Dear Education Minister Fadhlina Sidek,

I am Jeyaseelan Anthony from a secondary school in Rawang, Selangor. I have been a teacher since 1986 with various curricula, and have taught different levels (primary to high school) at public and private institutions.

I have gone through certificate, diploma, degree and master’s courses in teaching Mathematics.

Above all, I have a great passion for teaching and have a fair share of students and administrators’ admiration of my teaching ability and dedication.

I am very saddened to see the students’ lack of basic knowledge and motivation to learn especially in the past few years. It is not only for a particular subject but for all subjects.

Ask any honest teacher in a school, especially a secondary teacher and you might get a true picture of students’ actual level of knowledge needed and their keenness to improve themselves academically.

I am confident almost all of them would agree with me about the bad-for-future situation. As for Mathematics, an average Form 5 student will struggle to answer a Year 4 primary school question. A good student in Form 5 will struggle to answer a Form 1 question. I have seen this before but not to this extent.

There are hundreds of students in a school who have reached Form 5 with inadequate basic knowledge of their respective subjects. Don’t be surprised if a centralised exam is given to the Form 5 students now, with honesty and integrity, 60 percent of them will get 20 to 30 percent marks, especially in Mathematics.

Those who are in high offices and the public would straight away point fingers at the teachers for not doing their job well. I totally disagree with this notion as the majority of teachers are dedicated and the rest do their job satisfactorily. Otherwise, they are goners in this field.

In my strong opinion, there are three main factors why the situation in schools is this bad now.

The no-exam mentality has affected the learning eagerness of students. Though we have a class-based evaluation throughout the year, the students, parents and even some teachers have taken it very lightly to enhance learning. Some idealists say that learning should be fun and not stressful, so centralised exams, such as UPSR and PMR/PT3, should not be held. To those idealists, please visit the schools and seek the truth yourselves. Don’t we know that significant stress brings out the best in us? If the no-exam policy works, never mind, please go ahead. But after seeing the situation in school, I am sure it will be a disaster for the students and for the nation.

The Covid-19 situation and the forced online classes were somewhat of a waste as far as learning is concerned. I personally evaluated all of my students with various levels after they came back to physical classes and got a shock. We teachers have discussed among ourselves if it is only our class students who had done this badly and were really surprised to see the similarity. They did not learn much, what a ‘waste’ of two years.

The revised syllabus is really too ideal and of a high standard for this cohort (no-exam and online class students). Imagine a student, who lacks basic knowledge of variables, needing to prove a formula. It is good to have a high-standard syllabus but the students are far from that level at least for the time being.

I have a few suggestions to improve these situations.

1. Bring back centralised exams. Or at least have school assessments in which students need to get a minimum level pass to go to the next level. For example, if a student can write a short decent paragraph of BM and English and also have basic Maths and Science knowledge in Form 1, only then can the student go to Form 2. It should the same for Form 2 to move on to Form 3. Otherwise, the students should be retained in the same form to get that minimum standard. This will significantly reduce the number of Form 5 students who don’t have basic knowledge but have spent five years in secondary school to fail all subjects in SPM.

2. There is an immediate need for a morale booster, either through programmes or any other ways to improve the motivation of students and teachers to learn and teach vigorously to upgrade themselves.

3. Place good and capable leaders in each unit of schools so that the planning and implementation can be done better rather than placing the leaders with other criteria.

The above article was written by Jeyaseelen Anthony.