THE 2015 school year officially came to an end last week. The euphoria was evident — screams of joy, cheerful faces running out of classrooms and jumping in the air, and the customary farewell hugs and goodbyes.
The year-end holiday signals the end of one academic year and the beginning of the next. In other words, schoolchildren will be a year older and moving up the academic ladder.
For those going from primary to secondary school, it also comes with a change in uniform — a true sense of pride and maturity.
After a long year filled with classroom activities, homework, projects and portfolios, co-curricular and co-academic activities, and assessments and exams, holidays are a time to unwind and relax. In the 1960s and 1970s, there was a lot of domestic work to do during the holidays.
It was time to clean the compound, paint gates and walls, repair broken or damaged equipment and mend the chicken coop, goat and cow sheds.
Students of Sekolah Kebangsaan Bukit Rimau Seksyen 32, Shah Alam, Selangor on their last day of school this year.
Travelling to beach and hill resorts, both locally and abroad, was a luxury few could afford.
Travelling was confined to attending wedding receptions or visiting relatives. Today, however, the scenario is different.
Rewards in the form of cash, excursions and holiday vacations await those who obtain excellent results or show marked improvement in their studies.
Six weeks of holiday, by any standard, is a long time. Students should plan ahead and plan well. Failure to do so would mean precious time being wasted.
To begin with, they should reflect upon the current academic year, identify their strengths and weaknesses and take concrete measures to consolidate or improve.
They should spend the time concentrating on subjects they are weak in and work on them. This would enable them to catch up on lost time and be on par with other students when school reopens.
Most schools have taken back the textbooks for the current year and given out new textbooks for the following academic year.
It is hoped that students will use some of the free time to look through the books to prepare for the year ahead. This is also a time to catch up with friends and relatives who live far away, and do things that will remain memorable for a long time.
It is also the time to catch up on a hobby or activity that has been set aside.
Parents, too, should seize this opportunity to take a break from work and spend quality time with their children and listen to their concerns.
They should use the year-end report card to gauge their overall performance and plan ahead with the children. They can send their children for career workshops, seminars and educational camps to keep them occupied.
My advice is simple. After sweating it out for a year, students deserve a rest, a good rest that includes a holiday, an adventure and a new experience.
A rest that takes them away from textbooks and classrooms.
It is akin to the end of a football season when players are given a rest while the management does some reflection, deploys new tactics and strategies, and plans international friendlies while preparing the team for the next season.
It is my hope, too, that after the holidays, students face the new school term with renewed determination, replenished energy and enthusiasm. Happy holidays!
Dealing with exam stress
THOSE who dismiss young Malaysians’ stress over national examinations are missing the point of the argument, which is that it is real.
Young Malaysians who have been preparing for Sijil Pelajaran Malaysia (SPM), which begins tomorrow, have lots to say about exam stress.
“I can’t really sleep because I’m thinking about SPM all the time. I’m so afraid I’m going to let my parents down,” is a typical sentiment.
It is not helpful to them when patronising adults tell them to get over it. With the advantage of experience, many adults will say that exams are not the be-all and end-all.
They will say that it won’t be the end of the world if you don’t live up to other people’s expectations and there will be many other opportunities to pursue the career of your choice.
Each teenager will have to undergo the stress of taking examinations.
This advice means little to the young Malaysians preparing for SPM, the second last public examination at the secondary school level before tertiary level education at a university or higher education institution.
The Sijil Tinggi Persekolahan Malaysia (STPM) examination is the last public examination at the secondary school level.
These examinations put too much pressure on students to perform well.
They are fully aware that the few hours in the exam hall can dictate the paths their lives will take.
Their parents’ high hopes for the future and competition from peers add to the pressure. Little wonder that schools report a rise in students needing help with stress management during this time.
Clearly, tests and exams are a challenging part of school life, for both children and parents. And Asian families have been singled out for putting undue stress on children, especially during the crucial exam years. “
Asian families have high academic expectations and the attitude they demonstrate to their children is one that is achievement-driven.
Exams are emphasised for their ability to gauge a child’s current achievements and innate aptitude to succeed,” says Rekindle Centre for Systemic Therapy counselling psychologist Cathie Wu.
There’s nothing wrong with parents and schools wanting their charges to do well in examinations, as long as expectations are realistic.
It is natural for parents to motivate their children to become high achievers but it becomes an issue when over-achievement and perfectionism are recognised as the only form of self-worth and success.
Qualities that do not lead to these outcomes are not worth celebrating. “
That puts immense physical and mental pressure on children,” Wu adds.
The whole atmosphere is not only anxiety-inducing but also reduces students’ ability to perform academically, besides eroding their confidence and self-worth. Putting too much emphasis on exams — by school administrators, teachers, parents and students — creates unnecessary hurdles to educating our children. Instead of teaching children required skills, we teach them to succeed on tests and examinations.
Students should not be graded by their performance under pressure but by their dedication, hard work and appreciation of the learning process. All the best to those sitting SPM.