When SPM History isn’t really history

Jason Wee has some beef with the way history is taught and tested for SPM.

It is slightly entertaining seeing adults bicker about our History syllabus. It seems everybody has something to say – “too much Islamic history”, “not enough Islamic history”, “more analytical thinking”!

I’m curious to see how many of them have actually bothered to 1. read through our history textbooks, and 2. find out how students have to answer.
On the 13th of November, many of us came out of the exam hall wondering whether if we had just sat for history or a round of bullcrapping* practice.

*[Bullcrapping – common term used to regurgitate a string of meaningless words]

Indeed, for more than a decade now, batches of SPM candidates have walked out of that exam hall frustrated for reasons not explicitly stated.

 

Malaysian, Islamic and World History and its narratives

There are 19 chapters altogether combining the Form 4 and Form 5 syllabus. Out of these 19, two account for South East Asian history, four for World history, five for Islamic history and eight for Malaysian history.

That might seem fair on face value. The impact of each genre, however, differs by a great degree. When we look more closely, both textbooks have been constructed to fit a main narrative.

All five chapters of Islamic history have been grouped together in Form 4, followed by six chapters of Malaysian history in the following year. Ancient civilizations and the Renaissance movement are regarded to be side topics. Since they only take up one chapter each, what’s the big deal, right? World War I and II barely fill 8 out of 275 pages in the Form 5 textbook.

The bulk of our history syllabus ultimately lies on the story of Islam and Malaysia, which sometimes seem irrelevant in the face of what we’re missing out on. But sure, one could argue that we need to prioritise our own history before any hint of the French Revolution.

In fact, most of us are fine with Malaysian history. The annoying part comes when we consistently reiterate lines of how the British were the bogeyman and could never be trusted. Or how the textbook is apparently made for telling a race that they need to unite at every flinch.

“Menentang British” has been repeated so many times, it borders the proposition of xenophobia.

Sure, these narratives might be true to some extent.

However, the constant repetition of rhetoric that comes off so blatantly as propaganda makes it hard to digest.

History is worth that much less when used as a machine. If anything, our textbooks have diluted what would otherwise be of possible historical value. Facts on the Turkish Empire, which could have consisted a whole chapter, have been crammed into two pages of condensed paragraphs for the sake of the inclusion of moral narratives. The authors took every chance to push an “iktibar” or “pengajaran” because our system is so used to feeding us values.

But sure, we’re used to that. Our colourful highlighters can help us see only what we needed to see. However…

 

2. The rise of KBKK

Both sides of Malaysian politics answered the problem of “regurgitating” facts with the politically correct term of “analytical learning”. The ministry was happy to comply.

Wrong.

If there’s anything worse than forgetting everything once you put it down on pen, it’s the awareness that everything you put down is utterly redundant.

These “analytical” questions that have been introduced as “Kemahiran Berfikir Kritis and Kreatif” aka KBKK are nothing more than a disguised version of Pendidikan Moral.

But really, we don’t mind. The extra 4 marks in every essay question for being creative with your bullcrapping weren’t horrible, especially in the face of an increasingly competitive examination.

Why is a Form 5 student writing about this, then? Well, maybe it’s because the amount of KBKK questions that surfaced in our SPM paper was staggering. So much so to the point that my friends, who spent hours treating their textbooks religiously, faced questions more suited for those of religion.

With the newly introduced open-book section, the amount of KBKK questions comprises 36% of our grade. To put things in context, SPM 2012 had 21% of questions pertinent to KBKK.

This contrast is most obvious when we juxtapose it to SPM 2005 – only 2%. Pick up a copy of past year SPM papers to find out for yourself.

Berikan 3 kesan jika Malaysia mengamalkan amalan Jahiliah pada masa kini” – 3 marks.

Sebagai warganegara yang patriotik, apakah tanggungjawab anda untuk mengekalkan kedaulatan Malaysia?” – 6 marks.

Bagaimanakah sistem demokrasi di Malaysia dapat dikekalkan?” – 6 marks.

The scripted answers, “mentaati raja dan negara”, “menyumbang kepada ekonomi negara”, and “bersyukur kepada usaha kerajaan” are definitely not historical, what more analytical.

We study history to appreciate the consequence of past actions. At least in the midst of mugging and regurgitating facts, we take to heart some of them.

There is no doubt that these KBKK questions are easier than hard facts. But when the level has been stooped to a point so low, just because SPM History is now a compulsory pass, even lazy students like myself find it hard to close an eye anymore.

But for those who choose to close their eyes, they will be and are blinded.

 

**Fun Fact: ‘KBKK’ started trending on Twitter right after the history paper. Among the more interesting tweets:

“Belajar 2 tahun yng keluar banyak kbkk je”

“Kalau graph naik sbb byk kbkk, screw sejarah sbb dah mcm sivik.”

“Tbh i felt like the whole paper was made up 85 % kbkk questions & 15 % factual questions”

“SPM candidates there is trending on ?#KBKK =,=” i hope that my answer is make sense although i want to laugh soo loud reading it! ?#MerapuKot

“Why is everyone so mad about kbkk? Don’t you think it’s time for you to be grateful :) they are trying to help us,you dimwits :)”

“36 marks on kbkk questions and 24 marks on facts. Lmao”

“So what’s the use of studying Sejarah when most questions were KBKK.”

“I think I should’ve studied moral instead of Sejarah… ?#kbkk

“It came to a point where all my kbkk answers are the same.”

 

Featured image from The Star


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Posts by Jason Wee

Probably too excited to get out of high school. Doesn't know whether 'having swag' is a good thing.

Posted on 29 January 2014. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0.

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One Response to When SPM History isn’t really history

  1. Pepper Lim

    Nice!