Becoming birds of a feather: How our education system reinforces conformity

The Streaming of Form 4 students into Arts or Science to be abolished in secondary schools beginning January 2020

Rowena Sidhu

pic by BERNAMA

MALAYSIA is one step closer to being on par with 21st-century education systems globally with a recent announcement by Education Minister Dr Mazlee Malik that the streaming of Form Four students into Arts or Science would be abolished in secondary schools beginning January 2020.

This decision was made by virtue of allowing for a more integrated education system. Although this appears to be a step in the right direction in order to encourage diversity and individuality among students, it also highlights the major flaws of our current education system.

A good education serves the purpose of grooming students to be the most successful they can be. Teens such as, Anurudh Ganesan, who devised a way for doctors to transport vaccines without ice or electricity, or our very own 14 year-old Ariff Amir Ali, who invented devices to help curb child abuse and heat stroke have not only revolutionised the role of young adults in the innovative world, but have also proven that anything is possible if individuals embrace their creative side.

Kantian philosophy notes that the ultimate goal of education is to create a class of thinkers, whereby individuals do not content themselves with ready answers. In contrast, thinkers need freedom and have to think independently. Education, based on Kant’s philosophy, is closely related to an individual’s nature, wherein education must be taken under the discipline of the person’s nature, abilities and needs in order to develop their ethical and national side (Sorina & Griftsova, 2017).

In spite of Kant’s assertion, it appears that schools have yet to encourage diversity of thought among students. Our education system has inadvertently forced children to fit into the mould of an outdated system.

Many education systems around the world are based on the 19th-century Prussian model, through which children were taught to obey, and to not challenge or think creatively.

Although this model worked well in producing blue-collared workers in the 19th and 20th century, the world currently needs a revolution of creative thought, and the best way to inculcate this is for schools to promote creativity in the classroom.

Regrettably, conformity in schools persists and creativity among students is yet to be encouraged. This is noticed when students come under pressure to give the correct answer when asked a question in class.

Instead of teaching students how to form their own opinions, students are rewarded for having the right ideas. This has been detrimental in cultivating the minds of students as they not only become more cautious when contributing to class discussions, but ultimately become accustomed to think the same way.

Another way schools have reinforced conformity among students is by overemphasising the importance of Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) subjects as a way of ensuring academic excellence in schools.

Standardised testing has been a monumental part in our education system, where it has been used mainly to sort students into different study tracks based on their academic capabilities, with Science and Mathematics being a major part in this process. Students have been trained to excel in these tests in order to secure a spot in Science stream classes as opposed to being placed in the Arts stream.

The long-held belief is that weaker students are placed into Arts stream classes, while high-achieving students typically get into Science stream classes.

This proves problematic because when schools concentrate on a student’s performance instead of their ability to develop their own opinions and be original in their ideas, students lose sight of the real aim of education, which is to allow them to surpass the status quo, to challenge existing ideas and generate fresh ones.

Additionally, in their efforts to ensure they get the highest grades, students devote their time to memorise entire textbooks and regurgitating facts during their examinations.

Although this could ensure excellent grades in standardised tests, students would be unable to think beyond the education they receive in class. Furthermore, with almost all students focusing on STEM subjects, other equally important areas of studies, such as history, arts and practical skills are overlooked.

Nevertheless, instead of abolishing standardised testing altogether, less importance should be placed on it as well as on the significance of choosing STEM subjects in schools so that the stress and pressure of getting straight A’s in the UPSR (Primary School Achievement Test), PT3 (Form Three Assessment) and SPM (Malaysian Certificate of Education) examinations would be removed from the equation.

Consequently, students would be able to enjoy the learning experience, explore different areas of studies and to discover what truly interests them.

In his gripping TED Talk “Do Schools Kill Creativity”, Sir Ken Robinson asserts that schools have successfully educated people out of their creative capacities, and that mistakes are the worst thing a student can make. However, students should be encouraged to make mistakes and learn from them, to follow the path not taken, and to engage in creative behaviour.

A way forward would be for schools to embrace creativity as a part of learning. Schools should endorse the diverging opinions of students as opposed to being focused on rewarding students for having the right ideas.

Teachers can also encourage curiosity in classrooms by prompting students to express their opinions or ask questions during lessons in order to induce a more interactive learning experience. In addition, schools could initiate programmes that boost students’ creative capacities. Programmes such as invention challenges or in-school debate competitions could be initiated in order to push students out of their comfort zones and explore different ventures.

In conclusion, it appears that somewhere in the race to be the best and in the pursuit of meaningless certificates, diplomas and money, we have diminished our creative capacity and become just another cog in the machine.

Instead of pushing students towards jobs that have been taken over by artificial intelligence, we should holistically empower them towards becoming a class of thinkers in order Malaysia to thrive.

Rowena Sidhu is a research associate at Institute for Democracy and Economic Affairs. The views expressed are of the writer and do not necessarily reflect the newspaper owners or the editorial board.