Straight-A students of SM Sains Muar with their Sijil Pelajaran Malaysia results in Johor yesterday. Pic by Adi Safri

Another important year in the country’s education system. The first batch of children put through the paces of the Higher-Order Thinking Skills (HOTS) system, which distinguishes a child’s learning from the lower-order outcome through rote memorisation, sat the Sijil Pelajaran Malaysia (SPM) examination last year. The results are out and there is good and not-so-good news. The not-so-good news — the number of straight A+ attainment is lower from that of the previous year; 1.94 per cent, or 102 students, scored straight As, compared with 2015’s 2.6 per cent, or 163 students. Teachers, parents and students, however, should not despair because the good news is the overall performance has improved, with the National Average Grade (GPN) at 5.10 compared with 2015’s 5.15. A lower GPN score indicates better performance. Given that it reflects the effectiveness of HOTS, this is positive. The experimental batch has grasped the concept of thinking critically, not an easy feat given years of spoon-feeding and rote learning.

HOTS develops a child’s critical thinking skills. It is argued that this method is a leveller. For example, children with learning disabilities often suffer from an incapacity to memorise. With HOTS, this problem is circumvented. Furthermore, in complementing the lower-order learning with application of knowledge acquired though problem-solving HOTS questions, the desired outcome of a proficient working adult is made possible. In this respect, the better performance average indicates that schools could be made interesting as the intellect is stimulated and challenged.

Improved overall performance indicates, too, that the method and practice of teaching, the pedagogy, is effective. Teachers are proving able to put the HOTS reform into effect. If they were not, there would not have been the improvement. And, given that it is early days yet, the achievement of this first batch of both students and teachers is encouraging. Naturally, there is a need to identify the weaknesses and work on them, so that the second batch of SPM students can do better.

There is, of course, reason to regret the decline in the number of straight-A students, because the A represents a yardstick of excellence, which is essential in any society. But, we cannot despair. Everyone has their edge, which can be nurtured and fined-tuned, hence, perhaps more attention can be channelled to produce the geniuses the country is in dire need of. We need more of them. We have, for instance, produced many professionals to a point where the economy is not able to absorb them properly. But, where are the Elon Musks of Malaysia, who will place us squarely in the race to Mars? Malaysia has not yet produced billionaires like Mark Zuckerberg, who successfully rode on the backs of the ideas of geniuses. As the education reform is fully grasped by the educators, the likelihood will be a rapid improvement.

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