Friday 28 September 2012


The price of academic success is often high. Often a string of A’s is achieved at the expense of creativity, independent thought and the acquisition of soft skills.

One of the distinctive features of Malaysian schools is that students are programmed to score as many A’s as possible in a highly exam-oriented education system. Now distinctions are not bad in themselves. They help to distinguish the cream from the mediocre.

But the pursuit of this type of academic excellence has its drawbacks. It does little to nurture creativity, originality or independent thought. Students aim to churn out as many A’s as possible so that they are eligible for scholarships and can enter the best universities.

That’s why we have this prevalent “copy and paste” syndrome. When it comes to writing essays, assignments or reports, students resort to plagiarism. This culture perpetuates itself even when they enter the workforce.

Of course, there are a few bright stars who, by reason of effort or self-interest, work towards enhancing their own creativity at an early age. Often they come from English-speaking homes where the parents and siblings help to create an environment conducive for creativity to thrive.

Such families usually start their kids young. The parents’ aim, however, is not to push them to join the rat race. By providing them with a well-stocked library of books — from fiction to factual, from secular to religious — and by gentle coaxing, these children spontaneously develop a love for reading. They seek knowledge because they want to learn, not just because they want to score as many A’s as possible.

Education is not just about scoring A’s. Some top scorers cannot make informed decisions, cannot think critically or creatively, while others are unable to tackle real-life problems or relate to others.

And, later, when they are supposed to start working, employers lament that they cannot be absorbed because they lack soft skills — such as the ability to communicate in good English and the capacity to work as a team.

Could all these weaknesses be the result of conditioning by an examination-oriented culture that encourages cramming and rote-learning?

Mark Twain penned: “You can’t let school interfere with your education”. Often, schools don’t engage the young enough. Students don’t feel they’re active participants in the real world.

Do our schools adequately prepare the young for the world out there? How well prepared are they to join the nation’s workforce? Can they hit the road running?



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