There is so much more to the world out there than just As. Go out and learn. Experience. Have the right attitude. The world is much bigger than that slip of paper with your results on it.
– Me, ‘A’ Is For Attitude, The Star (Malaysia), February 26th 2006
My First Person article has finally been published in today’s Sunday Star. It was originally a Letter to the Editor, but the Education department thought it’d work best as a standalone article with pictures, so after some coordination (and a one-week delay) it’s in the press.
I wrote that article mainly because I was completely ticked off at many of the letters coming in for the past month about As and results. Many were filled with misconceptions, melodrama, and stereotyping of people who do not place grades in such a top priority. Amongst the statements that really bothered me:
The only people who don’t care about As are rich.
Why? Because their families can buy them out of the education system? Because all rich people are inherently lazy? Having a lot of wealth also does not guarantee you of anything; you’ll still need to know how to manage your assets wisely. It’s like the As really; having it isn’t a golden ticket.
Admittedly many of the “cool” experiences do cost quite a substantial amount of money, but there are often scholarships and funding opportunities available, and if you’re willing and determined enough, you could find creative ways to support your dreams. There are alo many, many opportunities out there that aren’t extremely costly; I just returned from AWAM’s Writers for Women’s Rights workshop, 4 days of learning about the media and women’s issues with a group of interesting, lovely, energetic, passionate women – for free.
You need straight As to qualify for scholarships.
I mentioned this in the article: this isn’t necessarily true. Granted, many Malaysian scholarships do have this “grade factor”. However, that isn’t their only criteria. There’s also your own financial needs, your extra-curricular activities, whether you’re bonded to another scholarship (I always found this requirement a bit weird; Malaysia seems to be the only country I’ve seen with scholarships that prohibit you from any other forms of support…), what field you’d like to go in…and some others. In many other countries – USA especially – there is a higher emphasis placed on your personal accomplishments and skills – a mixed-grade student with a variety of experiences can, and does, win out over a straight-A student who does nothing else.
In the article, it sounded like I didn’t qualify for any scholarships because of my five As. That isn’t completely accurate; for me, it won’t have mattered how many As I’d get since I’d be automatically disqualified anyway – I’m merely a Permanent Resident, not a citizen; my parents aren’t in the poverty level; and there was absolutely nothing for arts or the media at the time. My sister was a straight-A student, top of the school (a premier school at that – that’s another argument for another day though), and wanted to go into the Sciences, but even that didn’t help her get Malaysian scholarships due to factors she couldn’t control.
The only people who don’t care about As are underachievers.
This really annoyed and offended me. Way to call me an “underachiever” after all the million things I did! Way to devalue the achievements of many other people in the country who may not have been straight-A scorers! I bet you’d think Albert Einstein was an underachiever too; after all, he didn’t do that well in school…
Look at all the people who get straight As in school – and then disapear into obscurity. The people who can’t get themselves into the school/job/scholarship of their dreams no matter how many As they get. The people who go through expensive college degrees – and can’t get a job. The people who think that because they have a clear transcript or a degree, everything will be presented to them on a golden platter – and then are surprised because, no, life doesn’t actually work that way. Who’s the underachiever here?
If I don’t get straight As, I have failed in life.
If missing out on one A could cause you to consider your life a “failure”, how will you cope with the bigger challenges in life? How would you cope with a retrenchment, a divorce, your house on fire, a loved one’s death? If just the lack of one A can scare you off, how would you fare with the rest of the scary, unknown life?
It’s this mentality that leads many students into mental trauma – or even suicide. So much importance and stress is placed on how many As one can get, and anything less is “undesirable”, a “failing”. Students end up thinking that this is the most important thing in their life, and when it doesn’t go their way, they panic. Absolutely no crisis management skills at all. Priorities are highly misplaced – and can have dangerous consequences.
Even if it doesn’t result in death or ill mental health, this over-emphasis on grades can negatively affect a person’s sense of confidence and resilience. Their entire life’s worth hinges on that elusive grade; not making the cut brings down their confidence level, which ends up in them being frozen and not sure of what else to do with their life. I’m seeing this now with my juniors: SPM results aren’t even out yet, and already they’re doubting themselves – what if I don’t do well? Can I actually pursue my dreams? What are my dreams? If there was a bigger emphasis on making it despite whatever life throws at you, they’d have no reason to doubt themselves; they’d be able to succeed no matter what.
I’ve had a few responses to this article from fellow bloggers. Phil writes about how the teachers, parents, government, and the media should be held responsible for the A craziness:
A child’s is not suppose to revolve around books, exams, tuitions and more homework – there are so much more out there for the child to experience that can never be fully explained or taught in books. Alas, many parents failed to realise this – to them, playtime is a waste of time which can be put into better use – studying.
So I made myself promise that if I had kids, I’d rather her/him (yes, I’ll be selfish and admit I want a daughter) I’d make her get A for being a kind person. I’d rather give her a treat for helping an elderly person cross the road than for a perfect test paper (On a side note, I once nearly got a perfect test paper in Std. 4). I would rather my daughter know right from wrong than for her to recite the values to me without understanding.
I disagree that As are super important for professional careers such as accountancy and medicine; they may help you get in, but they don’t guarantee that it would be a job done well – there’s still so much more, such as people skills, empathy, honesty, and others that never get graded and evaluated. However, the approach in rewarding human kindness is a good idea; perhaps one that can be further implemented by current and future parents, or even those who interact with kids very often.
The current system, with its super-emphasis on As in expense of all else, is highly myopic. Getting an A is not necessarily a reflection of intelligence or ingenuiety; rather, it’s more a reflection of memorization, rote learning, and playing by the restrictive rules. The system doesn’t adequately prepare one for real life, for creating your own opportunities, for being resillient and innovative and open to experiences. Insteads, it breeds a culture of entitlement – “oh, I got all As therefore I should get EVERYTHING” – and eventually disables people because they don’t know what else to do with themselves if the As aren’t there. It creates such a bubble, with students thinking that exams are a be-all and end-all of life, without considering what is going on with the rest of the world. (At least they can take an exam! So many people around the world can’t even go to school or get an education! They can’t even live long enough!)
Why so much pressure on As? Why highlight only the top scorers, and not “students with interesting achievements during the past year”? Why the myopia?
The world is so much bigger than just the tree where the paper of the results slip came from.
Links in Post:
- Sunday Star: ‘A’ Is For Attitude
- All Women’s Action Society (AWAM)
- The Reflections of Philip @ The Eternal Wanderer
- The Reflections of Philip @ The Eternal Wanderer: The Pursuit for As – An effort that is just not worth the trouble
- Broken Shield and Sword
- Broken Shield and Sword: A is important if you’re going to be a professional