Current Affairs

UPSR leaked papers: A grandeur exposed as public pornography

By Steven Sim, MP for Bukit Mertajam

exam a plusEveryone knew the Emperor was without clothes, but it took the innocence of a small boy to say that the Emperor was really naked. Alas, the child exposed the corruption of our society simply by pointing out the empty vanity of the whole situation.

The recently leaked UPSR papers is definitely not a new phenomenon. I have heard of such things when I sat for UPSR decades ago. Everyone knows that exam questions are leaked out one way or another. Not just UPSR, but also other public examinations, up to the college and university level.

Students and parents search high and low for a glimpse of what the exam papers would be like. Some said this and that tuition centre always managed to “spot the questions” as if there is a formula to the random process of putting together an infinite set of questions. Or perhaps there is one?

So this is not a new phenomenon, but why is everyone so worked up this round? And it’s only UPSR, kan?

Leaked questions are but symptoms of deeper corruption in our society

Examinations are supposed to be some kind of measure of our children’s intellectual ability after a period of schooling (flawed as the system may be). Yet it has descended to become a measure of a child’s total self-worth: Grade A, good person, Grade B, lousy person. And hence the pressure on parents and children to ensure they excel, whatever it takes.

The story becomes darker from here on.

The problem lies deeper than the mere failure of our education system. What if some of us can afford to buy “good personhood” for our children? Whatever it takes.

The Harvard scholar on ethics and justice, Michael Sander asked, “What money can’t buy” in society where we can put a price tag on almost everything. In the case of buying leaked exam papers, the immorality is clear. But Sander also warned of the broader “corrosive tendency of markets”:

“Because market don’t only allocate goods; they also express and promote certain attitude towards the goods being exchanged. Paying kids to read books might get them to read more, but also teach them to regard reading as a chore rather than a source of intrinsic satisfaction…

…Some of the good things in life are corrupted or degraded if turned into commodities…we have to decide how to value the goods in question – health, education, family life, nature, art, civic duties and so on. These are moral and political questions, not merely economic ones.”

Under such condition where money can buy almost anything, the bluffing weavers of the Emperor’s new clothes were given state titles and the dishonest Ministers and officials received approvals and awards from the Emperor whilst the leading townsmen who perpetuated the spiral of silence escaped the wrath of the government.

Not surprisingly, one of the instruments to maintain this silence and the silence over other depravities of the government was aptly named, the Official Secret Act.

Exposed: “A” is nothing

Decades ago, people merely whispered about leaked exam papers. There was a hush over everything. They were kept within the four walls of tuition centres, or a senior figure’s home, be it a Dato’ or an officer with privileged access. It was secretive, available only to the select few. And like the Emperor’s new clothes, it was not for those “unfit for his office or who was unusually stupid”, in other words, only the elites can have access to it.

But when the thing went viral on social media, it shattered the secrecy which shielded the depravity of our society. Whether it was the sin of the Ministers or the officials or the noblemen or the leading townsfolk, it is now public for all to see. The intended grandeur of the system is now exposed as nothing but public pornography. (No wonder the Emperor always wanted to ban social media).

When it became viral, the stark perversion became embarrassing and unbearable. Alas, the “good person” we graded, “he hasn’t got anything on!”. Who knows who scored through buying leaked papers and who did it through his or her own effort? The whole system becomes a farce.

Now everyone can score

What is worse, as my friend Abu pointed out on Facebook, is that now, everyone can be a “good person”, not just the elite, but also the poor, the Orang Asli kids, the street sweeper’s son, the security guard’s daughter and the rubber tapper’s children.

What preposterousness! Where then is fairness in the “What Money Can’t Buy?” society where only the able are….able. To paraphrase the slogan of our popular budget airline, now everyone can score.

Has the show ended?

As of Malaysia Day, seven people were already arrested over the leaked UPSR papers and the director of the Malaysian Examination Syndicate suspended. The same law which was used to conceal the dark secrets of the government is ironically now being bragged as the solution to the problem; those who leaked the UPSR papers were threatened with punishment under the Official Secret Act. But can one really slap oneself too hard with one’s own hand?

Consider also the scenario if those arrested were those who posted the leaked questions on social media: Will it be like arresting the little boy who called out the naked Emperor?

Really, the charade, I mean parade, goes on. Because unless we all become like the little child, whose innocent bravery laid bare the mockery which we daily witness both as victims and participants, “the Emperor walked ever more proudly, as his noblemen held high the train that wasn’t there at all”.

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