One of the reasons why education in Malaysia is hard to change and adapt is because everyone has a different idea of what education should be. There are proponents of the “old system” and going back to the “glory days” when Malaysia was freshly independent and the best post-colonial schools were producing Malaysia’s leaders. I completely understand that, as there are so many merits to the discipline and drive cultivated in traditional Malaysian schools.
Every little change, however, is hard won. For example, just changing from white to black school shoes have people (usually those without children) in an uproar over the tradition of cleaning and keeping shoes pristine. It is the way of teaching children responsibility and a good work ethic, many detractors say. And yes, it was in the old days a good way to train children to take care of their belongings.
A “young person” like me would contend that we can change and that change is not bad. One of the changes suggested was the eradication of primary school exams, which I personally think is a great idea if implemented well.
In the video above, Mark Rober talks about the difference between tests and real challenges. If something is an authentic challenge, we will work hard to achieve it, no matter how difficult. However, our brains often work very differently when presented with a traditional “test”. We lose our motivation. I find this very intriguing – do check out Mark Rober’s other work, as he is an educator, Youtuber and former NASA engineer who has done a lot of interesting things for the purpose of STEM education.
Tests do have a place in learning. They help us evaluate ourselves. But they are so many problems when you make a system all about the tests. Sometimes we need to get away from this, and to get away we perhaps need to radically alter the system.
As a homeschooler, I took many quizzes and tests, but few exams (except music exams). In fact, I feel that music exams have their benefits (they made me work hard and opened up different opportunities). However, perhaps too many exams in rapid succession made me feel burned out, frustrated and stifled. In fact, after finally finishing my last music exam, I was able to go overseas, join orchestras and enjoy the musical and social aspects of cello-playing. But I digress.
Personally, upon reflection, I feel that the things that I learned the most and that helped me the most were not primarily my formal learning experiences but all the other learning experiences outside of formal education. It was playing with toys, gardening, doing crafts, doodling, writing silly stories, making LEGO animation videos, starting a business, learning foreign languages – things that were very challenging, sometimes nigh-impossible, but that required me to work hard and put effort into breaking barriers into the unknown. Exams are like hitting a fixed target, running in a racetrack. Authentic, out-of-the-box learning is like being a voyager or expeditioner heading into the unknown and testing your own limits. And having autonomy over one’s own learning is a great motivator as well!
I’m quite inspired by the TEDx Talk above and really recommend it. It’s all the thoughts like this from the many educational thinkers of our day that get out brain-juices flowing and inspire us to make a difference.