One of the things we need to do for school based assessment (PBS - Pentaksiran Berasaskan Sekolah) is to assess students. And the yardstick will be the instruments used to measure their progress. There is a lot more paper work for the teachers for sure. We also have to key in the marks online too. Given that class sizes are still quite big, anywhere between 30 to 45 in many schools, we'll be buried under more administrative and clerical work.
Recently I was given a set of 'instruments' to gauge my Form 1 students' mastery. Now these are simple questions like 'What is your name?, How old are you?, Where do you live? and What is your hobby?' My colleague had this look of disbelief on her face when I told her that I did not expect one of my classes to be able to clear those questions to qualify for Band 1.
I went into the class and proceeded with the 'measuring'. About 3 could handle 3 of the 4 questions. They tanked at the 'Where do you live?' question. Another 3 could answer 2 questions. The rest simply sank into their own sea of ignorance, with 2-3 students answering 'bola' for the 'What is your hobby?' question. I guess the word 'hobby' saved the day for them since it's also 'hobi' in BM. Interestingly too, all 6 students who could answer either all 4 or 3 questions came from Chinese vernacular schools. And there only 6 Chinese in the class. The rest of the students came from national (kebangsaan) schools. Both sets of students are weak students but one set was able to qualify for Band 1 quite easily.
This is the 5th month I'm teaching them. It took me about 2 months to make them sit still in class and another 2 months to finally knock some sense into the really recalcitrant ones that it's better that they do the work given... even if it's just copying the questions into their exercise books. I feel more like a babysitter and sometimes taskmaster when I am in this particular class and 2 other Form 5 classes. This is secondary school and I am supposed to work on the skills that they are supposed to have, like being able to construct sentences, have a certain amount of vocabulary, basically some language skills. Yet all the years they have spent in the classrooms have amounted to almost nothing. But for the Form 1 kids who came from Chinese vernacular schools... (these include the Malay kids who studied there), compliance is high and there is less discipline problem. I think there is something the Chinese schools are doing right....
I am a firm believer that language being a skill is something that everyone can pick up. When a kid has no command at all of a language they are supposed to have been learning for 6 or 11 years, it points to a few things. One, the students have shut their minds. Why they are shut would be an interesting study. Two, language is a skill. If I were to put a Malay baby in a family that speaks Swahili, the kid will grow up speaking Swahili.
I started teaching my girl Science in Mandarin this year. I learned Mandarin to do it. I could read because there was a need for me to master it - for my kid. And so now I can read enough Mandarin to understand the questions. These kids basically don't see the need for English in their lives. And instruction probably has something to do with it too. Add that to the point that they are not academically inclined, the years in school will be wasted.
I have 2 other Form 5 classes who are no better than the class above. After spending 11 years in school, most of them can't even talk about themselves in English, let alone read and understand a simple passage. We seem to be coming up with new policies but they have not done much to solve anything. The standard of English has continued to slide. And it's getting worse by the year. As much as fhe authorities will deny, one main problem is the quality of instructor. Less than competent instructors will not be able to produce competent students. And because of that too, PPSMI never had a chance. It was doomed to fail right from the start because the most important component wasn't able to deliver.
I think the School Based Assessment can be good for such kids as it might draw our attention away from scoring in exams and allow us to ensure that students are equipped with the necessary skills. Learning might actually become fun. But other factors come into play here too, which might require real political will to overcome. There also doesn't seem to be any urge to look into the plight of these less academically inclined students. Instead of allowing them to languish in an academic environment, we should have more vocational training for them. Skills are what they need to be useful and productive. And that sadly is lacking from our current system. What is the point of PBS when it does not equip these kids for the real world. They go out worse, in fact... worse from the years of negative reinforcement.
It's exam time for the other forms now. And my boys from my two Form 5 classes have been spending most of their exam time sleeping. The scenario in my Form 1 class is repeated in these 2 classes. Five years down the road, that's how my Form 1 boys will be like. Teaching loses its meaning for me sometimes because instead if teaching language that I am supposed to be doing, I am spending most of my time dealing with behavioural problems. And this coming from a school standing in the 50th percentile in the national list. It speaks volume of the situation in our nation too.
Look around us... From the crowd behaviour in Bersih 3.0 to the knee-jerk responses that we've been getting, there are indicators of positive as well as the negative. It's heartening as well as worrying....