Will scrapping public exams lead to independent thinking?

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When students are expected to act stupid and be blind to the sordid realities and instead just rote learn, we can’t expect the scrapping of public exams alone to lead to independent thinking, says Rani Rasiah.

 

There are many things that ail our education system, one of it being the over-emphasis on examinations, leading to an obsessive hankering after straight As. The obvious shortcomings of the system include an overly academic bias, the inability to groom and develop the non-academically inclined and the inability to contribute to national unity.

What is needed is a serious review of the whole education system with a view to revamping it, and not just a look at the individual aspects with piecemeal reforms based on the whims of politicians. For instance how well thought out is this proposal to scrap the two public exams? Does it mean that the one remaining public exam i.e. SPM will not emphasise As, and instead focus on creativity, innovation and character development?

However, in this whole issue what interests and amuses us is the rationale offered by the Deputy Prime Minister(DPM) and Education Minister, Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin for wanting to scrap the public exams. He says, “It avoids rote learning which does not emphasise independent thinking.”  

Fine sentiments, but coming from the DPM it rings false and hypocritical. Since when did the ruling class encourage and foster independent thinking?  Does the media, controlled by and serving as the mouthpiece of the ruling class, foster independent thinking? Do our institutions such as the judiciary encourage independent views? Haven’t independent-minded judges been ungraciously removed? Haven’t civil society organisations critical of government policy been penalised with delayed registration, or in many cases denied registration altogether? Haven’t workers and other groups demonstrating for a minimum wage act that has been denied by the government so far, been harassed, and dispersed? And isn’t the ISA still retained by the government to put away individuals who dare to think and act independently? How about the Universities and University Colleges Act, which stifles alternative and independent thinking and action among students in tertiary institutions?

Look at our school history books. More than one entire half of Malaysian history has been completely blacked out. The first groups that fought for independence from the British are not only not recognised but also, if at all mentioned, painted as traitors to the nation. Is Muhyiddin prepared to have our history books rewritten so that students are given the opportunity to look at the whole picture?

Maybe the DPM wasn’t thinking when he made that statement. But the fact is that independent thinking cannot develop in a vacuum. Students outside school are exposed to an environment where alternative views are hard to access, and where ‘yes men’ are rewarded while critics are either sidelined or punished.  

Schools have no choice but to hold up the politicians of the ruling government as exemplary leaders for schoolchildren to emulate.  But look at the example set by these leaders. Look at how they play racial sentiments to divide and rule the rakyat through creating anxiety and fear of ‘the other’. Look at the cunning way which the Prime Minister took back Perak. There are many more examples where laws are flouted and public funds are embezzled. But students are expected to act stupid and be blind to these sordid realities and instead just rote learn what the system teaches.  Under these circumstances what hope is there for independent thinking merely by scrapping some public exams?

Rani Rasiah is Deputy Secretary General of PSM

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