Now, we must look into the difficulties and heartaches faced by the bulk of students who do not fall into the top 1.1pc of the total candidates, rather than proceeding with accelerated transformations.
Remember the early UPSR years? We had a comparatively smaller number of straight As achievers then, too, but it was never made an issue. What was important was that children never felt stifled by exam pressures.
This could be attributed to the absence of Science as part of the exam paper.
The UPSR tested the most important aspects of primary school years – reading, writing and counting.
And since Mathematics was just in the form of multiple-choice questions, students did not feel as much pressure as children do these days.
By including Science, the exam pressures shoot up, simply because a 12-year-old who is just mastering the basics now has to write scientific explanations and risk losing answers for spelling mistakes. Imagine identifying variables, writing a hypothesis, inference or conclusion for an experiment. Indeed, hours after hours are spent poring over such questions to ensure they could write exactly what is required in the marking script.
And let’s look at HOTS (Higher-Order Thinking Skills) questions. I have seen tuition centres advertising this as their selling point. But seriously? Isn’t this supposed to be a thinking question?
But because of the sheer determination to score, children go all out to memorise the possible answers, too.
So, are we teaching them to think to develop a critical mind, or again, think to give correct answers?
Because of the tremendous complexity of Science, primary school children are hurried upon to polish up their reading, writing and counting skills. This brings great stress to the late bloomers. Still struggling to understand the basics of arithmetics and grammatically correct sentences, these children find Science a little too advanced for them and they begin to slip and fall.
School hours are also spent on unnecessary subjects which the children hardly master.
This results in Mathematics not being taught on a daily basis. Other subjects such as ICT (Information Communications Technology) could be combined with Science as a year-end activity, instead of being another final-year exam as a separate subject. History could be integrated into comprehension texts in Bahasa Melayu or English textbooks.
Rekabentuk dan Teknologi (RBT) need not be introduced at all as children are too young to use hand tools.
As a matter of fact, some schools take up the time for non-UPSR subjects such as ICT, History or RBT to drill students with more UPSR practice. Removing these subjects will mean there are more time for literature, art and music, which most children love more than other subjects. It also lightens the load in their heart – and bag!
Honestly, just sit down with any 10 to 12-year-old child, flip through their past Science exam papers and ask if they like Science. A lot don’t. And it has nothing to do with the fascinating contents, but the way it is tested in UPSR, with complex charts and tables.
The solution? Remove Science from UPSR and just test it as an end-of-year exam (hence more time to learn, make mistakes and re-learn it in a fun way) in their own schools with other subjects after UPSR.
Teachers can also put in more meaningful post-UPSR days with lots of hands-on experiments which may take days, such as understanding the process of rusting and food preservation.
Scrap other subjects too from the syllabus that just exhaust the children with more books to carry or more diagrams to memorise. Free up those times to exercise more in PE class, recite more poems during English lessons, or sing to their hearts’ content with a longer music period. These elements of art need more teaching and learning time.
As such, the number of UPSR subjects will remain five for national schools and seven for national-type schools, focusing solely on language acquisition and numeracy skills, which is much more bearable and acceptable for young children.
The UPSR is ultimately the most reliable and transparent method of assessment for primary school children nationwide.
Without UPSR, children will not take their studies seriously, learn the discipline required to handle national examinations (they know what to expect later in SPM) or continue improving themselves diligently.
By being equipped with the essential reading, writing and arithmetic skills, the children will be ready to take the big leap to Form One and towards higher level studies in secondary school and beyond.