Thursday, December 30, 2010

Exams Are Over, At Last!

Exams ended a little over a week ago, quite a bit later than usual.  With the Hari Raya holiday moving 12 days earlier each year, the semester calendars change and we get moving dates for registration, mid-term breaks, and exams.  With such a late end to this semester, the next one will begin later than usual also.

Exam Hall
Final exams for the program in which I teach are prepared by the parent body, a local Malaysian university that continues to do things the old-fashioned way, despite having a modern term in the university name.  As such, the final exam counts for 60% of the class mark, and final exams are given in a large auditorium with walking proctors and strict control procedures.
Crowded Work Space
I wish I could say that the strict control procedures meant for high-quality exams, but that is not the case.  Even though the parent body insists that all exam questions are sent to external examiners for quality verification, egregious errors are all too common on exam questions.  As proctors, we have to inform the parent body representative of the errors and allow him or her to make a decision as to how to inform the students in answering the questions.

Confiscate Crib Sheets from the Toilet
On one exam that I proctored, an electrical engineering question (give in both English and Malay) had different values.  In English, the values were something like this:
Voltage = 12V
Current = 2.0A
Resistance = 30 Ohms
Efficiency = 75%

The same question, in Malay, had these values:
Voltage = 15V
Current = 1.5A
Resistance = 40 Ohms
Efficiency = 85%

Since it is the same question, just in a different language, the answer will depend upon set of values you choose!  It is clear that exam preparers do NOT proof-read their questions, nor are the external quality control examiners on the ball either.

One of my subjects has errors every semester on the questions.  Typically, a parent body coordinator (who prepares the exam) will photocopy a diagram from a book -e.g., the one entitled 2500 Solved Problems in Hydraulics and Fluid Mechanics- and then write a question that goes with the diagram.  Several times now, the diagram shows oil (specific gravity 0.85) flowing in a pipe.  The question written out by the coordinator starts out, "Water flows in a pipe...."  So, which is it?  One semester, 50% of the questions were thrown out by the coordinator and not graded after I pointed out the errors on two and a half of the five questions.

Stamp the Date
As a proctor, in addition to finding this semester's set of errors, we walk around and watch students.  One task for me is to go into the Men's Bathroom after about 10 minutes and confiscate the crib sheets that are inevitably hiding in the water tank of the bathroom stalls.  Students haven't figured out yet that water causes ink and pencil to smear and disappear.

Another main task is to give students additional paper upon which to do calculations or answer questions.  Each piece of paper has to be stamped with the current date so as to insure that the paper was not brought into the exam hall by the student.

But, exams are over now and we are enjoying our Monsoon Vacation.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Photo of the Week: Monsoon Clouds over My Kampung

The northeast monsoon is in full swing here on the east coast of Peninsular Malaysia.  We have had all-day rain several times now, and there are gigantic, beautiful dark monsoon storm clouds much of the day.  I shot this one on the way home one day, arriving minutes before the deluge began.

Monsoon Clouds over the Kampung

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Cuti Sekolah di Malaysia

Vacation days....vacation daze.  Malaysia has a lot of vacation days during the school year and it often makes both scheduling replacement classes AND covering the syllabus difficult.  Just peruse the vacation days taken this year alone:

1 January - New Year's Day
14 January - Birthday, Sultan of Negeri Sembilan (for those in Negeri Sembilan)
17 January - Birthday, Sultan of Kedah (for those in Kedah)
30 January - Thaipusam (Hindu festival, all of Malaysia)
1 February - KL Federal Territory Day (for those in KL)
14-15 February - Chinese New Year (all of Malaysia; some places take a week off)
26 February - Malidur Rasul (Islamic holiday, all of Malaysia)
4 March - Birthday, Sultan of Terengganu (for those in Terengganu)
13-21 March - Public School Holiday
30-31 March - Birthday, Sultan of Kelantan (for those in Kelantan)
Oh yeah, "Let's YTRAP" on holiday
2 April - Good Friday (Christian holiday)
8 April - Birthday, Sultan of Johor
15 April - Melaka Holiday (they have no official sultan, but certainly a DAY OFF)
19 April - Birthday, Sultan of Perak (yup, Perak residents)
1 May - International Workers Day (but, NO work that day)
7 May - Pahang Holiday (called Hari Hol, literally "Holiday Day"; no apparent reason; thats for us Pahangers)
17 May - Birthday, Sultan of Perlis (residents of Perlis)
28 May - Wesak Day (Buddhist Holiday, all of Malaysia)
30-31 May - Harvest Festival (for Sabah and Sarawak, I think, not sure)
1-2 June - Gawai Dayak Festival (Sarawak)
5 June - Birthday, King of Malaysia (all of Malaysia)
5-20 June - Public School Holiday
10 July - Birthday, Sultan of Pulau Penang (Penang)
10 July - Israk and Mikraj (??, but its on the calendar!)
20 July - Hari Keputeraan Sultan Terengganu (again, Terengganu)
11 August - Awal Ramadan (beginning of Ramadan, all of Malaysia)
27 August - Nuzul Quran (all of Malaysia)
31 August - National/Independence Day (all of Malaysia)
4-12 September - Public School Holiday
10-11 September - Hari Raya Puasa or Aid-al-Fitr (all of Malaysia, most schools take a full week off)
16 September - Birthday, Sultan of Sabah
?? September - Malaysia Day (not to be confused with Independence Day on 31 August; I forgot what this day was, but it was in September and I have NO idea why it exists.)
9 October - Melaka (again) but not sure why since they have no official sultan
23 October - Birthday, Sultan of Sarawak
24 October - Birthday, Sultan of Pahang
5 November - Deepavali (Diwali), Hindu Festival of Lights (all of Malaysia)
17 November - Quran Holiday (some parts of Malaysia)
18 November - Quran Holiday (other parts of Malaysia)
20 November - 31 December - Public School Holiday
7 December - Awal Muharram (all of Malaysia)
11 December - Birthday, Sultan of Selangor
25 December - Christmas (Christian holiday, all of Malaysia)

Now, you might say "Well, not all holidays are celebrated in all states."  That is true.  But, if you have some students from, say Terengganu, they may want to go back to Terengganu for their sultan's birthday, whereas those from Johor will want to do the same, but on a different date (their sultan's birthday).  And so forth.  And if you need to contact someone in a different state during work hours, you need to check the calendar to see if THEY are on vacation that particular day.

Students are quite good about turning a one-day holiday into a one-week (or more) vacation.  Witness the latest mid-week holiday: Hari Raya Qurban, 17 and 18 November (depending upon state).  With this holiday on a Wednesday in Pahang, I had students take off on Monday of that week, and not return until Tuesday of the following week!  They used a 1-day holiday to take leave of 7 days of classes!!  Of course, they try to justify this by saying "Bus tickets were all sold out except for....".  For this reason, we lecturers prefer holidays that are on a Friday or a Monday.  It is harder for students to justify leaving on a Monday or Tuesday for a Friday holiday.  (But some do.)

But, of course, those are the OFFICIAL holidays.  How about unofficial Must-Cancel-Class directives from Administration?  We get plenty of those every year also.

"Left, right,, no...right, left, left?"
Example: our "sister" school is having graduation but they want a CROWD at the event, so they make the lecturers cancel their classes and attend!  Great idea.  Or how about this? "We need to ensure that lecturers behave properly at our own convocation, so let's make them practice.  Yes, we know that they are only going to walk in and sit down.  But have them cancel classes on BOTH Thursday and Friday afternoon to practice .... walking in and sitting down!"

The December monsoon has begun.  Long live rainy weather!