We need to ask if our education system is satisfying the more basic and vital needs of a larger segment of students.
FOR about nearly half a million people, March 20 was a momentous day in many ways – for their future hung in the balance, waiting to be decided by the results of the Sijil Pelajaran Malaysia (SPM) examinations.
I can well imagine the tension that would have hovered around those poor students like a heavy, portent mist on that day, which would for most of them lift later in the light of day.
My own daughter could not eat breakfast that day and was famished by the time lunch came, which I am glad to say was a bubbly, celebratory one after she obtained her results.
But for many it was not, not because they did not do well but because they did not do well enough.
When I think of the kind of pressures that kids face these days, I must say the old days were better, at least with respect to this, even if I sound like some sad old man who took his SPM results over 40 years ago and who was thankful for his meagre As.
Those days, the best results were eight As – yes, we only took eight subjects, even the most kiasu of us, and 17As were not just unheard of but would have been considered, appropriately, some kind of madness to subject a child to.
In our Sentul school, not really noted for its academic excellence, we were proud to have produced just one student with eight As. That was considered good for a school at that time.
Now we have whole classes – I exaggerate but in better schools it could go up to as much as a quarter or more – get As in all the subjects they sat for, usually nine or 10 but oftentimes going up to as high as 12.
And you have students who get As in all 10 subjects who still cry, not with happiness but dejection and disappointment.
This time I am not exaggerating. Why? I asked the same question. The answer: They had one or two A-!
In case you are not aware of it, we have three grades of A: A+, A and A-. If you thought that was bad and reflects our examination system, be warned that the University of Cambridge A levels have two levels of A: A* and A.
The whole world’s gone a bit wonky and just As alone is not enough any more. Now the best students have to get A+s and A*s before they are taken seriously by the most serious of higher institutions of learning – think of how much stress it causes students.
To add to that, our Government assured those who got 10 A+ last year that they would get a scholarship, putting even more pressure on pupils but fortunately, they seem to have abandoned that this year although they do not seem to have given students adequate notice.
Therefore, you have quite a number of all A+ students, 559 to be exact compared to 403 last year, not all of who will get a scholarship, which is not quite fair.
Perhaps it’s a case of too many getting all A+, and we need to have yet another category to weed out the super performers.
What we may need is an A++ perhaps. I jest of course, in case some people take me seriously, which I think is likely in our super-competitive society.
It must be clear to us that this tendency towards academic excellence is becoming just too much.
I have no way of checking this but I am told those who get 70-80% marks in the SPM get an A-, those who get 80-90% an A and those over 90% an A+.
I suppose we can have a category of A++ for those getting over 95%. Then what? Remember the limit is 100%.
It’s time we moved away from this increasing emphasis on only academic excellence and just stuck to a broader measure for As.
If you must, 70-85 can be categorised A and over 85 an A+ and leave it at that because its just not right or accurate to separate the categories to anything narrower than that.
The very mention of A- just takes away the achievement of having obtained an A.
Then we can take into account the other things that should matter in a person’s worth – his character, the extracurricular activities, behaviour in school, social skills, etc.
These should be incorporated into any selection system for scholarship or places in higher institutions via a scoring system which takes each of such other attributes into account.
But in all these arguments, we have forgotten one very important aspect. What about those who not only do not score all As but don’t do well in the exams. And that’s by far the majority of them.
Only 1.2 out of every 1,000 SPM students scored all A+. And only 2.1 out of 100 scored all As, which means some 98% of them don’t.
I would have wanted to see how many people scored all Es or all Ds. But none of the analysis showed that.
Are the SPM examinations helping the majority of students acquire the necessary skills to live, learn and work? What were the average grades? And where are the figures for that? Where is the analysis to show that?
Sometimes, in our obsessive chase for grades, which we disguise as a quest for excellence, we forget what education is supposed to do – the acquisition of basic skills that will enable us to live, learn, work, play and most of all think.
> Independent consultant and writer P Gunasegaram does not see a quick end anytime to the relentless – and mindless – chase for better and better grades.
QUESTION TIME By P. GUNASEGARAM
Source: The STAR Home News Opinion Wednesday March 28, 2012