Hopes for 2007

In about a week’s time 2006 will end and 2007 will take over. Hopefully, it will bring along some changes when it comes to youth and education. Among the changes I’d like to see:

1.People losing their obsession with grades and degrees – this obsession is starting to get really, really scary. People are in despair and depression, feeling lost and lonely, even nearly killing themselves – mainly because they feel they haven’t fulfilled society’s expectations of getting straight As and entering a prestigious university on a full scholarship. This is dangerous.

Instead of treating students like grade cattle, let’s see them as human beings – with their own interests, personalities, and temperaments – and actually look out for their welfare, not just their study skills. The cap on the number of SPM papers taken per student should help somewhat (so now there isn’t as much a competition over “how many As you have”) but let’s expand that to degrees and scholarships too.

2. People losing the entitlement complex, especially with scholarships – believe me, I know it’s hard not earning a scholarship when you feel you deserve one. I’m racking my head trying to find one I qualify for. However, as written here before, the “I-have-straight-As-therefore-I-MUST-get-a-scholarship” mentality is really getting tiring. There aren’t enough scholarships for everyone with straight As to go around, and besides, there is more to it than just grades. The same thing goes with universities and jobs too – just because you have certain characteristics doesn’t mean you’ll automatically get a place in a “top university” or get a high-paying job straight off the bat.

Life requires effort. Whether that’s hard work, or smart work, depends. But things don’t just fall into your lap (unless you’re very lucky!!) – whining about it would not get you anywhere. Make an effort!

3. People being less status-conscious – a lot of issues related to the current education system can be boiled down to one word: status. Sure, it’s not a bad idea to want to go to the best university, earn the best degree, get the bes job – but are you looking for the best for you, or just what other people think is “the best”? Do you want to take Science or Medicine because you enjoy it, or because it’s got the reputation of being a “good subject”? Are you applying to Harvard because it’s what you want in a school, or because you want the “glamour” of the name? Do you want to be a CEO of a Fortune 500 company because you’re dedicated to the career path, or because it gives you status?

As Denise Clark Pope, Stanford lecturer and author of Doing School: How We’re Creating A Generation of Stressed-Out, Materialistic, and Miseducated Students notes, college (and many other things) is a match, not a trophy. Rankings and ratings don’t really matter – different methods suit different people, and what may be considered the “best in the world” wouldn’t be the best for you. (Harvard isn’t the be-all and end-all of university!) Look for the best, for you – not because you want to impress someone.

4. Different interests and ventures are encouraged and supported – right now, in Malaysia, there seems to be a few templates of “the perfect youth”. To be supported and encouraged, you’ll need to be:

  • Top of the class, taking Biology, Physics, and Chemistry, gaining a million As and earning a scholarship to an Ivy or to Oxbridge to do Medicine
  • Attractive, trendy, doing something related to music or fashion or design – which then gets you extra attention from companies like Levi’s (Ok, so I’m slightly bitter.)
  • A sports wunderkind that can outplay everyone in the Olympics, Commonweath Games and the Guinness World Records

While well-meaning, this leaves out many other youths that are doing worthy things but may not fit the scientific/trendy/sporty mould. What happened to Rakan Muda? Why is our nearest thing to a “youth grant” reality TV show? Why won’t the Government speak up for youths that may not be the typical “straight A” student but have made a life for themselves?

What we need is more support – whether from the Government, or the media, from schools, or from the public. Lives take on all forms, and we should respect and support the dreams of our youth, even if they’re atypical.

5. More options are made available for learning in all forms – one of the big issues hindering Malaysians from looking up alternative education is that many of the resources are not available to them. Many good opportunities (educational, professional, or financial) are limited to people of a certain country or nationality; even those that are open to all may be out of their reach (usually due to a lack of money or time). Yet there isn’t enough incentive given to these otherwise-interested people to pursue such interests.

More options and opportunities should be opened up – for example, providing more scholarships to subjects outside of science or medicine, or accepting university credit for out-of-the-box ventures. A lot of opportunities (such as being the Malaysian Youth delegate to the United Nations) seem to be word-of-mouth only; why not promote them to more people through wider means, such as the media? Why keep it a secret? Let’s also provide more financial support for those who do want to pursue such opportunities but may not have the means to do so.

6. Those who actually do want to go to school can go to school – for all the talk about how students must go to school lest they get their parents jailed, the Government sure isn’t making this easy for them. Many children and youths aren’t able to go to school – whether due to lack of money, having to support their family, or just not being able to pass bureaucratic hurdles (such as this case of a 7-year-old who can’t get to school due to her lack of citizenship). Then there are the schools themselves – either they’re far away, or are lacking in resources, or just aren’t ideal learning environments.

If you want people to go to school, make it worth their time! Provide funding for families in poverty so that their children can go to school instead of having to work for support. Heck, take a closer look at why poverty happens to begin with, instead of just slapping on a Band-Aid and ignoring the bigger problem. Provide more funding to schools so that they have adequate resources, facilities, and infrastructure – all this money on skyscrapers and megaprojects could help so many schools to function better. And take a close look at the current curriculum: does it promote learning, analysis, creativity, understanding? Or is it just a matter of rote memorization and test-taking?

7. Education becomes more holistic – right now, the focus of traditional education seems to be more on getting top grades and getting a job. The whole purpose of education is not at all celebrated. Instead, it becomes more about fitting a mould and following orders. Even the method of teaching is skewed – it’s less about appreciating the subject matter and more about cramming in enough information to pass a test.

Education is about learning and living. It’s about examining and exploring; interacting with yourself, others, the world; creating and imagining; implementing and taking action. It’s so much more than a paycheck or a grade slip. It’s about taking in what the world has to offer, processing it all, and giving back. Let’s go back to what education is truly about.

What are your hopes for education in 2007? Happy holidays everyone!

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One Response

  1. I agree with everything you’ve said in your article. It’s frustrating that educational instutions nowadays are so concerned with getting students to cram the necessary facts ad formulae and leave no room for us to formulate our own ideas, argue original opinions, enhance our knowledge further and fully appreciate what we’re learning. And this obsession with top grades and top jobs, status e.t.c. drives me nuts. Society has forgotten the definition of education.

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