Friday, July 24, 2009

Is our education system putting too much emphasis on grades?

Ah, exactly one month from my previous post. So, I wrote this piece for my public speaking but didn't manage to do it due to several reasons. It's something I've been wanting to write for quite awhile so when I got the chance I just sat down and got to it. If you've got the time and interest, I'd be honored if any of you guys read it and give me some feedback.

Right, so here goes:

One of the definitions that the Oxford dictionary gives us for education is the process of 'bringing up' or the manner in which a person has been 'brought up' with reference to social situation, kind of manners and habits acquired, calling or employment prepared for. This definition seems to be the ideal outcome of a successful education system. However, as you will soon find out, unfortunately our education system does not function in this way.

I will start with the simplest of examples and what our entire education system is built upon. Examinations, tests, call them what you will, like it or not, they are the backbone of our education system. And to people that don’t already know, we have these exams in abundance, and quite a fair bit of them are rather useless. The 3 main ones in the school system as of today are the UPSR, PMR, and SPM.

Just an example is UPSR, which is a compulsory exam set by our education ministry to indicate the finishing of primary school. I would like to ask one question. How necessary is this exam? Students are made to believe they study 6 years building up to it, but what does it signify? You continue to secondary school regardless of your results. The problem with our exams though, is how they are presented. Students memorise rather than learn, for the sole purpose of passing or acing the exam, only to forget everything once they have done so. There is a quote which says, Too often we give our children answers to remember rather than problems to solve. I believe this sums up our examination system and the way we are taught to study.

Especially apparent here, is the mentality set in our minds. The need to achieve a certain grade that is deemed acceptable means they are forced to endure countless hours of extra tuition to achieve the grades, sacrificing time for extracurricular activities. As the saying goes, all work and no play, makes Jack a dull boy. This way of thinking comes from the parents, who value grades so much higher than other achievements, that they are willing to bribe their children with money or gifts to push them towards those results.

Another view here is that the science stream is somehow better than the art stream. The education system streams students with better results into science and students with lower grades into the arts. The logic of this is baffling. People automatically think that students in the science streams are smarter than those in the arts. And because of this, students with good grades automatically go into the science stream, without considering the arts. Students like me, who regret that decision, because it is simply not what I am interested in doing.

The next sign that our education system is flawed and puts too much emphasis on grades, is the dire condition of the nation’s sports infrastructure. Here, it is frowned upon when someone’s ambition is to be a professional athlete. Why? Because there are no proper channels in which someone can reach this goal and make something out of his life. Sport is something schools do once a week, which they label Physical Education. It is not hard to see that the classroom is the emphasis of every education institute here. Look around you for example, we’re in an office building. How often are we encouraged take up a sport or an emphasis put on taking up sports seriously? Never, not in this country anyway.

Take a look at the US meanwhile, how many students there realise their potential at a certain sport in high school, then go on to receive sports scholarships from colleges and universities, and finally go on to make that sport a full time job. Are they products of the education system? Yes; they may not be able to explain to you Quantum Physics, or do integration, but they came out of the schooling system, and made themselves a career. I doubt very much anyone will realise any form of potential or talent from Physical Education, one hour a week. You may ask me, what has sports got to do with our education system? It’s just an example to show that grades are not everything.

So, what can be done to remedy this predicament we find ourselves in? First and foremost, we have to actually realise that the education system is flawed. We have to recognize that something needs to be done to cure this imbalance; because grades do not help us in one of the biggest parts of our lives, which is socially and culturally. Walker Percy once said, you can get all A's and still flunk life. The student who cheats and bluffs his way through school is considered smart, because he does not get caught. In the end, in the real world, he becomes a hopeless, helpless bundle of confusion and unbelief. If this does not show us that the system is flawed, I don’t know what will.

There is a saying that goes, a person may be well schooled, but that does not mean he has been well educated. He may have gone to the best schools, gotten the best grades, but he may be morally bankrupt. Our system is one in which culture plays no role in our education. Does one mature and grow up locked in a study, memorising words and passages simply because that’s how he has been taught to learn? No.

A balanced education system will do more than just help us study better, it will make us more cultured, more refined and overall, more civilised. All the more in a nation like ours, where we are growing as I believe this will do a lot in helping the country mature and develop. The first steps our education ministry need to take are to put aside the politics and have a serious review of the examination system, if that can be achieved; we could already be laying the groundwork and moving in the right direction. They then need to ask themselves, what should we gain from an education? And proceed from there. After all, there is a great deal more to the process of becoming educated than the actual instruction and schooling one may receive. Before I go I would like to leave you with a few sayings to ponder.

The aim of education is the knowledge not of fact, but of values.

The aim of education should be to teach us rather how to think, than what to think.

An educational system isn't worth a great deal if it teaches young people how to make a living but doesn't teach them how to make a life.

1 comment:

Adrian Dragon said...

You’ll have my vote, 100%, if this is what you campaigned, as you ran for minister of education. The thing you said about the sports scholars not being able to tell you the meaning of quantum physics, I really don’t think many of us can, unless their taking up a degree in physics. But why should that be the case, I do believe, we as Malaysian, have lost our curiosity for the unknown, we’re not willing to learn something that we’re not told to. Due to our schools and parents, none of which ever pushed us to learn anything beyond what we needed to, to get by. Yes, they did a fine job getting us to remember a few lines here and there from our text books, just to fill it back in during an exam, but never to really understand anything. I swear within these past three years of leaving school, I’ve learn more then I ever did for the 17 years prior. I only hope we don’t make the same mistake with our children, let those little sponges absorb everything they can before its too late, before their 18 years old and slowly back tracking to Einstein’s theory of relativity, to completely understand String theory or to the early years of robotics to completely understand nano technology. I’ll finish of with a quote from Shakespeare, “Ignorance is the curse of God; knowledge is the wing wherewith we fly to heaven.”

Spread the good word Bods.

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