STPM: The last choice for non-bumiputras, the middle class & the poor, and the challenge seeker?
Written by Sofea Chok Suat Ling, the associate news editor of New Straits Times. The article was originally published at New Straits Times. And, it was also republished at the blog for Pusat Sumber Bahagian Teknologi Pendidikan Negeri Sarawak on 12 July 2012.
It has been called “archaic”, “anachronistic” and “a remnant of the Stone Age”. It is also known as “the hardest exam in the world”. Given a choice between wading chest-deep through crocodile-infested waters and sitting the Sijil Tinggi Persekolahan Malaysia examination, most students say they would choose the former. Indeed, it has been pointed out that only the extremely masochistic or one whose life provides no other options will attempt STPM or journalism.
STPM is certainly not for the weak of heart and feeble of will. Many have sat it, with disastrous results. I was one of those who scraped through, despite being an (almost) straight-A scorer in Sijil Pelajaran Malaysia. It took several years to overcome the humiliation and post-apocalyptic fallout that came with an almost failing grade in Physics.
As a result of this cataclysmic episode, I have, until today, nothing but the deepest respect and admiration for STPM top scorers, especially those who make it look so easy, scoring 5As even in the face of seemingly insurmountable odds. They manage it despite being blind, wheelchair-bound, afflicted with lungs infection, or in the case of Ayah Pin’s son, being the offspring of a cult leader.
It is mercilessly tough, and this is why it is unsurprising that many students usually give Form Six a wide berth after SPM, preferring instead, if they have the means, to enrol for matriculation programmes offered by private colleges, or to take the A Levels.
These programs are perceived to be superior and better able to prepare students for university education.
Form Six student numbers have, thus, dwindled through the years, so much so that there was a proposal that it be abolished. Some schools have noted that up to 90 percent of their students enrol in private colleges after SPM. Schools offering Form Six struggle to fill up classrooms.
Students cannot be blamed for choosing what they perceive as being a less arduous route. The programmes in 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 STPM, which is based on one examination. One wrong move, or a queasy stomach on exam day, is capable of derailing two years of hard work.
The programs offered in 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 the system’s leftovers or those who cannot afford private education or gain entry into matriculation programs. That is as good for their self-esteem as being the target of a school bully’s cruel jibes.
It was against this scenario that an announcement was made last week to re-brand Form Six to make it more attractive for SPM-leavers. It is not exactly a new endeavor as at least one other move to revitalize Form Six has been made in the past.
Some educationists believe, however, that the most pertinent question about STPM is not so much about its diminishing popularity but whether it should be there at all. Should it be scrapped together with matriculation, and a common entrance examination into public universities be introduced in their stead?
That there are two systems for university entry — STPM and matriculation — has been a source of discontentment for many years, more so since intake into public universities became merit-based in 2002.
Compared to 83,000 Form Six students in 2012, and according to NST’s report, there are only 41,987 students sat for STPM in the year 2015. That’s a drastic 50.58% drop in the number f students sitting for STPM.
Matriculation programmes, some say, give students an unfair advantage as they are “easier”.
They have different evaluation procedures: STPM is affiliated with the Cambridge Local Examinations Syndicate; whereas matriculation is based on coursework, exams, and lecturer evaluation.
Some of the disgruntlement with matriculation, however, eased somewhat when entry requirements for matriculation colleges were relaxed to admit up to 10 per cent non-Bumiputera students. Just recently, too, Malaysian Indian Congress (MIC) demanded additional seats for Indian students, and the numbers were increased to 1,500 from 500.
But it’s still there. Perhaps one way forward is for universities to work together to come up with a common entrance examination, like SAT (Standard Assessment Test) used in the United States.
Indeed, to put STPM and matriculation in one basket for comparison for places in public universities has long been described as iniquitous. We cannot compare them as they are essentially two different examinations.
Do you agree that STPM is Malaysian higher education system’s leftovers?
Or, do you think that it is a battleground for those who are not afraid of the extreme academic challenge?
What have you gained after you have read this?
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And, for all the former STPM students, what are your Sixth Form experiences?
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