– My Messy Desk, WSA, Auckland (21.05.08) –
I keep stumbling upon blogs of young Malaysian bloggers these past few days. Some are taking PMR and some SPM. Makes me feel a little bit nostalgic somehow; I remember my days of manual blogging in 2001 before using Greymatter in 2002-2004 and moving on to b2evolution, and finally wordpress and Joomla. But it’s not this recollection that hit me with this sense of nostalgia. It’s what I read in those young darlings’ blogs.
Aside from records of normal everyday occurences, it seems that most of them are talking about scrapping as many A’s as possible in exams. I remember how I was like that too when I was at that age. It’s not until I’ve left school that I actually reflected back on what I view education as – what I truly want from education, and from being educated.
Life of A Student and the Race for A’s
I thought back on why I wanted so much to get as many A’s as possible. How did I feel back then when I got 5A’s in UPSR? How did I feel back then when I got 8A’s in PMR? How did I feel when I got 8A’s in SPM? I remembered getting extremely upset with my SPM results. I felt like tearing the result slip, because it hurt to look at the B’s when I’ve worked myself sick for the exam. I got slightly envious of those who got straight A’s, and felt really, really low because it was the first major exam where I didn’t manage to scrap all A’s. And the B’s upset me because they were what I didn’t expect.
Now that I think about it, I couldn’t help but smile. Never mind if the smile is actually bitter or not. While chasing after the A’s, the grades and the rank, I was unconsciously falling into a dangerous trap. I didn’t realise that I was trying to please other people all along. I didn’t realise that getting the A’s was not really about personal gratification, but about feeding the expectations of society. At that time, maybe even now, some people’s view on what makes a student ‘good’ is his or her grade. Academic excellence comes before anything else, because it is what we can easily observe. It’s what the eyes can see. Like me, years before, I never really considered that they are actually many ways to define excellence and intelligence. As I grow up, portions of my thoughts mature with me.
I’ve come to learn that the nature of excellence and intelligence varies across cultures and society. What a particular society defines as ‘giftedness’ may not necessarily apply to another society. Imagine the uneasiness I feel when breaching the subject of education in Educational Psychology tutorial. We get to hear the views on education from students all over the world. Like in Japan, grades are everything for students. In New Zealand, the United States and a few other countries, skills and abilities matter the most in defining intelligence (particularly cognitive skills). So then, what is the definition of excellence and intelligence in Malaysian culture?
I ask myself now: For all the subjects that you got A’s or those that you worked so hard to get A’s for, do you still remember what they’re all about? If you got A for History, do you still remember all the historical facts you learned in History? If you got A for Math or Add-Math, do you still remember all the formulas? If you got A for Chemistry, do you still remember all those equations for chemical reactions? Chances are: “Probably” or “I don’t” would be the answer. I don’t think I could ever say “Absolutely!”. What might had taken me only 2 minutes to solve back then might take 30 minutes now. Some people might even straight away claim “I don’t remember anymore la~”
What tickles my brain at the moment is the fact that there’s still a race to get as many A’s as possible in education. Does it still mean anything if deep understanding is not achieved?
Life as a Teacher-trainee and Teachers
When I graduate as a teacher, what is it that I want my student to achieve? What do I have to emphasise in the classroom? Should I keep reminding them of how they should work hard to get an A for the subject I teach? Or do I remind them of how important it is for them to acquire the right skills and the right knowledge so that they can use it in the unseen future? Why do I get the feeling that I’d be told off by the school authority if I choose the latter?
Moving out of the topic of students and learners, I have other dilemmas weighing down on me too.
Why are teachers rated on the scale of how many of the students taught by them managed to get A’s in their subject disciplines? Why are schools rated on how many of their students get high results? Why provide teacher-trainees the motivation to ‘make a change for the better on the education policy’ when they’re going to be ripped off of their ‘freedom of speech’ once they are posted at schools? Why keep telling us that we’re the ‘agents of change’ if we’re going to be asked to ‘shut up’ later? Why pay us to study overseas if we aren’t allowed the opportunity to change what we were initially asked to change?
My seniors who had just had their graduation ceremony a few weeks ago are already teaching. However, it upsets me greatly that many of them were actually asked to teach subjects which are completely out of their subject discipline. I knew this scenario isn’t foreign in the past, but I had hoped it would change before our era. They were sent to study English, and how to teach English. This also applies to teacher-trainees of other programs – they were taught their respective subject disciplines and were supposed to teach within their subject disciplines. Within their expertise. So why, when it’s so blatantly obvious that there are shortages of teaching staff in a particular subject discipline, are they not assigned to the right ones?
I’m learning English, and I’ve lived in Kelantan all my life. If me asking to teach in Kelantan receives a reply sounding like “There’s no empty post” in the near future, then I would know how much of a nonsense that is. My old school was short on English teachers. The school my mother taught in was short on English teachers. Even the schools my elder brothers and sisters-in-law teach now are short on English teachers. So why pray tell are those who were trained to teach English stuck with teaching subjects they are not trained to?
I could get a headache out of all this. I even worry about writing a blog entry such as this – worry that I’m not allowed to voice all these out. Will I get some kind of penalty for this? God knows. Until later.