Tuesday, September 6, 2011

School Is....

It takes only 2 days of school to trigger these.... This is a season of exams. Next week the Primary 6 kids will be facing their UPSR; 6 years of primary school culminating to this one exam which last for 3 days. After all the afternoons and weekends of extra classes. A good part of their childhood is sacrificed in this toil. From Std 3-6, they are forced by the demands to stay in the race to stay back for that extra push. UPSR will be followed by the soon-to-be abolished PMR and finally the SPM and STPM at the end of the year. Standardized exams all these are.

Good schools will remain good schools. Good students will continue to benefit from good schools. Normal (not so good) schools like mine? I think we are failing our students. I have a large number of SPM students who are quite lost. I am at a lost at how to make them pass. Their parents are at a lost too, some quite anguished by it.

Bored by school, pulled by peer pressure and distracted by the sophistication of this age, many are languishing and will not get the basic requirement for entry to diploma level courses; which by the way is just 4 credits or 4Cs. C used to be a C6. We have a very confusing grading system for our current SPM with A*, A+, A-, B+, B, C+, C, D, E, F. STPM also has the same labyrinth of grading system. Sometimes I wonder whether this confusing grading system was slapped together to fool ourselves; compromising quality while duping ourselves into believing we have the quantity of quality that is not there.

School is a business. The chase for grades has caused everyone of us to sacrifice the love for learning in exchange for grades. The aim of education is no longer to ensure that kids leave school with an attitude of lifelong learning in place. It's the A(s) that's most important. I find myself chasing my girl to complete her homework so that I can do other stuff with her but by the time she is done, she is already tired. I find my girl not wanting to think. She only wants to complete her work; the easiest and fastest way so that she can read her story books. I find myself looking at my friends and relatives who are brave enough to go their own; homeschooling. And I find their kids seemingly having those things that I wish my girl would have.

So we produce many straight or near-straight A kids who on paper convey an impression of a kid reeking with those qualities we think they have. Then we are told that many of these kids seemingly fail to meet the demands of the real world which require problem solving skills, tenacity and perseverance on their own. Many of our kids go through our education system being dumbed down in the sense that they lose their ability to think. Realizing that recently, we started our girl on problem solving skills and to our horror, discovered that she preferred not to be challenged by 'difficult' tasks. If anything, I also noticed that the amount of rote learning that takes place at school is beginning to leave effects which I'd rather she not have.

Education, being centralized has become a right for every kid in Malaysia but the individual's needs and abilities don't carry much weight in its execution. And education is also in a very exciting phase currently with ICT enabling it to scale heights unimaginable before. But we have a system that treats everyone the same (supposedly), the one shoe size fits all.... but we also have our very own select system at work too. We claim that we have remedial steps included for those kids who need it but more often than never, these measures fail.

We also sacrifice character building for the grades. In the chase for those A(s), we develop tunnel vision. We forget that kids also need to be shaped to be resilient, focussed and have self-control but we sell that for the other. We go for results but not the effort. Effort becomes secondary to grades.

Being centralized too means great business opportunities. But despite all the hard work that we've to put into getting the strings of A(s), I've realized too how easy it is to gain entry to university. Now everyone can get a university degree. But very often I find myself wondering too whether everyone is cut out for that, the degree. Education answers the market needs. Almost RM30 billion was forked out for our MOE in last year's budget. It's a massive amount of money and I would imagine the massive amount of good that it has supposedly achieved.

Standardized curriculum with a standardized exam. Who actually benefits most? It's supposed to be the students but sometimes I wonder whether it's those who are involved in the creation and administration who benefit more. The recent SAPS under the NKRA for example. It felt like an ad-hoc measure. I find myself keying in marks twice into the 'national system' online. Why wasn't there any thoughts about streamlining both systems? But what I think of is those hired to get the website going. This contract must have been worth quite a bit.

We get sucked into this endless consumerist hole too. Education also economy. And since it is the ticket to a better future, everyone has not much choice but to jump in. Prep and extra classes, tuitions, all in the effort to boost the grades in a standardized exam. Whether one is ready or not, once you hit 17, you sit for the exam. Never mind foo if the kid did not sit for his PMR or can't even read or write properly. They sit for their SPM when their time is up in secondary school. Is it a wonder that many of our kids are totally bored and get snuffed out in school by their boredom? As for those who are able to cope and come from financially stable families, minima, grades, no attitude, still a degree in hand.

We need flexibility and freedom to address each kid's needs and ability but sadly that is not quite available. We need parents to be more involved in their children's learning but the chase for grades but the hectic demands of life make it quite difficult. Parents are missing out opportunities to teach their children critical thinking skills because they have so little time.

Is a government able to do a good job at educating a child? I am not sure. We need policies but the policy makers at Federal level are too detached from the ground. Education should probably be decentralized somewhat. I noticed that my friends' kids who are home schooled seem to have a rather balanced and happy childhood. They are generally more inquisitive and creative too. Perhaps if parents can see this and with some help from the system, we'd be better at producing creative and thinking individuals.

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