Experts raise concerns about changes in matriculation exam

The change in the format of questions on the matriculation exam for 2019 academic year is causing anxiety among parents, and education experts warned of potential problems the new format might cause.

Education Ministry officials have said the questions in the new exams would focus more on generating critical thinking among students rather than relying on rote learning and memorisation.

Daw Thu Thu Mar who is coaching monastic and ethnic school teachers to adapt to critical thinking teaching, expressed concern that since the change will happen at once, students and teachers may face some difficulties to adapt immediately to the new format.

“One of the impacts of the (change) may be that parents will pay for tuition so their children can become familiar with the new exam format. Thus only those who can afford to pay for extra classes will be able to ensure higher grades for their children. As the questions will require new skills, parents know that they can’t rely only on school for their children to do well on the exam,” she said.

There will be big issues regarding the university selection system, as it still depends on the matriculation exam scores to select its new students,” she added.

According to the ministry, questions in Myanmar, English, mathematics, chemistry, physics, biology, ecology, geology and history will be modified to emphasise critical thinking. Only optional Myanmar already focuses on that skill.

The new question format was published from May 2-10 via state-owned media.

Daw Toe Toe Win, a mother whose son will be taking the next matriculation examinations, said that with the previous format her son could choose which chapters to focus on and leave aside those he liked less. With the new format, however, she worries that her son will be exhausted as he will have to cover all the chapters, which is now required.

“I am worried for my son. I don’t know what kind of questions will be asked in the exams,” she added.

U Khine Mye, spokesperson for the ministry, said the change in format aims to promote critical thinking and better learning.

He wrote in an article in the state newspaper The Daily Mirror on May 1 that the new questions will differ from the previous ones as they will focus more on critical thinking.

There will be fewer questions, since if there are too many questions students could skip studying some chapters, which could lead to weak understanding of the subjects.

The planned changes include discussing a theme in Myanmar language as well as innovative questions in English with answers that cannot be learned by heart.

There will be no more multiple choice questions in math, but biology and physics will have multiple choice questions.

The number of questions students can choose to answer will also be reduced for chemistry, geology and history. In ecology, true or false questions are reduced five marks and fill-in-the-blank questions increased five marks.

The reform aims at ensuring that students fully understand the questions rather than just answering by heart.

This is to develop their problem solving and critical-thinking skills, said U Kyaw Min Khant, secretary for the private sector of the Myanmar Teachers’ Federation.

According to the Department of Higher Education, the new questions are designed by respected professionals from Myanmar.

The matriculation exam is the highest exam at the basic education level. University professors draft the questions and university teachers correct and mark the exams. The current format has been used since the 2002 matriculation exam.

U Khine Mye said in his article that the new format is not a drastic change as it will include both rote learning and critical thinking questions.

The new questions aim to motivate students to learn all chapters in the textbooks so that those who study hard can score high grades.

Daw Toe Toe Win’s son welcomed the new challenges with the change in the format.

“I know that I must study all the chapters. There will be an opinion writing section in the Myanmar subject, and I prefer to write my opinion instead of writing some text I learned by heart,” he said.

Still, some experts were a bit ambivalent about the move, noting that Myanmar society is used to learning by heart like parrots, which is the most common teaching method.

They suggested that teachers change their methods so students can adapt to the changes in the matriculation exam.

“I don’t think one could answer those kinds of questions only by-heart. The opinion question included in the new format requires students to develop good reading habits and to study more outside literature,” said U Min Zin, a private Myanmar language teacher.

As the current examination system to examine students’ capacity is a summative assessment, the government wants to promote the critical thinking it needs to be accompanied with a change to a formative assessment system, which could be continous throughout the students’ learning, Daw Thu Thu Mar said.

U Kyaw Min Khant said the government must adopt flexible scoring rules to allow students to do well on the exam in this transition year.

Experts called on the ministry to work with teachers associations and professional teachers to explain the changes to teachers, parents and students through discussions, seminars and workshops held in schools, in order to ease the concerns and worries of parents and students about the new format.

Source : Myanmar Times

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