Friday, July 30, 2021

Addressing the gap between what schools measure and what parents know

The goal of enabling all children to receive quality education relies on the whole school community.

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Parents, teachers, and the community need to work together to ensure that children are learning successfully. This was the conclusion from an online discussion held recently by BOLD Parents and MYReaders, two non-profit organisations focused on education, titled “UPSR: No more, now what?”, which aimed to allow parents and teachers to air their concerns in light of the recent announcement by the education ministry on the abolishment of the Primary School Achievement Test (UPSR).

We organised this discussion as a follow-up to a parent survey on the issue which was open for one month and saw responses by 1,014 parents from all across the nation.

Parents’ feelings about no longer having UPSR

After 30 years of having UPSR as the main milestone of a student’s primary school completion, parents have understandable concerns about what will happen now that UPSR has been abolished. Out of 1,014 parents who responded to our survey, half of them thought that UPSR should remain. 35% of the total number of respondents agreed with the abolishment of UPSR, while 15% were neutral.

Most of the 512 parents who disagreed with abolishing UPSR said that without the examination, they would lack a fair assessment to know how their children are progressing after six years of primary school. Many parents also feel that removing UPSR will take away an important end-goal which keeps students motivated to learn. “We need a standardised tool to measure our children’s performance level and, at the same time, to guide them to be more responsible for their studies,” said one parent.

On the other hand, the 355 parent respondents who agreed with the decision feel that abolishing UPSR will support children’s holistic development, while shifting away from the effects of an exam-oriented system such as teaching to the test and exam-related stress. One parent commented, “(With the abolishment of UPSR), our children won’t be set up according to the mould of examination questions. Children will have space, time, and opportunities to explore different areas of knowledge based on their own interests and abilities.”

This survey revealed one main question that was on parents’ minds: “How can we as parents measure our children’s progress without a standardised examination?”

No more UPSR, now what?

This question was addressed in a 90-minute online discussion held on June 12 involving parents, school leaders, and teachers. A focus of discussion was school-based assessments, which will be used as the main form of assessment now that UPSR has been removed.

School-based assessments (Pentaksiran Bilik Darjah, or PBD) were put in place by the education ministry and have been carried out in schools since 2016. PBD consists of ongoing assessments carried out throughout the year during teaching and learning to gain information about a student’s learning progress. Teachers may assess students through observing their participation and evaluating their oral or written work during activities, projects, or presentations. Students are then assigned a performance level of between 1 and 6 to reflect their level of mastery of each learning unit.

Based on the education ministry’s plans, the description of a child’s mastery as measured through school-based assessments is meant to be reported to parents twice a year. However, the concern by parents about not knowing their child’s learning progress reveals that there is a gap between the plan for school-based assessments on paper and its implementation on the ground. In addition, there also seems to be a gap between what schools measure and what parents know about school-based assessments.

Need for clear communication between schools and parents

Overcoming these gaps will take proactive steps by everyone who has a crucial part to play in a child’s education:

● First and foremost, it is vital to have clear communication between parents or caregivers and schools on the implementation of school-based assessments;

● Parents should be well-informed of their rights to facilitate the implementation of teaching and learning in schools;

● Parental engagement and community empowerment must be established to ensure the long-term effectiveness of school-based assessments.

Taking these steps will call for schools, teachers, and parents to play an active role together. In some schools, effective engagement between parents and teachers has been carried out through a clear focus on communication and providing multiple opportunities for engagement.

Before the implementation of school-based assessments, schools may schedule a parental engagement session to explain more about it and how it will be implemented in classrooms. Throughout the year, teachers and parents should maintain regular communication to keep parents informed of their child’s learning needs and progress. Schools should also ensure that parents are given a report from ongoing assessments at least twice a year with details of their child’s progress, strengths, and areas of improvement.

The role of parents in establishing accountability

Trust and accountability between schools and parents are key in ensuring that children are assessed fairly, given appropriate learning targets, and receive effective learning support. Both schools and parents have to recognise the roles and rights of parents, as stated in the Malaysian Education Blueprint 2013-2025. Parents have the right to:

● Set their children’s learning target by working more closely with the teachers;

● Provide feedback on the quality of teaching and learning experienced by their children;

● Provide input via Parent Teacher Associations (PIBG) to improve matters such as teacher and curriculum quality by being fully informed of the schools’ current performance.

When parents are fully aware of these rights, they can play an important role in keeping schools accountable.

Raising the quality of education throughout society together

The goal of enabling all children to receive quality education relies on the whole school community. Key actors in our education system, from policymakers in the education ministry to local education offices and schools, have a crucial role in proactively bridging the gap between schools and parents – especially in communities which do not have equal access to information and resources, or the ability to participate in education because of socioeconomic barriers.

More inquiry and discussions will need to be carried out to examine how our education system may ensure that school-based assessments are carried out to high standards in schools throughout the country, and how parents and communities regardless of socioeconomic background will be engaged equally based on their rights as stakeholders in education.

With that said, when parents and the community are empowered to provide valuable input and take action, this collective endeavour can go a long way in raising the quality of education within a community. This period during the pandemic has shown both the necessity and the possibilities for what can be achieved by communities working together in the spirit of #kitajagakita – when those who are able to, extend their support for those who lack resources.

In the past year of school closures, we have seen many examples of local communities from Perlis to Sarawak working together to deliver learning packages, set up community learning hubs, or volunteer to teach to ensure that children do not lose out on learning.

Every parent, teacher, and community member plays an important role in the education of our children. With clear communication between parents and schools, increased awareness of parental rights, and empowerment of the whole school community to get involved and work together, we can move towards raising the quality of education for all our children.

Charis Ding is co-founder of Persatuan Literasi Anak Malaysia (MYReaders).

The views expressed in this article are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the position of MalaysiaNow.

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