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No More UPSR: What does this mean for Malaysian primary school students?

by on 27/07/2022 5563

Our Education Ministry’s decision to ultimately abolish the decades-old UPSR examinations for our Year 6 primary School children signifies a historical moment for Malaysia. Our education system has, before this, undergone other forms of changes, but none this forward. This move clearly marks our ministry’s determination to improve the education standards of our primary school children by changing our way of teaching and learning, and more importantly, by promoting more holistic assessments.

So, in the first place, what would you say was the fault, if any, of our old system using the UPSR as the major form of assessment for determining the direction of where primary school students had to head off to in terms of class placements or streaming? Was it effective and in favour of true success? Also, was it even fair to all of them? Let’s take a closer look!

Image: Wiki via Malay Mail

Six years of schooling riding on the outcome of one exam

Fully subjected to a somewhat grueling grading system, our children’s entire primary school experience culminates with their UPSR results. Every single year, Year 6 students (as well as their families) brace themselves for this outcome. There’s a lot riding on it, so we can’t blame them!

UPSR, or Ujian Penilaian Sekolah Rendah, has always been this summative assessment to determine how well primary school kids have done for their first six years in school. The issue here is, it seems to focus fully on the outcome, and not the journey of the outcome, which would include more holistic approaches in education and learning. Not to veer off point, but it also seemed to leave little or no room to accommodate the less ‘able’ in terms of learning and development. Surely, we all knew of kids with learning issues, disabilities, etc., who had no choice but to sit for the exam using the exact same format as their more able peers.

Let’s not forget too, the kind of stress that took centre stage each year around the time for our annual UPSR results, with parents inquiring of one another on the number of ‘A’s obtained by another’s child. If a child himself/herself did not happen to do well, it wasn’t abnormal to feel horrifically distressed. While it’s not as if a child with straight A’s can go out there and get hired for a well-paying job, it also doesn’t seem right that other such young students would somehow feel the effects of not doing so well in their UPSR exam by being placed in a not-so-good class, or in a stream for the less intelligent, as our society sees it.

Image: Miera Zulyana via Malay Mail

Where have we gotten so far with UPSR?

Well, traditionally speaking, school educators have gotten really good at covering one subject after another, with students inevitably seeking tuition to help master these subjects in order to obtain the best grades, in order to maintain a good name for their school, their family, themselves. We have also managed to create a society that only cares about the outcome of these students’ big exam, and not much about the process of learning, or proper development of the students’ minds and emotions, or the need for these students to feel gratified and fulfilled during their primary schooling years. Most of their entire schooling experiences have been harshly limited to “study and do well or else”.

Ultimately, primary school kids have been burdened with such high expectations from every corner to the point of many forcing themselves to study, yet losing their interest in learning. In many ways, UPSR had a hand in restricting creativity not only in children’s thinking and learning capabilities, but in teachers’ teaching creativities as well, due to having to adhere to an exam-oriented syllabus. There had been little room for fun-based teaching due to the over-emphasising on the academic outcome of students.

Image: Dwi Emas

A long overdue welcome for a schooling system with more holistic assessments

Old beliefs die hard, and in regard to bidding UPSR goodbye, we understand that there might still be a level of worry amongst parents who have yet to comprehend fully the benefits of abolishing this old way of assessment to make way for the new. Hence, here are some facts to ponder.

Via holistic assessment, primary school students can finally feel empowered enough to own their own learning, so to speak. They can be encouraged to think creatively, express themselves with more vigour, and take pride in their own unique learning capabilities. This also includes the less inclined, for example, children with ADHD, vision impairment, dyslexia, etc. All children deserve to learn, grow, develop and thrive, and holistic assessment will help achieve that. Indirectly, it also paves the way for deeper understanding and tolerance among students of all abilities, doing away with the fear of helping one another along the way. It encourages cooperation and cooperative measures in learning, carrying out researches, projects, and in experimenting and discovering. The overall schooling journey becomes more meaningful, and so will each child’s personal growth.

The main aim of more holistic assessments in place of UPSR, we imagine, is to ensure a better schooling atmosphere for students, sans the grueling grade-chasing agenda of the past. They will learn much more effectively, with much freer minds and spirits, and will be more willing to study, discover and ultimately, thrive. They deserve to feel this love of learning!

As teachers will be expected to adjust their pedagogical strategies to meet and support the different needs and capabilities of their students, this historical change, we admit, will require great effort by the ministry, schools, teachers, etc., especially during the initial stages. Following this brave move by our education ministry, we are finally heading towards a better future for our nation’s educational ecosystem, and perhaps even join the ranks of countries that are able to provide exceptionally high-quality education for their children.

With schools taking a more holistic approach to education now, it’s time to pay attention to all aspects of your child’s development. Check out these tuition or after-school care centres to help your child reach his/her full potential!