STPM, Matriculation or College which is better?

STPM: A ‘YES’ or a ‘NO’?

The Malaysia Higher School Certificate, better known as the Sijil Tinggi Persekolahan Malaysia (STPM), often send chills down the spine of many when mentioned in public. But what is so scary about this examination?

What is STPM?
STPM is an 18-month pre-university programme similar to that of A-levels and is recognised worldwide. The examination has been notoriously branded by many as the toughest examination in Malaysia.

The reason behind its negative image may be attributed to its one-examination system where the candidates’ results are determined by only one assessment at the end of the 18 months of studies.

Besides that, the minimal grade inflation and rigid marking schemes employed by the examination to ensure the quality of the candidates have indirectly deterred many from taking up this pre-university programme.

Comparing the structure of the programme to that of the other pre-university programmes such as A-levels, Matriculations (government or foreign) and Foundations, one would notice the broad syllabus used by STPM is not matched by others.

Declining statistics
The examination was at the peak of its popularity back in the 1980s when around 70,000 students sat for the examination annually (Pre-university: Tough yet the
best choice, NST, 26 Feb 2011).

Over the years, the figure has declined constantly from 81,142 candidates (2005) to 50,576 candidates (2010) (Pre-university: Tough yet the best choice, NST, 26 Feb 2011; Modular system from this year to make STPM attractive, NST, 27 Feb 2011).

Possible reasons for unpopularity
The dwindling numbers of STPM candidates is probably due to the negative advertisement that ist has been given through word-of-mouth and in the virtual world (eg forums, education websites, blogs, etc) among peers and parents. Other possible reasons may include:

1. Some students are eager to break free from the rules and regulations enforced in schools after their SPM. Attending pre-university programmes in private institutions spares the students of strict school regulations.

2. Private institutions do not normally require their students to wear uniforms allowing them to have the freedom of dressing up as they please.

3. The eagerness of students to experience a campus education may also drive them away from taking the STPM which is normally offered in a school environment.

4. There is also a belief that government matriculation is given priority for university admission compared to STPM.

This has been dismissed by the Malaysian Examinations Council chairman, who is also the Vice Chancellor of Universiti Sains Malaysia, Professor Tan Sri Dzulkifli Abdul Razak (Full passes for 23,473 students, NST, 22 Feb 2011).

Such beliefs probably arise from the long standing debate that government matriculation’s assessments are partly based on coursework and lecturer evaluation which allow an easier way to obtain better grades.

It is, therefore, possible that its students have an advantage in out-competing those of STPM’s in terms of final examination results.
5. Although STPM is a qualification accepted for job application, it does not possess any specialised skills.

A diploma course would be more appropriate for those looking to start a specialised course as they will gain knowledge in the field that they are interested in such as Business Administration, Biotechnology, Information Technology, Hospitality and Tourism, Culinary Arts, etc.

Is it all bad?
In existence for almost three decades, this internationally recognised examination cannot possibly be all bad and this is why:

1. STPM is the most affordable pre-university examination in the country.
2. The longer duration allows students more time to discover their true interest before enrolling in a specialised course.

Some students jump into a specialised course too anxiously thinking that it is the skill which they would like to acquire and employ in their career, only to realise that it is not what they bargained for.

2. In this situation, the student may to find the subjects too difficult and perform badly in the course or in worse instances, drop out from it.

3. As the number of students enrolled in STPM is low, the teacher-to-student ratio is better, allowing more attention for the students and to ensure better education for them.

4. The level of difficulty employed by STPM equips the students with the necessary skills and attitudes for their university studies. Generally, university lecturers find post-STPM students more matured and perform better in universities. (Pre-university: Tough yet the best choice, NST, 26 Feb 2011).

The future of STPM
What will happen to STPM after being around for 29 years? The education ministry has decided to revamp the programme structure into a modular system beginning 2011, ie students’ grades will be assessed by psychometric tests, extra-curricular activities and annual examinations instead of the previous one-examination system (Modular system from this year to make STPM attractive, NST, 27 Feb 2011).

With this new modular system, will it be easier to get higher grades in STPM? Will more students say ‘yes’ for the examination? Or will it still be a harsh ‘no’? The answer to these questions will be become more apparent as time goes by.