Malaysia’s social media playground had a heaty past few days after a short article by a ‘Worried Malaysian’ was published on The Star recently.

The article was written in regards of an allegedly ‘confusing’ SPM question that the Worried Malaysian’s child had to face during SPM that sounded like this: ‘If you had the opportunity to move to another part of Malaysia, where would it be?’.

To be frank, nothing should go wrong with this question. Students will most probably answer Penang for its food, Johor for its football, Sabah for its diving opportunities, or Sarawak for its natural attractions. Unless, you didn’t read the question properly and thoroughly. The big fuss broke because the Worried Malaysian claimed that many ‘excellent SPM 2017 students’ wrote about locations outside of Malaysia instead such as Korea, Britain and Switzerland. Oops?

Swiss Alps, Not Malaysia.

In typical Malaysian style, netizens ran amok on how ridiculous the complaint was – a delusional parent who would put blame on the government for the smallest of things and if the allegations were true, a generation of teenagers who either couldn’t understand a simple question, or can’t tell the difference between a place in Malaysia or overseas.

But there’s something alarming that most people missed out on. What really made the parent feel so worked up on a question for a subject that its syllabus was built to be much more freeform than other subjects? However the main question is: what if he/she was furious, because the question wasn’t what was expected to be?

I’m speculating that the parent may be expecting questions from leaked sources, with a humongous may just in case people think I’m slandering this good person. A person with good English proficiency (which doesn’t indicate brilliance, by the way) addressed the right implications of students writing the wrong answers, went the extra mile to rant on something so weak in reasoning and prone to backlash on the newspaper, and for what? Unless, he/she has invested so much hopes on leaked questions, and end up disappointed since it came out with a twist.

Leaked questions have been a prolonged problem in the education sector. Just last year, SPM students were at the edge of their seats when there were rumors that they might be resitting Sejarah paper 2 after hearsays of leaked questions. Though the hearsays were false, many students, parents and even some teachers would scour for any news about leaked papers, whether it’s on Whatsapp, or private meetups. In 2013, a teacher was reported to be leaking questions for Mathematics and Additional Mathematics since 2007.

You can say whatever you want to say about the culprits who leaked these questions – but the problem is bigger than all of them. The main issue here is that there is a huge demand for leaked questions coming from all sides of the spectrum, defeating the very purpose of the examination. The culture of searching for any hint or shadow of these leaked items is so common, that it is even encouraged by irresponsible adults and bodies. Publishers take advantage of this hunger by introducing compilations of past year questions book to help students identify patterns and formulas while online SPM courses used it as a marketing tactic to lure kids to register on a last ditch for the As. But when you have designed an examination term to play a significant role in one’s life path, wouldn’t the stakes be high enough for people to step over the line and take risks?  

Back to the article by the Worried Malaysian, who claimed that many students lost the chance to score an A for that particular paper due to that supposedly-diabolical ‘plot’ of a question to trick students to answer differently, may have the implications spot on. If his claims were true, did Malaysian students, who are high up the proficiency ladder in Asia, not understand the question, simply careless, or got confused because the questions were ‘different’ than what they initially received?

One wrong answer may effect your future career.

I’m simply imposing a question. But if the schooling journey was a tad-bit more focused on educating students to become useful and successful Malaysians rather than a time-cocoon that inevitably leads to a grand boss battle (SPM) that will set the course of one’s life, will this problem exist? Or will it be worse?

Don’t know if we don’t try.