THE SECONDARY SCHOOL EXAMINATION
SYSTEMS IN COUNTRIES IN THE SEAMEO REGION
The extraordinary emphasis
placed by students and parents on higher or tertiary education
is one of the pre-eminent characteristics of education in the
SEAMEO region. While this emphasis on higher education has been
a driving force in the development of SEAMEO Member Countries,
this obsession with higher education has created both educational
and social problems.
Higher competition for college
admission has led some secondary schools in the region to ignore
formal standards of curriculum and concentrate principally on
curriculum that prepares students for college entrance examinations.
Hence, some teachers in higher schools give weight to memory-centered
instructions that encourage cramming and memorization. It seems
that there is tendency for student assessment to be merely summative,
used to support administrative decisions on promotion, streaming
and selection of students for tertiary education and for competition
in the job market.
In many countries, the public
examinations at the end of the lower and secondary stages have
been severely criticized. They are seen to have distorted the
basic objectives of education since performance at the examination
in the form of high grades or marks has become the major goals
for students, teachers and schools. In some countries, students
who fail to pass the public examination get demotivated for
education and become unemployed or unemployable school leavers.
In like manner, parents
and the community, in particular associate children's progress
in school only with their success in cognitive learning. The
importance of an all-round and balanced education of children
has not been fully understood and accepted by society. Even
in the cognitive assessment of students, there is too heavy
a dependence on only one type of assessment, which is the written
In this context, the SEAMEO
Secretariat attempted to prepare a report on the examination
systems at the secondary level in member countries of the SEAMEO
region, with the hope that this would serve as springboard for
further discussion, research and development with the end in
view of improving the quality of education in Southeast Asian
This report covers a brief
on SEAMEO, the structure of the educational systems in the SEAMEO
region, and the secondary school examination systems in SEAMEO
The Southeast Asian Ministers
of Education Organization (SEAMEO) was established in November
1965 as a chartered international organization whose purpose
is to promote cooperation in education, science and culture
in the Southeast Asian region. The name was chosen to reflect
the need for a regional grouping, the purpose of which is to
share and maximize use of resources, with collective leadership
to be provided by the Ministers of Education of the Member Countries.
SEAMEO is composed of ten (10)
Member Countries, namely: Brunei Darussalam, Cambodia, Lao PDR,
Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines, Singapore, Thailand Union
of Myanmar and Viet Nam, and six (6) Associate Member Countries
which include Australia, Canada, France, Germany, Netherlands
and New Zealand. The Organization has 11 established Regional
Centres/Network of excellence, namely BIOTROP, INNOTECH, RECSAM,
RELC, RIHED, SEARCA, SPAFA, TROPMED Network namely: TROPMED/
Indonesia, TROPMED/Malaysia, TROPMED/Philippines, TROPMED/Thailand,
VOCTECH, SEAMEO Regional Training Centre, and SEAMEO Regional
Open Learning Centre. These SEAMEO units serve as the empowered
arm of the Organization through the diverse range of expertise
they offer, such as, tropical biology, agriculture, tropical
medicine, science and mathematics education, educational innovation
and technology, language education, higher education development,
archaeology and fine arts, vocational and technical education.
Open learning and distance education.
SEAMEO is well positioned
to pursue its vision of becoming visible and an excellent organization,
contributing effectively to an improved quality of life of all
the people in the region. Its mission is to promote cooperation
among its Member and Associate Member Countries through its
Regional Centres with their professional leadership role in
training, research and development, information dissemination,
and other relevant activities.
The goal of the Organization
is to assist member countries in developing expertise and excellence
in education, science and culture for the promotion of an enlightened
and productive citizenry in their respective countries.
SEAMEO's strengths, such
as the following, have been able to bring forth several achievements
and impacts for the benefits of its Member Countries:
Firstly, its professional
and technical programmes and activities which are intrinsically
regional in character and often conducted on a regular scheduled
basis are special and unique. These programmes and activities
are planned, organized and implemented primarily on Southeast
Asian orientation and intended for Southeast Asians.
Secondly, the Organization
has built over the last 30 years a strong infrastructure of
extensive physical and equipment resources. Almost every Centre
has its own campus, training, research and information dissemination
facilities to carry out its functions successfully and with
quality. Moreover, the Organization has gained non-tangible
resources, such as vast experiences and information as well
as networks and linkages with well-established organizations
and agencies, and reputation.
Thirdly, the Organization
is non-profit and not politically oriented. Its activities are
focused on universally appealing themes of human resource development,
including sustainable development, people empowerment and gender
and development. These facts help in making SEAMEO attractive
to countries wishing to make contributions to sustainable development,
particularly at the grassroots level in Southeast Asia.
Fourthly, the technical
competence and experience of its personnel, complemented by
the technical expertise provided by the Associate Member Countries
and partner agencies, account for the quality and impact of
its programmes and activities. The regional characteristic of
the Centres' professional staff also contributes to the rich
experience and competence of every Centre in undertaking projects.
And lastly, SEAMEO activities
are not limited to Member Countries within the Southeast Asian
region but are also opened to participants, programmes and activities
from outside the region. Interactions in these activities further
enrich the experiences of the participants, as well as the staff
of the Centres.
OF THE EDUCATIONAL SYSTEMS IN THE SEAMEO REGION
The structure of the educational
systems in the region is basically inherited from western colonial
powers. Common characteristics are: (a) a three-tiered system
(primary, secondary and tertiary education) with age-specific
grading and the tiers linked to each other through a formal
selection mechanism, often in the form of examination; (b) a
pronounced streaming or tracking at the secondary level; and
(c) a private school system in addition to the state system,
normally is significantly more extensive at the higher levels
than at the primary level.
and Age of Entry
For the purpose of this
report, all formal education which is post primary and pre-tertiary
is defined as being secondary education. In most countries in
the region, secondary education is divided into stages, although
the point of demarcation varies. In the Philippines, there is
a single stage, and in three others, namely: Brunei Darussalam,
Malaysia and Singapore, secondary education is divided into
three stages. The terms used to describe the various stages
vary among the Member Countries, but for the purposes of this
report the terms "lower" and "upper" have
been used to describe two stages; "lower", "upper"
and "higher secondary/pre university" to describe
three stages, and secondary to describe a unitary system.
As shown in Table
I, (To view the table requires
the duration of time spent in the primary sector ranges from
four to eight years, with six being the most common. Myanmar
has the shortest primary school system, with four year duration.
This is followed by Lao PDR and Vietnam, with five years. Similarly,
the age of entry to primary school ranges from five years of
age to seven, with six being the most common. Brunei Darussalam
has the youngest entry age of five years. At the lower/junior
secondary stage, the most common duration is three years, and
the most common age of entry is twelve years old. At the upper,
higher or pre-university stage, the duration is split fairly
between two and three years, and fifteen years is the most common
age of entry.
Except in Brunei Darussalam,
Cambodia and Indonesia at no stage of secondary education is
attendance compulsory in other SEAMEO Member Countries. All
SEAMEO Member Countries, except Malaysia and Singapore have
compulsory elementary education. In most countries, secondary
education is not compulsory but universal. Only three countries
have any degree of compulsory attendance at the secondary level.
Table 1 identifies the position of each country in this regard.
For most SEAMEO Member Countries,
secondary education is divided into distinct levels. There is
a variety of historical and pedagogical reasons for this. Lower/Junior
secondary schools, for example were once institutions in which
most students completed their secondary education, while only
a few proceeded to upper secondary. As circumstances have changed,
and as the demand has grown, more students have proceeded to
upper secondary schools.
During the lower/junior
secondary stage, the emphasis of most countries remains on a
broad general education which may or may not be designed to
prepare students for more specialized study during the upper/senior
secondary stage. In Thailand, a comprehensive or diversified
curriculum that combined general education with work experiences
was introduced at the lower secondary level.
All the SEAMEO Member Countries
have some forms of classification of their secondary schools,
such as: general, academic, vocational, and in most cases, except
in the Philippines, this classification takes effect only at
the upper secondary stage. Whenever such classification exists,
it is mainly into two types: general/academic and vocational.
Apart from the aforementioned classification of schools, other
three types of secondary schools in Indonesia include religious,
service, and special secondary schools. In the Philippines,
other types include science high schools, and school for the
SECONDARY SCHOOL EXAMINATION SYSTEM
The word "examination
is taken to mean something in addition to normal classroom tests,
and something which is normally administered at the end of the
lower secondary and the upper secondary school and at the end
of higher secondary or pre-university level. Other forms of
examination are conducted at the school level and by school
districts or school clusters. There are various procedures for
school examinations in the SEAMEO Member Countries. For most
countries examination is compulsory.
A number of the objectives
of secondary school examinations are common to many of the countries
in the SEAMEO region. They are to:
- measure the effectiveness of the
- measure students' present levels of achievement;
- measure ones students progress against
others for future selection or promotion
- provide information for streaming purposes;
- evaluate the relevance of the curriculum; and
- measure progress towards the accomplishment of national
Data from student examination
also provide useful feedback for other purposes. At the school
level, such data serve as basis for vocational and career guidance
of students. In some countries, student examination is used
in streaming students into different courses of study to cater
for differences in their academic abilities. At the national
level, many countries use the data as a form of needs analysis
for decisions on the types of in-service training programmes
to be offered to teachers. In some SEAMEO countries, information
gathered from student examination provides valuable input for
policy decisions on educational reforms and renewal. Though
not among the stated objectives, all SEAMEO Countries provide
feedback to parents on their childrens performance in
school and issue certificates which record their performance
in public examinations.
Included in this section
are public examinations, school-based examinations such as:
summative examination and formative evaluation.
examinations at the national/state/provincial level
2 (To view the table
Acrobat Reader ) compares
the frequency and timing of public examinations in the various
secondary systems of the Member Countries. Many names are given
to the various grades and levels, such as form, junior/middle/
senior grade, lower and upper secondary grade, etc. For the
purposes of this report, the term grade has been used for all
countries. For example, in Indonesia the six years of secondary
education are officially referred to as junior secondary grade
one to three and senior secondary grade one to three. However,
in this table, grades seven to 12 are used for Indonesia: Grade
seven for the first year of secondary education indicates that
in the educational system in Indonesia there are six years of
All Member Countries except
Thailand and Lao PDR conduct some forms of public examinations
at the secondary level. The public examination is held at the
provincial/state level. Generally public examination is held
at the end of the lower secondary level, and also at the end
of the upper secondary and higher secondary/pre-university level.
The Philippines has one public examination in the final year
of secondary education. In Myanmar, public examinations are
controlled and administered by External Examining Boards. In
the case of Thailand, a sampling of students in the 9th
and 12th grades of secondary education in different
schools is carried by a team of national assessors. Reasons
given for not having public examinations at the national level
include logistical and administrative difficulties, different
standards and expectations, and curricular differences.
In the case of Singapore,
students are streamed into three courses (Special, Express and
Normal) based on the Primary Leaving School Examination (PSLE)
result. The more able students take the Special or Express Course
and complete their secondary education in four years.
After completing their lower
and upper secondary education; they will take the Singapore-Cambridge
General Certificate of Education "Ordinary" (GCE "O")
level examination. Students with average academic ability take
the Normal course and after four years take the GCE "Normal"
(N) level examination, then continue for a fifth year of secondary
schooling, after which they take the GCE "O" level
Students in Brunei Darussalam
and Singapore who have adequate and relevant "O" level
results may proceed to the pre-university level. At this level,
students will take a course leading to the GCE "Advanced"
(A) level examination. Those who pass this examination may be
eligible for tertiary education.
Similarly, secondary students
in Malaysia takes three types of national/public examination,
the last of which is taken after two years of higher secondary
education. Passing the Malaysia High School Certificate (STPM)
is one of the requirements for entry into universities in the
A number of common measures
are adopted by SEAMEO Member Countries to standardize public
examinations to ensure that these examinations are valid and
reliable. Public examinations are academic achievement tests.
Examination boards are formed with the main objective of maintaining
standards. There are guidelines for setting examination papers
based on table of specifications. Marking is either computerized
and/or markers are drawn from a pool of experienced school or
university teachers in the relevant subject areas. They develop
marking schemes and formulate procedures to coordinate and moderate
the marking of the examination scripts. Moreover, few countries
give positive weight to disadvantaged regions and students in
the grading of public examination.
Many types of examinations
are conducted at the school level. Secondary schools in the
SEAMEO region conduct summative examination in each grade
. In most countries, students who do not meet the required
criteria are not promoted to the next higher grade. However,
in a few counties, there is automatic promotion from one grade
to another irrespective of student performance at the end
of year summative examination. Students who do not meet the
promotion criteria in Singapore, are allowed to advance but
laterally transferred to a less demanding secondary course.
Thailands school clusters are responsible for summative
assessments at the school level. Such school clusters in Thailand
capitalizes on the physical and human resources and the facilities
available among schools in the area, in the organization and
preparation of common examination papers.
At the national, state
or provincial/level many countries use the standardized norm-referenced
form of examination. At the school level non-standardized
norm and criterion-referenced tests are administered. The
summative school-based examinations set by the teachers in
either schools are non-standardized and norm-referenced. There
is an expectation of students performance for each grade
and their performance is measured accordingly in the norm-referenced
test. The norm standardized referenced tests are those used
by different teachers of a similar grade in assessing the
performance of their respective classes.
All countries conduct
formative examinations or continual assessment at all grades
and levels of secondary education. These include weekly/monthly/term
class tests, projects and regular class assignments set by
the respective teachers of the subject. In many of the countries,
the grades in formative examinations are not taken into consideration
in the selection and promotion of students for the next higher
grade of secondary education. For such purposes only the summative
examination grades are used. In the case of a few countries,
formative examination grades are given weight in the school-based
and public summative examination grades. This is for the purpose
of promotion to the next higher grade. To some extent this
reduces the examination pressure on students in the final
school examination and reinforces the importance of consistently
learning throughout the year. However, in most countries,
the grades in the formative examination are not included in
the school-based summative examination grades or in the public
Why are there so much energy,
time and money spent on the examination system in the regions
public education today? The answer is that people care. State
governments are vitally interested in assessing the achievement
of students within their boundaries.
The secondary school examination
systems in the region are complex and multifaceted undertaking.
There is no one best way to assess what students have learned
or accomplished in schools. Some methods may work better than
others at various grade levels. Some may work better than others
with other individuals.
There are so many unanswered
question about the value of the regions public examination
systems and the practice of using the results. Recognizing that
this report only provides minimal information about the SEAMEO
public examination systems at the secondary level, there is
a need to search actively for more information about this topic
for public examination systems affect childrens lives.
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