The obsession with As

It is exam and result proclamation time once again for primary and secondary school goers of Malaysia and whether or not the kids have cold feet, their folks are left with sweaty palms and sleepless nights should their children fail to get all As.

Getting straight As is now not only a matter of academic excellence, it has also become a matter of prestige and stature for parents. It is the licence to gloat and some parents go to extreme measures to ensure their children get an A now, A + in all the subjects listed for exam.

If a child gets 6 As and 1 B, the 6 As would be given to oblivion, the B, getting immense flak and rubbed in. I scored 4 As and 1 B in UPSR and my Mom called me an imbecile for not being able to score all As. It killed me, the word, 'imbecile'. I wouldn't have minded if my siblings called me that but my Mom is the most important person in my life. That word coming from her just ruined the equilibrium of my psyche. I still remember it to this day and the thought never ceased to make me feel so small and worthless. I remember crying myself to sleep months after that, when I was in Form 1 even though I was in the best class in the whole secondary school.

Parents drill their kids, send them to tuition, block all entertainment channnels on Astro, only allowing them to watch Tutor TV and disallow them to play with their friends, demanding them to study for hours on end.

I know parents mean well. They ensure that their exam undergoing kids have proper nutrition and the necessary exercises so that their children would be able to pass with flying colours. I now know my mother meant for me to take the word 'imbecile' and turn it around to 'capable' but the way she conveyed it is not right and as a 12 year old, I couldn't discern the interspersed message; I took it at face value and the way I saw it, the B stuck out like a sore thumb that I have no idea how to weed out. I'm using the word weed because that is how a score less than an A is perceived, a pesky weed that damages the landscape of perfection and everyone, from the kid, to his or her teacher and parents are terrifically terrified of the 'damned weed'. God forbid if a pernicious B gets it's stamp on the exam result certificate. I don't need to expound further if a score less than a B is obtained by the kid.

So, there it goes, children are made to practice on last year exam questions, predict questions that might come out in this year's exam paper, made to memorize formulas, historical chronology, scientific experiments like hell. Dedicated teachers would hold extra classes to go the extra mile in making sure their students get all flat scores. As much as I admire the dedication and the 'no stone left unturned' method of grounding by parents and teachers alike, all they successfully produce are what I give term as 'pre-programmed minds' whose worth is the amount of As they churn up.

These minds purge what has been 'programmed' into them on the exam sheets. Understanding and application of the knowledge acquired is minimal.

This status quo is such because of the exam orientated education system here, thus the obsession with As. It doesn't help when those who obtain straight As be made to stand in the mass media limelight and those who scored less, eschewed and even spurned.

I was a product of this system as well but I will say that I am not a victim of this system. I was not an ideal student, I was never a teacher's pet but I take my education very seriously and I am happy with where I am now.

Hitting the books only for studying for exams is not the correct way to nurture the ingenuity present in all of us. One mustn't read books only for exam; they should read to gain knowledge of everything under the sun. Supplementary reading material is imperative for the mind to enrich itself. How many kids these days know about the Bermuda Triangle, Easter Island, Don Quixote, Davy Crockett, Harriet Tubman, Theodore Roosevelt and many many more? Reading should be an idea of fun, not a chore.

I am not saying that it is okay for kids to fall back in studies. I'm only saying that the obsession with As is sordid. It puts tonnes of pressure on the youngsters' malleable shoulders and they will crumble under all that pressure.

Education is the only ticket out of neediness, deprivation and adversity but, education is not proof for intelligence. On that count, a student who scored all As in government exams cannot be confirmed as having higher IQ than a student that scored less As. Tertiary education system is downright different and students who memorize then purge the load on exam answer sheets will be like fish out of water in college and universities.

Learning is a lifelong process and to gauge intelligence based on how many As one is able to churn up is folly and inapplicable. While most won't turn up being like Bill Gates, Ambani and Steve Jobs, making it big without even a degree, doesn't mean scoring all As will ascertain an opulent life.

Parents, don't stuff your unattainable ambitions on your children and never compare your children's grades with their better scoring peers. It just sours their joy and soars their anger. Comparing will not do them any good; consolidating their confidence will take them places and it is worth much more than a string of As. Your children would appreciate it because it is the greatest gift any parent could ever give. My Dad gave the gift to me and I will be forever thankful to him.

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