Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Education Beyond "A's"

Soon, students from all over Malaysia of different levels shall face yet another annual ritual of the nation: the public examinations. Primary 6 pupils shall strive to glean that 5 (or 6) A's in their UPSR; so shall the 15-years olds who drool for that clean straight 8 (or 9) A's in their PMR result sheet; more for SPM candidates as they have the privilege of taking teens (or -ty) of examination subjects in hope to ace them all; the same rhythm and melody for STPM would-be takers. As we witness, year-in year-out, with pride, the media (and the Ministry of Education) would boast about the super-achievers getting tons of A's with their behind-the-scene stories of the secrets and trials to their success. Then, we would be told, relative to last year, the performance level of our education has "improved" by a show of statistical data mentioning the increment of people getting an "A" in certain examination subjects and the decline in numbers of those getting an "F" in the other.

With all due respect to the super-achievers (those getting 17A1's, 8A's etc.), I would like to invite the reader to rethink the value of "A" we get in our examination result sheets; by getting that "A", does it really means that we have a certain degree of mastery in that particular subject that enable us to see that "A" in its actual implementation? Must we conclude then people getting a "B", a "C" or a "D" is less able to function in that particular discipline of knowledge compared to those getting an "A"? Thus, the bottom line of the issue: is getting straight "A's" equals academic success?

Sometimes, I am confounded when I think great people of the past and present, most if not all of them have never really cared about getting straight "A's" (or 4.00 CGPA or other statistical measure of "success" in institutionalized academic) in order to be recognized as "successful" in their respective area. From the Classical Era, recall Plato, Socrates, Hippocrates and their legions - they have never knew what straight A's means. Even people such Lao Tze who was born in the exam-oriented China (oh yes, the Chinese then took exams not primarily for "academic success" or "getting a deeper understanding of anything". Rather, to be employed in a decent government posts of the Emperor Dynasty) never ever dreamed about straight A's before. Therefore, why now our students are being put into so much pressure and their thoughts indoctrinated to get nothing less than straight A's as if life would be a failure if they fail to hoard A's in public examinations. This, a deeper analysis of our education system and culture is needed.

Ponder back during our days in high-school classrooms, rote learning was (and is?) the prevailing system; the more one memorizes and the more one is able to accurately recall what one has memorized, the likelier one is going to be "successful" (getting an "A") in the subject he/she "studied". No, differing answers are not accepted because they are not in line with skema jawapan (the answer scheme). To rigorously dispute a teacher about a "fact" in would be kurang ajar (rude) and it would be a taboo if one takes a different stance, beliefs, or opinions other than what the teacher had said pertaining to a subject-matter. In the end, the student has to be a yes boy/girl in order to be a good boy/girl and ultimately getting "A's" in their academic subjects and sikap (manner).

Some of the "beliefs" I have identified and willingly/forcefully made to be believed unto me based on my own experience during my tender years in school are as follow:
  1. Must get straight A's in public exams whatever it may take. Do as one must: buy ten exercise books, go to five tuition classes in the weekend, skip lunch, and even, hide textbooks in toilet (to cheat in exam) for that precious "A". Failure to do so: mom and dad would be malu (ashamed); no reward in Ringgits (yes, by getting straight A's can make one rich(!) as the school, government institutions, parents and NGOs will give one money for one's "excellent" result); kena rotan (caned); there is a good chance that teachers would not remember your name, and malu with friends who get more A's than one does.
  2. Screw all activities other than "study", "study", and "study"! (if a social/pure science subject: memorizing, memorizing and memorizing; if a math subject: practice, practice and practice)! Phew, how vigorous a task it was to memorize (better if verbatim memorization) a 700-pages Physics reference book so that one could easily recall and write exactly the same experiment, utter exactly the same definition, and recalling exactly the same "facts" mentioned in the reference book if asked in an exam. Who cares about learning to cook - it is not asked in school exam. Who cares about helping out in a charity house in the weekend - one won't get an "A" for that! Who cares about jogging and doing some light exercise - I'm young and still healthy: life is better spent with "study"!
  3. Scoring straight "A's" makes one a rock-star. In the end, it is an A-student who will be rewarded and remembered even though a C-student did all the experiments, cleaned the apparatuses, and searched for information beyond textbooks.
The Consequences

To the students

This "'A' in the paper-exam is everything" norm ultimately only creates a stereotype, intellectually lazy, uncreative, uninnovative, visionless, indifferent, and unmotivated person. Why? Because their vision has been largely narrowed down to see only straight "A's" as a measure of success in contrast to the spirit of education itself to produce Insan Al-Kamil (the complete human) or umo universal (the versatile human). This then leads to students becoming more like bio-machines - doing without thinking, following without knowing - in their daily deliberations.

To the teachers

The tendency to spoon-feed the students is very high because one's reputation and "academic credibility" is at stake here. Thus, giving tons and tons of notes and mock-exam questions would be considered as "worthy" in contrast to letting the students explore the academic discipline themselves by allowing a conducive plane for intellectual debates, experiments and researches. Moreover, the "we must follow and finish the syllabus" would echo long in their creed to avoid the blame-game later if the public exam's (SPM, PMR etc.) turnout did not meet the school's target. Thus, rooms for a deeper intellectual exploration are suppressed because of the over-commitment of following the syllabus (even if the teacher is aware then the "facts" in the syllabus are obsolete) and finishing them up (so that all the "facts" are now thrown to the students).

To the school institutions

The rat-race between schools in the same cage within the same wheels shall continue. Schools will keep on competing with each other by claiming their excellency based on how many straight A students they produce annually. Other aspects of education such as physical, social, and spiritual development (and genuine intellectual development) will be put aside as peripheries to give way to obsessive meritocracy based on A's. Motivations to leak and to find the leaking sources of public examination questions are high among the school institutions as there is a good chance, too, that they will do everything in order to maintain the school's status quo in prominence.

To Malaysia

Uncreative and unthinking people shall borne a civilization lacking of its capability for self-sustenance. Because the world is changing, new discoveries, theories and technologies are made everyday, Malaysia would ultimately lose its competitiveness if it refuses to reevaluate its education system that overemphasizes the on-paper "A's".

Because getting "A's" is the door for scholarship opportunities (and rewards of such), I fear students will mistakenly believe that getting straight A's is the only recipe for success in life, without weighing heavy enough other aspects of human development that are just as important for a balanced human being.

The current situation...

Imagine that you walk on the local streets and ask random school students these questions. How do you think they may respond?
  1. Which do you read (or at least, know), Kreko or Encyclopedia Britannica?
  2. Who do you know better, Prof. Diraja Ungku Aziz or Mawi?
  3. What is your opinion about the recent "oil-price rise"?
Hence, this is high-time for all to ponder deeply about the frenzy of getting straight A's. Ultimately, it is not A's that defines "success". Rather, it is how much positive impact one had done to oneself and others that defines "success".

Perhaps we need some revamp in our education system?


lynnanuar said...

still haunted by the aura of possible rejection eh?

nova said...

not really. hv been thinking about this for quite some time already... makes me weary, though.

frosted flakes said...

btw..i like ur idea saying that the prior-prominet figure did not really care about the number of A's that they could achieve.I think, its just people nowdays ;who is being influenced to measure the level of success by looking at the number of A's.
Great post.

lynnanuar said...

chill janie...hahah. I just want to say something about the last part. Why is it that when we compare between a comic and an encyclopedia, a comic would usually be perceived as the non-beneficial stuff? I remember when I was in high school, I couldn't afford to think about heavy topics and all those intellectual debates. I'm pretty sure that I was not the only one who felt that way, and even some of our younger brothers and sisters nowadays also feel the same. Comics is also a form of art that some people would like to appreciate cause we humans are created to have different personalities, preferences and abilities. Not everyone can afford (in terms of the time, the opportunity, etc) to be the one who would know all the events, histories and names of respected knowledgeable people all around the world. In my opinion, if I were a form 5 student who's already been pressured by the society's view, parents and teachers' hope, I'd go get myself a copy of kreko or hype or Gempak every month, just to get away from the stressful environment once in a while. I think everybody wants to be a good person and everybody wants to be treated the same by others as well. No kids on this planet would want to let their parents down. So I think, some of the things that most of us prefer to view them as worthless or crappy are not actually the antagonist pollutants. It's just that different people have different way of pampering themselves when they are stressed out or perhaps a different way to inspire themselves. At least there's something to reach for rather than living an empty and hollow life. Just a thought of mine, a very average, ordinary girl who refuses to let her maturity take over her for now :) (maybe someday, but not now hahaha) roger and out! :D

Guilt of Innocences said...

great post...... the whole A grade thing is another way to discriminate students..

amar said...

A great piece of thought. It is true that education is far beyond A's, especially when you get to experience the American education. Kuwayyis.