STPM : The Ultimate Test for Students


STPM : The Ultimate Test for Students

For most students, excelling in the Sijil Tinggi Persekolahan Malaysia examination is the toughest challenge in their education journey.

THEY make it look so easy, scoring 5As even in the face of seemingly insurmountable odds.

Among the Sixth Formers who excelled in last year’s Sijil Tinggi Persekolahan Malaysia (STPM) examination were those with a myriad of physical disabilities. Some were blind or wheelchair-bound. Another had lung infection.

One student, when asked for the recipe of his success, did not answer ikan masak merah, as a well-known multiple award-winning singer once replied when posed the same question by journalists, but his answer was close.
He said he refrained from eating kepala ikan for two years. And asam jawa, too.

A fish head and tamarind-free diet clearly worked for Mohammad Firdaus Mohammad Helmi. He was the best student in Perlis with 4As.

Some students managed to score even in the face of personal adversity. One example was the son of “Sky Kingdom” cult leader Ayah Pin. The teenager secured 4As. “I made the absence of my father, who left mother six years ago after being accused of spreading deviant teachings, a motivating factor for me to do my best,” said Mohd Khairul Adhar Arifin in Hulu Besut.
These teens deserve the accolades and publicity they received following their exemplary performance. It is easier to climb Mount Everest blindfolded while being chased by hungry yeti than to get good results in STPM. It is “the hardest exam in the world”, after all. Many have sat it, with disastrous results, and opted to be journalists instead.

It is for this reason that there have been calls for the exam to be abolished. There is even a group on Facebook advocating it. What has also been observed is the exam’s diminishing popularity. Like the teaching profession is for graduates, the STPM is a last resort option among students, something they reluctantly take up when everything else fails to materialise. Many prefer to enrol in pre-university programmes at private higher educational institutions.

These programmes are perceived to be superior and better able to prepare students for university education.

Some schools have noted that up to 90 per cent of their students enrol in private colleges after the Sijil Pelajaran Malaysia examination. Schools offering Form Six struggle to fill up classrooms.

We can’t blame students for choosing less arduous routes. The programmes at private colleges use the modular or semester system and students feel it is easier for them to score good grades or pass rather than attempt the STPM exam, which is based on one single examination. The programmes offered at private colleges also do away with non-essential subjects and prepare students directly for their intended careers.

The perception, therefore, is that Sixth Formers are those who cannot afford private education or gain entry into matriculation programmes. The system’s leftovers.

Does this merit scrapping the STPM exam?

And then there is the other question — what about matriculation, the other mode of entry into public university? Should it also be scrapped and a common entrance examination introduced to replace them both?

That there are two systems for university entry — the STPM exam and matriculation — has been itself a source of discontentment for many years, more so since intake into public universities became merit-based in 2002.

Matriculation programmes, some say, give students an unfair advantage as they are “easier”.

They have different evaluation procedures — the STPM exam is affiliated with the Cambridge Local Examinations Syndicate, while matriculation is based on coursework, exams and lecturer evaluation.

Some of the disgruntlement with matriculation, however, dissipated when entry requirements for matriculation colleges were relaxed to admit up to 10 per cent non-Bumiputera students.

As the country is encouraging educational diversity, competitiveness and creativity, it makes sense to retain both exams, with some adjustments to the STPM exam to make it more hands-on and less academic.

Perhaps even more pre-university programmes, such as the International Baccalaureate diploma which is recognised as a university entrance qualification in more than 100 countries, can be introduced.

It is critical that students be exposed to the highest standards of academic competition; and not be protected from it.

Dwindling numbers or not, those who take STPM and do well know they are in a league of their own. A cut above the rest. As one of them said: “It proves we not only have the brains but also the guts.”

by Chok Suat Ling.

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