Never-ending chase for better grades

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.

by P. Gunasegaram.

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