Rushing to Nowhere

At the end of every academic session, primary and secondary school students look forward to moving a step upwards—to the next class. Except for those whose performance recommends that they stay put for another year, most students move one step up the academic ladder. However, for some, the increase is double, as they move from Class M to Class O.

Prior to this time, I usually linked double promotion with exceptional brilliance. I assumed that for a student to have been promoted twice, such a student must have shown outstanding ability to merit the big leap. This view stemmed from encounters with some beneficiaries of double promotion. However, this view has now changed as my erstwhile naïve eyes opened to another side of the coin.

In my first class as a corps member, I encountered a petite student in the SS1 Class. Enquiries showed that contrary to her smallish frame, she was 15 years old, and had skipped the previous class. Apparently, her parents worried about their daughter’s age and decided that getting her to write the JS3 exam in JS2 was the best way to redeem lost time. I do not know whether she passed the exam without any help. In this dispensation of malpractices, I am prone to believe that the exam “was not pure”.

I decided to observe this student’s performance. Over the course of our interaction, I have noticed that she is struggling with much of her schoolwork. When you miss a class as critical as JS3, you have to be a genius to cope seamlessly in senior school. Her test scores are consistently at the bottom of the scale. She is not even ready to put in the extra effort to make up for the rung she skipped. Her pushy parents appear uninterested in fixing the mess they have caused.

Parents are not the only ones causing issues for their children. Some students go all the way out to be their own albatross. This term, a parent withdrew a JS2 student because the school management refused to register her for the JS3 final exam. The annoying thing is that a girl who is barely 12 years old is pushing this parent. Due to a communal crisis, she skipped Primary 5. Now, she wants to skip JS3 because her close friends are in JS3, so she wants to join them in SS1. Since the school refused to acquiesce to her demand cum her parent’s demand, she has been taken to a school that will agree to let her skip a class.

Before this time, I had encountered two students in my secondary school set who had skipped Primary 5. Both were exceptionally gifted students. However, only one of them was able to maintain the academic performance that had motivated his parents to fast track his education. The other person was too emotionally immature. This immaturity crept into his academic performance. He never failed a class, but there was nothing to show that he was once considered exceptional.

Skipping a class is like tossing a coin—it can go any of two ways. Many times, it backfires, condemning such students to the backwaters of academic performance. The reason is not hard to see. The school curriculum is structured like a castle. A castle’s imposing structure depends on a strong foundation, with sturdy columns and beams on each level. Imagine a castle with one storey built without strong columns. Each storey above this one has a high probability of collapsing someday. Similarly, each academic class depends on prior classes. Skip one, and hope that you are Einstein; else, struggling will be your portion.

The rush to higher classes may seem as a good financial decision for some parents. They get to avoid school fees, books and other responsibilities for an entire class. However, whatever money not spent on a required class will have its day in court. Of what use is saving money, if it results in poor performance and a student perpetually trying to catch up? These parents just make life difficult for teachers.

People need to learn that shortcuts do not always pay. If a student “must” jump a class, it should be because qualified teachers have concluded that such a student is “too smart” for his/her present class. In addition, the student’s emotional balance should be appraised to see if coping issues would not arise in the future. Without these conditions, and a concrete plan to address deficits that will be caused by double promotion, such a move may just result in rushing the student to nowhere.

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