LCE, PMR and the tinkering system

The vintage remark “LCE pun tak pass” will perish forever in a few years. The examination itself, which has changed faces many times over the decades, will be dead from tomorrow.

The one above was a very popular put-down phrase once, candidly uttered regarding someone who could not even get through the LCE or Lower Certificate of Education Form Three public exam, which was one of the compulsory assessments in the Malaysian school system.

Those who failed had to resit the following year or drop out, hence the phrase “LCE pun tak pass” but even then some of them, apart from ending up as rookies in motor workshops, still had a chance to be employed — as office helpers, drivers or even be recruited into the police or army. Many proved to be more useful than the idling and the hell-racing youngsters we see today.

It is therefore sad to see this chapter of school-going becoming a history. The nearly 463,000 Form Three students sitting since last Wednesday for the exam which was renamed 20 years ago as Penilaian Menengah Rendah (PMR) is the last batch, with the last paper coming tomorrow.

The PMR is going to be replaced by what is called the school-based assessment conducted by the schools themselves — not the exam with standard questions for everyone as we knew it.

How times have changed. It was LCE for many years, then SRP (Sijil Rendah Pelajaran), then PMR, facing a fate not unlike the other public exams we used to know such as the School Certificate/Malaysian Certificate of Education (SC/ MCE) in Form Five or Higher School Certificate (HSC) in Upper Six. At one time, the Malay old folk would fondly refer to the SC/MCE as Periksa Sembilan and HSC Periksa Sepuluh.

The shifts and changes have been very much like the entire education system that has been pulled from all sides like a rubber band. The point to note is that all those responsible for the tinkering throughout the years thought they were doing growing-up children here a favour and were always declaring that the Malaysian education system is “world class” while they themselves opt to enrol their children abroad.

The change in the medium of instruction for all national schools to Malay 40 years ago was a good example. It was hailed as a good move then, but now seeing employment difficulties and global challenges, many people have begun to realise that empty emotions could fall flat.

The main argument put forth in abolishing certain exams is that it would ensure Malaysian education would not be too exam-oriented. I don’t see the logic in this at all. Looking back, those were fancy free days when I faced the LCE in 1969 when objective tests were just introduced. It happened to be the start of a host of other “modifications” later.

Tuition classes, unlike now, were never the norm and it was like going on a routine as we faced the countdown to mid-October when the exams were normally held.

The process was straightforward — seven or eight subjects from the basics including Mathematics, Bahasa Melayu, English, General Science, History, Geography plus one or two more. English and Bahasa were compulsory subjects.

The exam would be over in one week, after which we would still be required to attend classes till the end of the school term in mid-November for casual lessons such as Art, Carpentry or simply participating in open discussions.

The results would come out sometime towards the end of December and at that time to score a single A (referred to as distinction) was an achievement. The best scorers would get seven distinctions, sometimes eight.

It was very much unlike now when easily 25,000 students would get straight As (up to 10 subjects) each year. It has come to a stage where every other person you know has some connection with a straight-A student — the neighbour’s son, the daughter of the cousin’s sister-in-law, the office colleague’s nephew and so forth.

But our students are not getting smarter despite all the tinkering and tuition classes.

Syed Nadzri is editor-in-chief of The Malay Mail. He can be reached at syednadzri@