Saturday, October 10, 2009

When 100% is not enough

If we accept the theory of evolution as true, then S'poreans deserve to be the first species to go extinct.

Look at the fuss and furore over this year's PSLE math paper. Kids are crying, and parents of kids who are crying are "up in arms" and threatening to storm Castle FrankenMOE with torches and pitchforks. What monstrosity has arisen out of the beleaguered castle this time? Only the hideous spectre of an exam that was difficult to score 100% in.

And why do I assess the local citizenry to be deserving of extinction? It's because we've proven yet again (as we did two years ago) that we're too easily satisfied, too complacent in thinking that 100% = everything. That kind of thinking is what's going to kill us all.

There are certain assumptions that go with a score of 100% in a written exam. 1) It means having studied all there is to learn of the subject. 2) It means all conditions played out to one's best advantage in order for every problem to be solved within the time limit.

The first assumption cannot be true because knowledge is too infinite to confine within the limited scope of a curriculum of study. 100% therefore means we're satisfied with what we know, and there's nothing more to learn.

As for the second assumption, perfect results means perfect conditions, and perfect conditions seldom occur in real life. In truth, perfect conditions usually occur when we lower the bar of our expectations and accept fudged standards as "good enough".

Always gunning for 100% is dangerously closed-minded, especially for kids aspiring to pursue further education in Math and the Sciences. 100% is good enough for lab techs and test-tube washers (do what you're told -- get 100% every time!), but unacceptable to leading edge researchers who are constantly working to devise new methods to learn more about our universe. Trial and Error. The journey, not the destination.

We cannot afford to breed a generation of children who think 100% is an end in itself. Going by their response, parents aren't helping here. This fixation is a mental rot that will translate into their children's lives, making them unable to cope with the need to think and read beyond their curriculum, the need to sometimes reach beyond our perceptions of "necessary" and "possible" in order to create and maintain this "knowledge economy" we are struggling to remake ourselves into.

It's not the kids who aren't scoring 100% anyway that I'm worried about, but the ones that are and are now viewing themselves as failures because for them only 100% will do. Unfortunately, they're to ones who represent our best and brightest, and if their minds remain trapped in the 100% box, I shudder for the rest of us who will fall under their leadership one day. Most likely, it'll be their parents who will be making their decisions and wiping their noses for them at the same time. A recipe for disaster, if I ever saw one.

Please, don't be content with a hundred per cent. Rather, score below and work for mo' (or MOE! Heh.)

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