The fuss over scoring straight As

Lo Sin Yee

23 Jun 2019, 2:12 am

Updated a year ago


LETTER | I get annoyed whenever this question is hurled my way: "How many A students can you produce?"

If I reply "An A is not the be-all and end-all in life," he or she would surely say “Oh, that means you are doubtful about your ability."

It has been a long-held belief that teachers producing the most number of A achievers are truly competent, while those unable to do so are treated with disdain. 

At some schools, from time to time, a more capable teaching force replaces the less capable to ensure better grades in the UPSR, PT3, SPM and STPM.

Why has getting more As become all the rage nowadays? 

Granted, a school with more high achievers can elevate its status, but the practice of reshuffling teaching staff for better results can impact on education in a negative way, as evident in the frenzied worship of success, and the stigmatisation of 'lesser' achievements. 

One question arises. Can those As vouch for moral integrity? In the pursuit of excellence, are we any different from the Spartans in the past, who only kept healthy babies as warriors and left those with defects to uncertain fates in the wild?

Face the facts – a teacher’s ultimate goal is not gearing his or her students towards getting an A, for not every student is capable of shining academically. 

If you score only an F for your favourite subject, it is unfair to label all of your efforts as ‘insufficient’ or ‘unsuccessful’. There is still a wider world of opportunities beckoning for you in the future. 

A lecturer once reminded me that learning is infinite, and that nothing can spell its doom even after a most devastating failure. We are highly adaptable and hardy, and likening success to a single letter grade is sheer narrow-mindedness.

When Naimah was doing a TESL course at university, her SPM English grade – a C3, easily made her susceptible to contempt among her coursemates, who mostly scored A1s. 

While others only read the synopses of assigned novels, she devoured words from cover to cover. Additionally, reflection-writing was a daily habit she could not part with. 

Over time, she made huge progress, and ended up as one of the top students in her class. 

 But on Naimah’s first day as a trained teacher, despite her proficient speaking and writing skills, a senior assistant poked fun at her SPM grade in a meeting.

Several years later, Naimah decided to pursue a correspondence Master's degree with an Australian university. To qualify for it she had to register for IELTS. 

Her eventual grade, 8.5, proved that she was an advanced user of the English language. But still, to this day, she has time and again been reminded of her SPM grade.

She knows not to be disheartened. On weekends, she conducts free extra classes for below average students. She also shares with them the nobleness of every learning process, and how success can come in different forms.

Ben was weak in additional mathematics, and his principal was sure he stood no chance of passing the subject in SPM. 

Not wishing to jeopardise the school's overall passes, he called up the boy’s parents, convincing them that he was no material for additional mathematics, and that he should drop the subject. 

Ben put his foot down, not wanting to give in. To discourage him, the principal purposely got him to clean the toilet every day, and even summoned him to the office, scolding him for being blind to his limits. 

Even a day before the SPM, the principal grilled him with insults, trying to dissuade him. Blessed with a cheerful disposition, the boy did not let the pressure get to him. 

He revised with the same attitude, and after the exam, he left the hall and saw the principal, standing with his arms crossed and a sneer on his face. Ben was unfazed and threw the principal a confident smile. Fate was on the boy’s side. 

He passed the subject with a rather decent credit.

"I did not specifically double my effort because of the principal,” Ben said. "But buying into what others are saying about my inability is not a personality attribute of mine."

The above situations constitute concrete proof that those with lower grades can also achieve success. 

It’s only a matter of time. With dedication and hard work, anyone can defy prejudices. 

That explains why being the best or the worst is only a notion. The standards of excellence are always changing, and what makes us stand tall in society is a positive mindset that takes whatever comes our way in stride.

To make it clear, I am not saying that getting an A is not important. The thing is, we should not use it to define life. 

Let every teaching and learning process speak for itself. We are cut out for much better things. Don’t let exam grades become the only metric of success.

The views expressed here are those of the author/contributor and do not necessarily represent the views of Malaysiakini.

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