THE SPM results have now been released and at most, 30% of the 455,839 students who sat for it will pursue tertiary education while the rest will seek employment.
While a compulsory pass in Bahasa Malaysia is required to obtain the all-important certificate, the same is expected in History. This has been so for the last two years, with the announcement being peculiarly made at an annual Umno assembly.
After much persuasion from stakeholders, students will now be required to pass English language in 2016 to obtain the certificate. We earnestly hope students will be, and are, given the appropriate guidance to achieve what is desired of them.
A new development for this year’s SPM students is that Paper Three of Physics, Chemistry and Biology, as well as Additional Science for those in the arts stream, which is a written test, will be scrapped. They will instead be replaced by the comeback of the practical component, which was halted in 1999.
Students are now required to carry out experiments individually based on instructions given “to ensure that all science stream students master science process skills”, and their marks will be reduced if the invigilator steps in to help them. Students should have been prepped by their teachers by now.
The question that arises now is whether school science laboratories are sufficiently equipped to ensure that students are not handicapped in any way to perform to the best of their ability. In 2013, the Ministry of Education reported that 20% of laboratories were damaged, not functional or lacked modern equipment and facilities. A similar survey by the Examination Syndicate in the same year showed almost 30% of schools did not have enough adequately-equipped laboratories while 6% did not even have proper ones.
It would not be unbecoming if parents took the initiative to enquire about the preparedness of school laboratories for the impending SPM practical assessment. While in the majority of laboratories, there are sufficient simple apparatus such as test tubes and beakers to enable more groups of smaller sizes to be formed, this was rarely done.
A case in point was when I asked students about the dissection of a cow’s eye. It was found that even science teachers within the same school had different ideas about how this should be conducted.
With one teacher, students were instructed to bring a cow’s eye for each group they were in. The teacher conducted a demonstration and the students were then given the opportunity to dissect their respective samples within the group. This would seem ideal. However, in another class, another teacher surprised the students with a dissection of a cow’s eye supplied by the laboratory. The students were not forewarned and did not have the opportunity to dissect the eye themselves. Then, there was the teacher who urged 30-odd students to bring their own cow’s eyes, carried out a demonstration, and told them to conduct their own dissection at home. Of course, the cow’s eyes were not taken home but instead catapulted at some innocent bystanders walking by in the school courtyard!
Another common problem among low-performing schools is the inadequate supply of ammeters, voltmeters, rheostats, transformers and circuit boards, making it even more difficult for teachers to give lessons on electricity. In addition, microscopes must be in good working condition, fume cupboards must be clean and well-maintained and chemicals must be dry and not hardened from under-usage or solidified from the heat.
PAGE sits on the Science Education Committee of Academy Sciences Malaysia and recently, we conducted a pilot project over two years in four selected primary schools in Hulu Langat on Inquiry-Based Science Education (IBSE), or in French, la main à la pâte. Originating from France, it is now conducted in 30 countries worldwide. The world-renowned TIMSS (Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study) test was given to the students, and voila, IBSE pupils performed better than non-IBSE pupils. The assessment comprised 50 questions, 29 of which were objective and 21 subjective, testing knowledge, application of that knowledge and the reasoning behind that application. In all cases, IBSE pupils excelled over the control group, inferring that they had a better understanding and the ability to articulate answers. The UPSR science scores mirrored the same excellent results.
IBSE is the way forward in the teaching and learning of science, creating motivation, interest and excitement as it develops students’ thinking through argumentation, hypothesising, designing, conducting investigation and making a final conclusion.
It is very relevant to the new emphasis on Higher Order Thinking Skills (HOTS), including the development of language through the learning of science. It also promotes the development of soft skills through group activities and discussions as well as being a practical, feasible and inexpensive approach using cheap and recycled materials. For teachers, it provides innovative ideas in conducting inquiry.
We hope the Ministry of Education will disseminate IBSE nationwide through a structured programme and that it be included in all training-related science teaching programmes.
Datin Noor Azimah Abdul Rahim is chairman of Parent Action Group for Education (PAGE) Malaysia
This article first appeared in The Edge Malaysia Weekly, on March 23-29, 2015.