Malaysia – Exam-Oriented Nation?

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What’s in an A?

GETTING all As in public examinations is a national obsession. Parents push their children hard to score all As, as do teachers and schools. Is a string of As a guarantee to a good future?

Top scorers in past examinations say no. Some have landed good jobs but they stress that hard work, street smarts, and interpersonal skills are more important than a perfect score.

And not all top scorers end up in jobs typically expected of high-achieving students — they do not become doctors, academicians or accountants, for example.

Francis Xavier Jacob, 56, was the top student in his school in 1970.

The student of Sekolah Menengah Sultan Yusof in Batu Gajah, Perak, obtained 6As in the Malaysian Certificate of Education.

“I took eight subjects and obtained As for six. Back then, this was a great achievement as people were not obsessed with As. Nowadays, a similar result might be thought not good enough.

“But, frankly, in the working world, it does not matter how many As you obtain as a student. Yes, it does provide the initial confidence for you to further your studies but it is by no means the only factor in determining a good future.

“To be successful in life, you need to have skills, be it technical, interpersonal or communication skills. People who have such skills do better in life.”

Jacob, who pursued a degree in engineering, says many of his school-mates who were average performers in school are doing well in the working world.

“Some of them are now holding high-ranking posts in organisations and earning much more than me.”

As the director of energy management at Energy Commission Malaysia, Jacob says when he conducts job interviews, he seeks out candidates with a good record in extracurricular activities.

“A person who obtained all As is not necessarily a good candidate for the job. Most of the time, a person with minimal qualifications and a good track record in extracurricular activities would be a better choice.

“Generally, most employers also look for such candidates as well as those who can communicate well.”

Jacob says he does not pressure his children to score all As.

“My daughter recently obtained 12As in the Sijil Pelajaran Malaysia examination. I was happy but I told her to focus on developing skills that could help her scale heights in life.”

Jennifer Choo, 35, the editor of an architectural and interior design magazine, agrees that obtaining straight As is not the be-all and end-all of life.

She scored 9As in the 1992 Sijil Pelajaran Malaysia and went on to pursue a degree in law. She says life skills are much more crucial.

“Obtaining As is not a ticket to a successful life. While it gives you a head start, how well you do at work and in life depends on life skills.

“You need to be hardworking, learn to communicate effectively, and have people skills. This will take you a long way in life, not the As obtained in school,” says Choo, a member of high IQ (intelligence quotient) society Mensa.

Although her area of interest had always been in the history of arts and literature, she pursued law.

“My parents did not think studying arts and literature would provide for a good future. And although I did well in science and mathematics in school, I was never inclined towards these fields. So studying to become a doctor, engineer or accountant was not something I was interested in.

“I pursued law to obtain a professional degree.”

Siti Farzana Md Khalili, 34, got 6As in the 1993 SPM. She, however, did not go for the jobs normally associated with high-achieving students. She became a musician after completing a degree in music.

She says parents need to understand their children’s area of interest.

“I was lucky in that sense. My parents encouraged me to pursue music, a field I was interested in since young. I have no regrets. I am doing well now and the best part is I enjoy my work.”

Siti Farzana says good results can never guarantee the good life. What is more important is to work hard and cultivate a positive attitude.

“It helps to have good grades but, more importantly, you must know what you want and not let others influence your decision.”

No string of As? No problem….

MARDIANA Abdul Rahim was, in her own words, an “average” student in school.

The 31-year-old, however, now earns five figures a month, and lives a comfortable life with her husband and two children.

She is a successful wedding planner, running her own business providing services for Malay weddings.

With a monthly income of almost RM20,000, the two As she got when she sat the Sijil Pelajaran Malaysia examination in 1995 is furthest from her mind.

“Throughout school, I was an average student. My main interest was in art and Malay language. I got As for both subjects in the SPM.

“After school, I decided to take up tailoring. My mother was a tailor and I wanted to help her.

Mardiana Abdul Rahim says picking up a skill will see a person through life.
Mardiana Abdul Rahim says picking up a skill will see a person through life.

“Then I chanced upon an opportunity to take over a wedding services business and have not looked back since.”

She says one should pursue his or her area of interest and pick up skills to be successful in life.

“Education is important, but if you do not get all As in the examination it does not mean you will be a failure in life. You should just pick up a skill.”

Jason Loh, 28 who sat for his SPM in 1998, only got an ‘A’ for English but this did not dishearten him.

Loh, who had an interest in computers from a young age, went on to pursue a diploma in business and computer science. Today, he is the proud owner of two computer game outlets in Kuala Lumpur.

His business specialises in console games like Xbox-360, PS3 and Nintendo.

“People always equate success to having achieved good grades in school. I am not saying that it is not important. Good grades are essential but, more importantly, we need to develop ourselves in the field we are interested in and work hard to make it work.

“We must always be prepared to learn new skills, adapt when necessary and learn to manage time and people well. These are key ingredients to being successful in life,” says Loh.

Chia Pei Yee, 27, obtained 6As in her SPM examination in 2000. Wanting to pursue a career in dentistry, she went on to sit for the Sijil Tinggi Persekolahan Malaysia examination.

However, her results were not up to scratch. So Chia decided to turn her interest in beauty and health into a business. She now runs a beauty salon and three health juice bars.

“My aunty is a beautician and I used to help her. I picked up some knowledge and then decided to pursue courses in beauty. I went on to obtain a diploma in this line.

“I had also helped my family to run a small business from young. I guess this is when I picked up the knowledge to manage a business.”

In 2005, after pursuing several courses, she opened a beauty salon and after a year expanded her business to offer her customers more beauty treatment services.

Now, she also has her own range of skincare products which is not only used in her salon but also distributed to other salons.

Last year, Chia opened the three juice bars She says the right attitude and hard work got her to where she is today.

“I believe one must have the right attitude and the willingness to work hard.

“Once established, you also must learn to work smart and continuously improve yourself.

“Learning is a life-long process. To be successful, you must be willing to constantly upgrade your knowledge and skills.”

Everyone is smart in their own way

MEASURING intelligence with IQ tests is the norm in educational systems worldwide.

While there is nothing wrong with that, the labelling that comes with passing or failing the tests is a problem. It tends to elevate the “more intelligent” from the “less intelligent”.

Sharmila Sivalingam, a professional trainer, says this has fostered a belief that the “more intelligent” are better at “surviving”.

This belief has been challenged by Howard Gardner, a professor of cognition and education at the Harvard Graduate School of Education.

Gardner introduced the Multiple Intelligences (MI) theory that a person might have eight types of intelligences.

“Under MI, everyone is intelligent. What makes us different from another person is how we are intelligent. So instead of asking, ‘Are you intelligent?’, we should ask, ‘How are you intelligent?’,” says Sharmila.

Sharmila Sivalingam says it is important for parents and teachers to understand the MI concept.
Sharmila Sivalingam says it is important for parents and teachers to understand the MI concept.

“Sometimes, we will come across people who demonstrate superior abilities in one type of intelligence. Geniuses might not necessarily display an exceptional IQ score.

“Instead, they are extremely specialised in one type of intelligence, but show significantly low abilities in all other intelligences. For example, the early 20th century piano prodigy Erwin Nyiregyhazi could not even tie his shoe laces when he was 21.”

She says it is important to understand the MI concept.

“If a child comes home with 40 per cent marks in her Science exam, we tend to ask: ‘Why only 40 per cent and not 90 per cent like her classmate? Why is she so bad in a subject her brother excelled in?’

“If we stop the judging and instead looked at her as an individual, we will start asking helpful questions: ‘Why 40 per cent and not the 100 per cent she is capable of achieving? What is it about the subject that is losing her? How is she in her other subjects, what can I do to help?’

“If your child has high interpersonal intelligence, group studies might help her. If she possesses high musical intelligence, music might help her perform better. Help her by adapting.”

Source: NST Online

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