By SAW JHUE VERN and DANIEL SUBRAMANIAM
ROSHAN Agilent didn’t score straight As for his Sijil Pelajaran Malaysia (SPM) examination, and he was thoroughly shattered even though his lowest grade was B.
“When I found out about my results, I couldn’t even look at the slip. All I did was walk away. Even though my family and friends told me that my results weren’t that bad, I just wouldn’t accept it.
“However, after a couple of days, my friends made me realise that it’s not the end and life does go on,” said Roshan who had always aimed to score straight As. He is no longer so upset, but he would still rather not reveal his results.
Ten days ago, many students who collected their SPM results went through some variation of Roshan’s despair. Some failed, some didn’t score as many As as they had expected, and some straight A scorers were disappointed they didn’t get all A+.
Most got over their disappointment, and moved on. But there were also teenagers who could only imagine a bleak future.
E. Prem Kumar, 18, took his own life last week by consuming poison hours after he found out he had failed several subjects in his SPM examination.
In the past seven years, there have been at least four reported cases of students committing suicide after taking their SPM results. There have also been other cases of young people who committed suicide due to exam pressure before they even sat for the SPM.
The vital pass
For many Malaysian students, SPM marks the end of their secondary schooling and the beginning of their passage to adulthood or even the future. There are many who see their SPM results as the key to the path they will take.
Thus, there is immense pressure on students to do well in this public examination.
“For me, SPM was a challenge that I had set for myself in my mind, and so getting anything less than straight As would have been a big disappointment to me,” said Pirevan Mohan, 18, who insisted the pressure to do well had come entirely from himself, not from his friends, parents or teachers.
There is also the classic case of living up to your sibling’s achievement. Aqeemul Akhsan Djafar said his parents didn’t pressure him to do well, but he took it upon himself to follow in the footsteps of his high-achieving siblings.
“I felt I had to live up their results, especially since my sister scored straight As in her SPM,” said Aqeemul.
Zachary Wong, a teacher at Sri KDU Smart School in Kuala Lumpur said that when a student sets high expectations upon himself, it is part of a “kiasu” culture. He does not think it is always negative as it motivates students to challenge themselves and exceed their own expectations.
Roshan said that he had always wanted to become a straight-A student so he could “stand out amongst other Malaysians especially since straight A students are always highlighted in the news come results time.”
Stumble, not fall
There are, however, only so many students who are capable of scoring straight As in exams.
The fact is not everyone does well in school, and SPM results is not an absolute indicator of a person’s abilities or potential.
Media personality/commercial pilot Johan Farid Khairuddin, 32, is very proud of the 1A he obtained in his UPSR, PMR and SPM examinations.
“When I got that 1A, I told myself that this can only be the starting point of my entire life. Let me work harder from here”
After a lot of hard work and effort, Johan managed to obtain an MBA and later went on to take his piloting license.
“Being an arts stream student didn’t stop me from working towards my dreams of becoming a pilot. You need to work very very hard to get there but it does not mean that you should give up on it. Do not let your results define you”
Wong Hee Heng, a semi-retired managing director of his own company, though admitting the importance and value of achieving good results in SPM, says it is not the be-all and end-all.
He did not do very well in his SPM examinations years ago, and insists it has never became an obstacle for him in pursuing his ambitions and eventually becoming his own boss.
In fact, he has observed that many successful entrepreneurs are those who didn’t do well in school. They are usually more willing to take risks and able to adapt to difficult situations as they come.
In the bigger scheme of things, it is actually your life skills that counts, not so much all the facts you memorise from text books.
“Good SPM results may give you the passport to a better life but to succeed in life you also need to take into account your attitude and life skills,” said Wong. He added that besides academics, there should also be more emphasis on sports and the performing arts.
“You also need creativity and passion.”
A group of students have set up an anonymous peer counselling programme on Tumblr – “Virtual group hugs”