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Do we teach them to fish on the high seas or do we teach them to pick the dead fish?

From the top Achievers (image source:

A few days ago I was watching the “Top Achievers Award 2012” live on TV. I had mixed feelings. I was mentally disturbed and had wanted to write about it. Alas, my mind was disturbed with that and many other things, hence the delay.

What is the Award? You might ask.

It is the recognition given to high scores attained by student at the secondary school examination in the Maldives. Our students sit for some subjects from "Cambridge International General Certificate Education (IGCSE)". Dhivehi and Islam are the only subjects administered locally. A student is required to sit for English, Mathematics, Islam, Dhivehi & two specified subjects based on the chosen stream (Physics/Chemistry, History/Geography, Commerce/Accounting) and 2 other optional subjects.

8456 students from the Maldives sat for this examination, 31 students achieved the top 10 awards in the World category, and 426 students are among the top 10 of the country. With equal points, 22 students in the 10th place, 30 in the 9th place, 54 in the 8th place, 9 in the 7th place, 53 in the 6th place, 40 in the fifth place, 76 in the 4th place, 18 in the 3rd place, 87 in the second place, and 37 in the 1st place.

I was proud to watch them. Five of our very own Maldivian students received the 1st place in the World for 5 subjects. They got it with full marks.

Now, imagine that. You sit for an exam and get 100%. We are talking about subjects like English, Travel & Tourism, and Business Studies. It’s an exam for God’s sake! You get 100%, not missing out even a half mark anywhere on the paper. WOW! is all I can say! I have been an assessor for so many students for their written assignments and research reports that they do at their own pace in the comfort of their home with open books and access to all the sources. And yet, I have not seen anyone scoring over 95%. So, how is it possible for a student to sit and do an exam and manage to secure every single mark assigned? For something like Mathematics one would have to know all the formulas and be meticulous to avoid simple mistakes that ordinary humans tend to do. For a subject like language where creative pieces are to be written on a set topic … it would require endless practice to master the art of structuring, grammar, spelling, as well as having enough knowledge on a varied number of topics to do that.

I am proud! Believe me I am. But there is a huge BUT! Only 46% of the students passed in at least 5 subjects – this is from an average of 8 subjects.

Two of my distant relatives were among the top 5 Award achievers. A colleague’s daughter was also among them. One of them was in the 2nd place with 87 other students. Now, I want to set aside the pride and talk about what bothers me. What these students (maybe not all) go through to achieve that level of perfection worries me.

One of them grew up in front of my eyes. Sometimes not too close, sometimes up-close. She is 17, and for her entire life all I have seen her do is study, study, and study a bit more. She is holed in her room for the entire time she is home, she comes out for meals, hardly says a word to anyone. The only place she goes out to is school and then for private tuition at a classmate’s place. Her mother worries endlessly if her daughter gets anything except 100% in any of the assessments. The mother does everything for the child - washes her clothes, serves her meals, cleans after her, and makes sure every little educational need is met in terms of past papers, access to marking criteria, private tuition for all the subjects, etc. When we talk about tuition – the fees are exorbitant. She spends MVR 500.00 on each subject per month. I wonder why we need schools! Tuition should be enough.

So, my question is - how well is she prepared to face the world when it comes to her to be the voice of her generation?

Maybe this is not how every single student among the high achievers was. But I believe this would be true for many among them. And it is a sad thought. I saw her during her exams. I was the one who rode her to the exam venue and picked her up when the exam was over, at the mother’s request. She has never ever walked on her own to school or to tuition. She is a nervous wreck in front of people. Her voice hardly comes out. Her hands shake so badly before going to any exam and on days she cries – of course only her mother witnesses this. And believe me, she is brought up to be as meek as a mouse. That rubs me the wrong way. Who knows what turmoil she harbors in her mind, while she tries to please her mother in the absence of a father figure.

And then to make things worse, they (and I) sit through a 4 hour ceremony lasting from 9pm to 1:00am to see her up on stage receiving the token award for the 10 years of study. This for me was like sour icing on an already not so good cake. The time for celebration was made a drag. That’s beside the point though.

I want to talk about the study curricular and the objective of schooling. Don’t we want the school to be a place that teaches our children to get ready to face the corporate world; the school to be a place that teaches them how to live in our community, how to build the community, how to co-habit? We want them to be equipped to face the absurdities of life. We want them to be emotionally stable, empathetic, intelligent people who can apply knowledge.

We don’t want to produce robots with a fantastic memory to absorb a given text, and then reproduce the same thing verbatim when a question has been asked – a question that has been practiced over and over again by going through the papers from the past 10 to 15 years. That’s now how reality works.

These high achievers are the cohorts who are mostly likely to get the responsible jobs at the Civil Services. Because of the way recruitment are conducted, their grades in these examinations have a high weightage. But imagine the state of affairs if most of them are like my relative! How well are they going to cope? Our tiny nation is going through so many new challenges. How well equipped are our students to handle this?

Anyway, that’s just my take on the purpose of education and the general mentality of our parents to want their children to be among the top achievers, at all cost. Of course I would love to see my son among them, even if among the 10th place – it will make me proud. But I want him to be a balanced person – and in that respect I don’t care what grades he get as long as he manages to succeed in life.

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pelamutunzi's picture


i had the same argument because students look like they are trained to pass not for life. what happens to a student who is not gifted but can change the world. also should students just be tasted or graded just based on textbook knowledge. whats your take. im disappointed in the system which to me also perpetrates gender inequality and violence because of the objectives of the curriculum. bob proctor's words ring true. knowledge is that which remains when what you were taught is gone. imagine how much of what we teach is remembered. that is the most important

we may be powerless to stop an injustice but let there never be a time we fail to protest.

I strongly believe the life skills components should be added to the curriculum more than it is being done right now. And the education system need to educate parents too.
Some parents has started to think it is good parenting to take care of every little detail about the child's life. Children need to be learning and goring in the home too. Right now what we see is our children going to school, learning there and then coming home and doing homework for the entire day, go to tuition class to again revise what was studied at school. Their whole life revolves around school. The society has started to think that these students are "good" students.
The rest, who enjoys playing games, hanging out with friends, etc are seen as "bad" children.
This needs to change.


JaniceW's picture

Grades are not the be-all, end-all.

An education provides us with opportunities that might not otherwise fall our way and inherent in the system is grading. Unfortunately, we have yet to come up with a method which truly reflects a person's knowledge other than exams. A good grade can mean many things such as high intelligence, an ability to pass exams or sheer determination. However, a not-so-good grade is not as easily defined. There are a number of reasons a person may not have a good grade and many have nothing to do with intelligence.

For society and parents though, grades are the be-all and end-all and they push their children to meet their expectations without considering what the child wants or how is best for the child. I have seen how some children, once free from their parents and living independently in a college environment, come into their own but I agree that focussing solely on academics deprives them of other world lessons that would help them navigate their way through life.

I have no doubt that whatever grade your son gets, he will be well-equipped to face life's challenges due to the balance you are providing him with.

Aminah's picture

I agree. We cannot avoid

I agree. We cannot avoid grading. And attaining good grades is proof to show the child is capable of working for a target.
I agree whole-hardheartedly with all that.
But my angst in seeing children's social growth being sacrificed in the rat race of attaining top grades.

Some parents and even teachers raise their brows at me when I say "it is not important for my son to attain full marks, as long as he gets a decent mark to show he understood the lessons, and as long as he behaves and understand social values and system".

I don't know. I sometimes feel I am failing my children.
I guess every parent has only the best interest of their children at heart. Our methods and ways are different.


JaniceW's picture

The fact that you feel as if

The fact that you feel as if you are failing your children is indicative of the very opposite – you care enough to critique yourself harshly in the interests of your children. Those who are failing their children are usually the ones who never give their children more than a moment's thought.

From what you have told me, I have no doubt that your children will be well-rounded and will go on to become good citizens of the Maldives who can adapt to many situations. As you said, as long as they have a solid understanding of their lessons, it is not that important to get high grades.

Greengirl's picture


Good grades are most impressive and worth celebrating only when it's scorer(s) can confidently defend it. I definitely agree with you that it is important for an individual cum achiever to have a balanced life. What is the point in having outstanding grades and lacking the ability to translate it or apply it to life's issues?

It makes a world of difference when an achiever is an all rounder, meaning the individual can hold his or her onions any where and at any given time.

Your post is an eye opener and a clarion call for more practical educational approaches. I also admire your commitment to raise your son to become a balanced individual.


Aminah's picture

Very well said

Very well said Greengirl,

"Good grades are most impressive and worth celebrating only when it's scorer(s) can confidently defend it."

I wish all of them well. My only wish is for out educators and parents to let children be children. After all, there is not so many years to be a child before we hit adulthood.


Amei's picture

Schools teach information...

they do not teach life lessons.... it is gread for those kids to achieve hight scores and top scores. It also come to the time and effort they have put in it. If there is a commitment to achieve anyone can achieve.

The education system is geared to ask for a fish not how to get a fish.

We have to find a way to provide opportunties to obtain a balanced education so that people can be grounded, happy and enjoy life.

Keep writing

That's a new way to look at this phenomena. Get a fish whichever way possible.
No wonder we have corrupt leaders, no wonder no value is placed on intercity, honesty and the common good.

Our schools teach students to get the top mark. It does not matter how they get it. By heart it overnight and forget the lesson that lies within - for the school what is important is say our students passed with such a high percent. The parent want to say my child is among the top scorers....

ah well... i guess a lot needs changing.


SSD's picture


Dear Aminah,

Kya baat hai ! Excellent article - much needed ! :)
mera naya post check kare yaara -- abhi abhi !! :p

love, S


Aminah's picture

Thanks Shaheen. There is so

Thanks Shaheen.
There is so much I want to write - about our social issues. Alas I need control the rage in me first :)

Do let me know when the book is up for purchase.


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