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A’s galore – Is this for real?

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So many students these days obtain a string of A’s in public examinations. And yet, most people who were in school, say 50 years ago, can recall how difficult it was in those days to obtain an ‘A’ for any subject in the study syllabus, observes Inhindsight.

I heartily congratulated my nephew on the seven A’s he got in the 2009 SPM exams. All the family are happy that he can now launch himself into the world of higher education in pursuit of his ambition to become an electronics engineer. Yet, he doesn’t appear overly impressed with this apparently ‘shining’ success. He is glad but still finds an A1 in Add Maths rather unbelievable. Some of his friends share these feelings. My nephew and his friends are not the boastful sort and in a way, they may be rightly suspicious of such “cermerlang gemilang” results, as obtaining A’s in major school exams nowadays is becoming rather common.

Being self-critical is a virtue and sometimes students do better than they expect, but to what extent are your instincts usually correct? Most people who were in school, say 50 years ago, can recall how difficult it was in those days to obtain an ‘A’ for any subject in the study syllabus. Those who usually achieved that precious ‘A’ were considered academically outstanding students. Moreover, the pass mark out of 100% was exactly half i.e. 50%. To clear that 50% hurdle, to safely pass, one had to do a lot of brain exercise, especially for those subjects one was the weakest at and liked the least.

I remember getting up in the wee hours of the morning when all the family were asleep to ‘slog’ through my textbooks, maths exercises and essays. But it paid off somehow, when I managed to get through all the school exams, even if most of my successes were not considered ‘brilliant’. Study then, made more sense, as we were fairly examined on what we had been taught and marked more or less accordingly. There was still some sense of realism in the system.

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Several years later, after graduating from a foreign university, I returned to this beloved land to find my niece who was then in Form Five filling in blanks in workbooks for various subjects. This was the 1990s!

What on earth had happened to our mature and high standard education system where much more skill was expected of us? Was she in Form Five or primary school? It was unbelievable!

When my nephew and younger niece began primary school, their homework seemed incredibly complicated for primary school children. They had to do research when they could hardly spell or write a complete sentence and read a book without help from Mum, Dad or tuition teacher.

One day, a friend told me that her son’s Standard Four homework included a question on how to mend a broken marriage! What would the child do to reconcile her/his warring parents? What would a child of 10 know about marriage in the first place?

As I watched my nephew and niece progress through school, things got more and more amazing! There are even things such as set answers that one must give and no other answer, according to the marking system for English. It is possible to fail if you do not give the required set answer or if the person marking your work doesn’t like your answer, even if it may be correct.

For example, if one wrote, “She was twelve years of age” instead of “She was twelve years old” which was the preferred answer, it would be marked as wrong. What’s the difference?

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Perhaps, the difference lies in the fact that the person marking the work is not familiar with or sufficiently knowledgeable in English grammar or language.

There have been tales of secondary school students correcting the teacher’s grammar from their own general knowledge or based on what they had been taught at tuition classes. So who’s teaching whom?

The school world now seems to be a mad, mad upside-down world and gives students a false impression of their abilities; it is really short-changing them. Professional standards in this country will plummet and ‘glowing’ results will increasingly lose their value if they are so easily achievable.

Employers in some industries seem to have no real choice but to employ the best of those minimally capable amongst the incapable. This has a domino effect on the industry and its image. When customers in a hypermarket encounter difficulty in finding the goods they wish to purchase or if they want to know the duration of warranty for an electrical appliance, they do not expect to be ignored by shop-floor staff. It is embarrassing to the employer that their shop-floor staff and sales assistants know nothing of the products being sold or cannot understand what the customer is saying.

Worse still, when the staff try to avoid the customer to hide their ignorance or scold the customer for asking questions. This has happened to me in a well-known hypermarket as well as the post office. Trying to hide inadequacy does not cure it. It merely turns business away!

The lack of initiative and eagerness to learn – let alone the lack of courtesy or willingness to be helpful – amongst a majority of the younger generation is really appalling. Even at university level, standards seems to have been lowered so much that parents who can afford it prefer their children to take foreign degrees. For this reason, foreign education has become big business.

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Thank goodness for the ‘bad’ ol’ days of ‘slave-driving’ study. I can now appreciate how valuable they were. Overcoming the challenge of clearing the 50% hurdle was definitely worth it. I will ever be grateful to the wise teachers and examiners who were less inclined to award ‘A’s unless one did a brilliant job.

Please stop hoodwinking our children into thinking that hard work is unnecessary and that the easy way out is the one to take. Anything worth doing is never easy. 

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