Saturday, April 14, 2012

NKRA - What Does It Actually Measure?

One of the developments that I've been observing with great alarm is the deterioration of focus in class, especially in schools. And it's not getting any better, especially among the boys. I teach in a school that is somewhere in the 50th percentile; national ranking based on the NKRA. One area of focus in the NKRA is education. It's easy to see why.

A NKRA list was supposed to have been uploaded in 2010 but I'm not sure whether it's for public consumption as I've not been able to find the comprehensive list. In recent years we've been trying to quantify everything. To able to quantify I think is good. The aims behind it are noble but I am not sure if what I am seeing how we get to the figures are anything but noble.

Under the NKRA reward system the one who stands to benefit most is the Principal of the school should his school shows the most improvement. A Principal gets a cash reward of RM7500. Then the top 5% teachers get RM1800, while 90% gets RM900 and the bottom 5% gets nothing! The reward system is obviously skewed. Teaching is a profession where individual efforts matter a lot; more than the administrators I would say. And to have them say that they are indeed teachers of different calibres speaks volume aboutntheir changing goalposts. For years we teachers have been constantly reminded that every teacher is the same. And now NKRA goes round and does a U-turn. All teachers do not have the same calibre! LOL! Management of expediency?

Countries like Finland realizes that and great autonomy and trust are placed on teachers. In a system like ours which is still being pummelled with years of skewed values, the likelihood of the bottom 5% teachers being placed in the top 5% is a real possibility. And the one who overees gets the greatest reward. Such kind of reward system also seems to corelate with the fact that our country scores high on the Power Distance Index (PDI). Marina Mahathir reviewed a book on PDI here which is quite an interesting read. And the book that I have just read, Outliers discusses the PDI quite a bit too.

There is great emphasis on public exams in the NKRA. The weightage is 70%. Of all the public exams, STPM makes up only 5% (of the 70%), because the number of candidates are small. For too long, many quarters have pointed out the double standards in STPM and Matriculation. Both are pathways to university but with apparent difference in the level of difficulties. It's obvious that Matriculation is a much easier pathway. We should just have one pathway, in the spirit of 1Malaysia. Our Matriculation results are not recognized by top universities in the world but our STPM is. STPM is still considered one of the most difficult pre-university exams in the world. It's not the preferred choice for those who take it, they take it because of economic constraints.

Now what's interesting is how schools go to great lengths to ensure the scores of the remaining 30% of the score for NKRA, made up of other components such as co-curriculum. I am not all that clear about the whole process but audit is via documentations and data submitted. These days much of it has gone online. There are also visits from the auditors, who park themselves in the respective schools but usually only for a short while. The longest I can remember is probably around a week. So as you can see, there are many loopholes to be exploited, and a lot of window dressing.

I have seen how schools go on a mad scramble to organize and collect data. What seems to be more important is the documentation. There is this endless chase for paperwork once we know that auditors are coming. During such times, many meetings will be held in order to fill up the files with letters and minutes. Teachers become frazzled and run out of focus too, because of the the need to fill those files. Bosses will be breathing down our necks for this to be done as this reflects on them. Documentations will take precedence over everything else during this mad season. There are countless reports to be filed up and data to be keyed in. Anyway, the reports remain in their files making up meaningless bulk once the hoo-hah dies down. No one ever hardly reads them. They are just there mainly for show, as objects of display. And they are often recycled to make up the bulk for the next year too.

And this where NKRA unfortunately has become a bureaucracy sandpit. What NKRA seems to be trying to do is to mould us towards excellence. That I believe is good. But while it is good to know where a school stands in the national ranking, I think it makes administrators focus on the wrong things often times. I know there has been a report on how a school in the interior managed to do really well in one of the public exams but I think sometimes the statistics do not tell the whole story. Statistics also does not tell us how some headmasters go to great lengths to ensure that their percentage looks good by barring academically weak students from taking their exams or have others take their exams. And we seem to have also forgotten that we have a political system that practices not one common yardstick but one which divides first and foremost along racial lines.

So what's next after the statistics are tabulated. What do we do with the data? Do we take it a step further by doing a study how many of the post SPM students make it to the university? Cos if we do that, we are going to find that for 2 sets of students with the same results, one will have a higher percentage in the public universities and it's obvious that group will be the Matriculation group. We could do a more detailed study further on and I suspect the results might indicate that one group suffers more prejudices in the selection process too. I don't know as I don't have the data but it might be an interesting study, I feel.

And this brings me back to the amount of unnecessary paper and digital work that NKRA has brought upon the teachers. It burdens the teachers. It turns us into mules for our bosses. Cos in the end, after everything is tabulated and if we're fortunate enough to be in a school that improves, guess who gets the most reward? The mules get pittance while the boss gets enough for a downpayment of a new car! You see over the years, I've also observed that schools can function too, and sometimes quite well, even when the heads are sleeping or pretending to be hard at work! A good boss is important but I don't think we should measure them up to the likes of Steve Jobs, Tim Cook and the Apple guys by rewarding them so excessively. It's just like the SPBA attempt to reward the senior civil servants up to 50% more of their pay which runs into thousands in increement in salary while the poor driver of a civil servant got less than RM5 increement in his salary. Something is amiss! And it smells feudalistic.

Our education standards are declining. The stakeholders agree with that... except for the government. The funny thing is the government is an appointee of the stakeholders. And in the last 50 odd years, we got overtaken by so many of our neighbours. One does not know whether to laugh or cry about this. We reward those people who brought about this slide....


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