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Studying to pass exams is also a common feature in other countries as well. The students take tuition geared towards passing their national exams, they study and practice everyday on a diet of past-year-exam Q&As study guides, and when the exam results are announced, their achievements are highlighted in the newspapers and celebrated by family and community. The top scorers will go on to study medicine, engineering and law while those who had sat for vocational exams like accounting get accepted for articleship in big accounting firms and elsewhere. |
For those who have achieved scholarstic excellence, it is just their final reward for all those long months of mental slogging focused on achieving the highest grades using time-tested techniques that reflect personal discipline.
Discipline and habitual focus are the key elements for them because they know it is at their age when teens would rather be doing something else other than sitting down and trying to memorize facts and figures in order to answer past-year exam questions in preparation for the most important exam in their lives - the college admission national exam - failing which the job-line of their careers which for most will determine the course of their lives ahead.
One may ask whether all this is the correct thing to continue encouraging in order to educate someone to achieve big things in today's society when technological disruption from creativity is becoming the in-thing to achieve big transformations besides earning vast wealth as one measure of personal achievement.
That may be so. By way of anecdotes, there is one country and three examples from yonder days: The pre-college A-Levels international exam comprised five subjects (number of papers examined): General Knowledge (1); Physics (3); Chemistry (3); Biology (3), and Mathematics (2). The paper scale was 1(best) - 9(fail). The candidate scored (numbers) in all the subject papers as follows: (1), (1,1,1), (1,1,1), (1,1,3), (1,1). So his subject grades were: A,A,A,A,A. When interviewed as the top scorer of the country (and possibly the world for that exam), he lamented on the '3'. He became a medical specialist in one field but has disappeared from the news. Then there was another medical student who had achieved the highest scores in all his five years of studies for medicine. He explained it was because he had referred to many books bought for him by his sister. Finally, there was also another top medical graduate. He abandoned his vocation but is now one of Asia's richest, wealth from running casinos.
The exams-focused system is all about efficiency. For the state, to have a widely recognized and accepted means of determining educational progress with view to national manpower planning. For the universities and/or the employer, to have a benchmark to rank the applicant. For the educators, to have a benchmark to assess how much the student has commanded what has been taught. And, for the student, to directionally passport the opening of his/her next rung to achieve.
What is desired for the precollege admissions exam is also in lower and smaller forms desired for the other exams leading to it on the assumption knowledge is accretive and to be tested by answering questions (or doing experiments, making things) of increasing difficulty and sophistication.
Perhaps one way to address the problem that exam-focus reduces creative-thinking is to look at the way exam questions are framed. In an example from above, one Physics question required knowledge of prismatic reflection and associating it with something else - "explain how the halo around the moon comes about" (5 marks). That's a question one could not find in the standard texts or even study guide. Using such small twists, the students will be forced to think for themselves how the examiner can frame the questions in a way which requires them to know how the facts will be creatively applied. (eg: https://www.jstor.org/bookseries/j.ctt4zdpv). In other words, make use of exams to force students to discipline themselves to think creatively. Then, instead of becoming demotivators to creative thinking, exams become motivators for solving puzzles yet requiring fundamental knowledge. And learning gets to be fun once again.
I personally remember one high point in an exam question. It was a chemical conversion of one complex molecule to another which required many steps. Somewhere in the middle of the process, one reached an intermediate molecule for which apparently no further progress could be made using any reagent that will lead to the final product. Then, suddenly a blinding lightbulb went off in the head. Eureka! cis-trans isomerism. The intermediate reconfigures itself to another kinetically more stable form which then can be changed to the final product using the appropriate reagent.
So, next. Bill Gates et al and da Vinci. All those disruptors are just first movers. Gates might have abandoned his Harvard studies but it was because he saw in his mind a new world of computing coming and he must have asked what was needed to own it. His answer was an operating system for personal computers. Likewise, Allison. He was just a salesman who happened to get a contract that required data to be streamlined. Hence, the oracle database. Or, Koum. He wanted to communicate with his mother in another country so he cowrote the codes for mobile IP telephony and we get whatsapp. Or Uber. It's just an algorithm to operationalize a franchise distribution applied to make a service easier and faster. Or, Bezos. He was a bank analyst who saw the exponential growth of the internet and envisioned an opportunity to be the e-intermediary for book-selling using electronic catalogs.
Whether they had read books or not before making it in life is not the question to answer. Instead, it's about visioning what can be improved that will make life and services easier for the masses, and being the first to take risks to actualize the vision. Of course, knowing what's involved and what to do are important otherwise the vision remains inside the head and not outside in the world. Furthermore, one can't always rely on asking others for all the answers. After all, if the vision is unique, they won't have all the answers. That's why reading books, journals, manuals and magazines can generate some of the ideas and information so as to know what is involved, what is to ask, and how to go about developing the big ideas. Read - don't burn - books.
And then, there's da Vinci. If he had been mathematically inclined, he could have become Italy's Newton before the latter was even born though not of Greece's Archimedes or Germany's Kepler. But he remained an artist and an engineering visionary only. His drawings presaging modern inventions were just artistic but detailed visions of objects. His one central feature was a curiosity about everything as reflected in the painstaking details he had rendered into his drawings, including that of the parts of the human body. He was super-observant about everything. Meaning he was sharply alert. In other words, lots of mental energy.
What is important to note is that he didn't have much formal education by way of books but he was tutored by other masters of arts while living in Florence, a city of only 70,000 at that time. Yet, after his renaissance-type emergence of visioning all sorts of modern possibilities, the surroundings flourished even more economically until more like him emerged. However, there was apparently a reversal later when social disparity caused some to overturn what was being achieved. Yesterday, the west started debating this after Goldin's Age Of Discovery (a book) was highlighted - whether marginalization from progress can destabilize the future unless more can participate in the progress.
And that's why knowledge, books, affordability, interaction, cooperation, development are all important for progress. Which can only start and be sustained by economic success first.
Sigh, i started this comment without knowing how it thus ends.