Let’s start painting on the canvas of life

Let’s start painting on the canvas of life

By: Assoc. Prof. Ir. Dr. Nahrizul Adib Kadri

I did not get straight As in my SPM 30-odd years ago. But I think I am OK. In fact, by many standards, including Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, I am doing more than okay.

However, as I reflect on the recent celebration of students who achieved straight As in this year’s SPM results (to the tune of more than 10,000 students, but actually only made up about 2 percent of the cohort), I can’t help but feel that we are missing an important point. More often than not, these students are unfairly judged solely based on their exam results.

It is disheartening to witness how we, at times, determines their entire future based on these grades alone. These young individuals are, after all, just a group of teenagers navigating their way through life. Yet, somehow, their entire worth and potential seem to have been fixed solely on these academic achievements. Those who obtained straight As are hailed as ‘worthy’ of a promising future, while their peers who may not have been as fortunate are unfairly labelled as destined for a less prosperous path.

While it is commendable to acknowledge and appreciate the hard work and achievements of those high-scoring ones, we must not overlook the vast majority of students who may not have attained straight As but possess their own unique talents, skills, and potential.

According to Professor Ir. Dr. Ramesh Singh, Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Academic and International) of Universiti Tenaga Nasional (UNITEN), education is a multifaceted journey. “Success should not be reduced to the grades obtained in a single examination. In our diverse society, individuals possess a wide range of strengths, passions, and ambitions. It is crucial that we broaden our perspective beyond the celebration of top academic performers. Solely focusing on their achievements sends a message that only their accomplishments are worthy of recognition, unintentionally deeming others as inadequate or unworthy.

“According to a 1997 study conducted by the National Dropout Prevention Center in the United States, students who are engaged in extracurricular activities, such as sports, arts, or vocational skills, are not just more likely to stay in school, but also exhibit higher levels of motivation and experience overall well-being. Yet, these achievements often go unnoticed and undervalued in our current education system, limiting the potential for students to explore and excel in their individual areas of interest.

“In addition to reducing the value of non-academic pursuits, the emphasis on straight As can contribute to an unhealthy and intense educational environment. The consequences of this intense focus on academic performance are far-reaching.

“When the pursuit of top grades becomes the primary goal, students may adopt a narrow approach centred on rote memorisation; thus compromising critical thinking, creativity, and innovation. These essential skills are vital for their future success in a rapidly changing, VUCA world. Neglecting the holistic development of students by solely valuing academic performance inhibits the cultivation of social skills, emotional intelligence, and resilience—qualities that are equally necessary for their personal and professional growth.

“To address these challenges, it is important that we shift the educational paradigm towards recognising and celebrating the diverse talents and achievements of all students. By incorporating a broader range of indicators, such as leadership abilities, community service, problem-solving skills, and artistic talents, we can create an inclusive environment that values the multifaceted nature of success. This approach will not only allow students to explore their passions and potentials; but also promote a healthier, more balanced educational experience that nurtures their overall well-being,” he explained.

I could not agree more.

Instead of only celebrating straight As, let us embrace a more inclusive and balanced approach to acknowledging student achievements. Recognising students who demonstrated leadership, teamwork, community service, or innovation, encourages a well-rounded education that prepares them for the complex demands of the real world. In fact, we should even celebrate little successes too, like obtaining a pass in Sejarah (a compulsory subject now, unlike 30-odd years ago) for a student that repeatedly failed the subject since Form 4, for example.

It is high time that we shift our perspective and redefine success beyond the confines of academic grades. I believe a more constructive perspective would be to encourage these students (still teenagers, actually) to view life as a vast canvas filled with boundless opportunities. It is up to them to determine how they want to paint it, and the true measure of their success lies in the sense of fulfilment they derive from their journey.

Rather than burdening them with queries on how well they did in their SPM, perhaps we should pose it slightly differently: “Let us paint your canvas together, shall we?”

And this SPM result is only just a spatter of colour at one edge of the canvas.

The author is the Director of Corporate Communications Centre, Universiti Malaya, and may be reached at [email protected]

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