31 May 2009

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Wednesday May 27, 2009
Sports and studies do mix

Our children need to be assured that three A’s and a good sports record are more than fine; they are just what the country needs.

THE Education Minister announced recently that there will be a limit to the number of subjects students can take for their SPM. Well, it’s about time!

I have never understood how students can take 16 subjects and more. In my day, you didn’t actually need more than five subjects because your overall grade would be based on the aggregate of your top five subject grades.

Typically, we would take about eight subjects at most in order to have some leeway in our potential total. There was no reason to take more than that.

If someone got seven A’s, they were pretty much regarded geniuses. Today, there are people who get more than double what the geniuses of my time did. But are they doubly smart?

I spoke to officials at some private tertiary institutions and they confirmed what I have always feared: that students entering university, particularly those doing very technical subjects, had to do a lot of remedial work in their first year before they could really be considered up to par.

Their 15 A’s were simply not “real” A’s.

In my time, the students who got seven A’s were immediately offered scholarships to do matriculation in Australia, after which they went on to university there, mostly in the sciences or medicine.

I don’t hear of those types of offers to current students with multiple A’s. Perhaps, it is because often their English is just not up to the mark.

Or, perhaps, their A’s are not quite of the same standard as the fewer ones of old.

I often wonder why our media don’t do follow-up stories on our multiple-A students a few years later.

Would it be because there is really nothing to follow up, that they all fizzled out when it came to real studies?

I’m not saying that they did not work hard to get their A’s.

But perhaps, when getting as many A’s as possible became their sole goal in life, they could not thrive in higher education which demands less rote work and more actual thought.

So limiting the number of subjects a student can take would be the first step.

The next step would be to raise the standards of our education all round so that to even get one A would mean something much more than the current five or six A’s.

The other thing to do would be to provide space for our children to shine in ways other than the academic.

I am glad that the Education Minister has also said that we should improve the standard of sports in our schools. The low standards that we have today are, of course, related to our obsession with examination results.

How do we force our kids to get at least seven or eight A’s without stopping them from doing anything but study?

We have now created a culture where if you shone at sports, you’re not considered as smart as if you were a pale child tied to your desk and books.

Yet it is possible to combine both; indeed one complements the other, Nicol David being the best example.

If one does sports, one is simply fresher and healthier, and therefore more alert in class. We have to go back to the days when sports were compulsory.

At the same time we should stop the nonsense where we are more concerned about what our children wear to play sports than actually ensuring that they play well.

When we make our girls dress in uncomfortable clothes for sports, they are unlikely to find playing games very attractive.

Nor should we keep presenting sports to our girls as something unladylike.

If we are serious about training world-class athletes and sportspersons, we should equip them with the best training and equipment. Otherwise, let us just forget it.

Sports, as has been pointed out by others, have other benefits besides health and fitness.

One of them is the fact that they are able to create team spirit and unity in ways no amount of Rakan Muda activities can.

We root for an athlete because they are Malaysian, not because they are of any ethnic or religious subgroup. We are all collectively proud when one of our sportspeople does well overseas.

Sports are, and have always been, “one Malaysia”. I would venture that one of the reasons we have so much disunity is precisely because getting many A’s in exams is a solitary sport, not a team one.

It’s not too late to reverse the damage.

Just put our money where our mouth is and change our children’s mindset by telling them that three A’s and a good sports record are more than fine; they are just what the country needs.