UNHEALTHY: Putting UPSR straight-A scorers on a pedestal damages self-esteem of pupils with less than perfect results
THE school holidays are here again. There are big smiles plastered on the faces of schoolchildren and their parents, and they will remain there for the next seven weeks.
The situation wasn't as cheery several days ago, at least for some 12-year-olds. It was as if the world had ended, and they had lost everyone and everything.
These children were beyond placating, wailing piteously on the shoulders of parents and friends after receiving their Ujian Pencapaian Sekolah Rendah (UPSR) or Primary School Assessment Test results.
In one school, a child was seen shuddering with grief, his shoulders heaving as he choked with sobs.
His results were by no means bad by any stretch of the imagination -- some As and Bs -- but he did not get straight As.
He wasn't alone in his despair.
There were others with swollen eyes around him, their faces wet with tears.
The atmosphere at the "Majlis Penyampaian Keputusan UPSR" clearly wasn't completely celebratory.
To rub salt into their wounds, the headmistress bounded up on stage to invite all 4A and 5A students to join her for a photo-taking session.
While those on stage whooped with joy and gave each other congratulatory pats on the back, those beneath them, literally and figuratively, howled a little louder.
Others just looked on forlornly.
That moment will likely forever be imprinted in their minds.
In another school, a similar ceremony was held and the names and scores of all pupils were read out before the large gathering of Year Six students and their parents.
It was rather awkward for those who did not secure the requisite string of As as others reached out to not only comfort the students, but also their parents.
"They gave me words of solace as my daughter got 'only' 4As but I told them it's something to be proud of, not mourn over," a mother said, shaking her head, "What have we become?"
One girl, who had been waiting with breathless anticipation, burst into tears when her name didn't turn up at the end of the 5A list being read out enthusiastically by the school head.
She was still crying at the end of the ceremony.
The scenario was replicated in many other schools that day.
Ceremonies to announce public exam results are the norm rather than the exception these days.
It has slowly crept into the school culture, the way grand graduation ceremonies and proms have, over the years.
Previously, students would just turn up in schools to collect their results quietly over the school office counter.
They can choose to share it, or not, with inquisitive friends and relatives, but these days, that choice is no longer theirs to make.
The public announcement and adulation of top scorers is not only wrong, but unhealthy.
It will only, in the long run, serve to permanently damage the self-esteem of pupils with less than perfect results.
As it is, studies suggest that more and more teens are affected by mental health problems.
Life stresses -- be they boy/girl relationships, falling out with a friend or anxiety over exams -- can adversely affect young people who are ill-equipped to handle such travails.
There have been several media reports on suicide attempts among young people unable to cope with exam stress.
This emphasis on stellar results has also created unhealthy behavioural patterns in pupils who generally perform better than their classmates.
They are created by a society that puts high-achievers on a pedestal.
The media, too, shares some of the blame for giving excessive coverage and highlighting only those who scored strings of As.
The message that should instead be continually re-inforced is that failing to score all As does not equal failing in life.
UPSR is just the first hurdle in what is still a very long journey ahead.
At the end of it, the last thing anyone would ask is how many As you scored in your Ujian Pencapaian Sekolah Rendah.
Chok Suat Ling | Instagram@suatling27 New Straits Times Online Opinion Columnist 21/11/2013