matriculation for all since it was perceived to be the smoother, more gleaming road to the public universities (IPTAs)?

Isn’t that a betrayal of meritocracy, the supposedly ultimate determinant in university intake for Malaysia, when we adopted a system that allegedly does not differentiate among the students as smart as the students are? Basically, this is the common plight of the Malaysia education system, whereby top scorers are statistically too abundant, but on an international scale we do not fare well, as a good as our number of full-A students tell us.

The starting of meritocracy means an end to mediocrity. If we ever were to revamp our pre-U assessment system, the syllabus, the examination and also the method of marking and grading must reflect this. It is not about picking the more difficult of the two, because if both do not reflect the goals of educating and assessing our students fairly, holistically and competitively, there is no use of advocating either of the systems.

For this, I would propose a system similar to the A-levels and with it expand the choices of subjects one could take in the semester-based system, while also establishing a national level exam board to formulate and review the marking criteria in accordance with international standards. It would also enable all our students to be recognised on a global platform, unlike the matriculation which I was made aware of not being so by the Singapore universities.

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Why not just adopt fully the A levels system as how some private colleges have done? This is because to incorporate completely the system into national education would mean either the government or the student has to pay for the franchise. That is quite a hefty sum for both options alike.

The crux of this yearly drama is really just about how meritocratic our IPTA intake is. This is complicated by the fact that we have more 4.0 scorers than our popular courses (e.g. medical sciences, dentistry and pharmacy) can take. And these courses by major require the intake of the best, something the system ought to be supplying.

So how can one judge a system that claims to be meritocratic? It is simple – those claimed to be the best must indeed be the crème de la crème. It is hard for us to move one way to reduce intakes for the popular courses to cement our universities as merit-based research universities, and to have the admission system move the other.

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