Infernal Ramblings
A Malaysian Perspective on Politics, Society and Economics

Extracurricular Points for University Admissions?

Written by johnleemk on 1:25:52 pm Jul 20, 2007.

One ridiculous thing about Malaysian education is our obsession with grades. We don't just have grades for academic examinations; that's to be expected.

But Malaysians have to go one step further. I've been graded on how polite and courteous I am before — that's fine, I suppose. But I've been graded as well on my participation in extracurricular activities.

I suppose there's nothing too bad about grades; they're an abstraction of who I am. I suppose there is some way to rate humans on a scale from 1 to 10 or A to E.

What's upsetting about the grading system schools seem to utilise for extracurricular activities is that they are extremely rigid.

Basically, you are awarded points for things you do. If you are the captain of a team, you get X points; if you are secretary of a club, you get Y points; and so forth.

It does not take a genius to see the problem with this point-based system. For one, how do you distinguish between a captain who rests on his laurels and lets his team struggle, and a secretary who accepts the burden shirked by her superiors? Under the points-based system, the captain is rewarded for doing nothing, while the secretary goes unrecognised.

It of course gets worse. It's quite common these days to see students who join activities for padding their CVs and applications; I have friends who joined the school softball team just so they could say they played for a school team. (Of course, what they don't say is that the team was so embarassingly crushed at the district tournament that the referees halted play.)

At the same time, there are students who may join activities outside school, but don't receive recognition. Take this website, for example. I personally programmed the software that generates the templates and webpages you see, and I personally wrote all but a handful of the nearly 600 articles published here. (One of the exceptions was a very eye-opening relation of one student's experiences in our education system.)

Under our rigid points-based system, do I get any credit for all the work I've poured into this site since I was in form one (when I began writing the code for it)? Not one point.

Now, if these extracurricular points were just another way of inflating egoes, I wouldn't care more about them. I'd laugh at anyone who actually cares about these points.

But these points, these grades, they are important — they are one of the few non-academic aspects to a public university application in Malaysia, and carry quite a bit of weight.

When you apply to university here, which institution you attend (heck, since our ridiculous admissions process determines what your degree is in, possibly even which career you end up in) could very well end up depending on how much points you scored for your extracurricular activities.

Our silly system, because it is incapable of separating the wheat from the chaff, is just as likely to help you as it is to hurt you, regardless of how actually active you were in doing things outside the classroom, simply because it takes no trouble to distinguish those who actually contribute from those who are just along for a free ride.

If this is the best we can do, then, there is no point in using extracurricular activities as one way of finding the best students. But this isn't the best we can do.

American universities have been examining students' extracurricular credentials for decades. Isn't there something we could learn from them? Why not emulate their holistic admissions process, which uses essays and teacher recommendations to corroborate claims made about student involvement and passion, rather than sticking to our hopelessly stupid points system?

If we want the best students, students who can perform both inside and outside the classroom, we cannot afford to stay with what we have. We must get rid of this extracurricular grading system.

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Infernal Ramblings is a Malaysian website focusing on current events and sociopolitical issues. Its articles run the gamut from economics to society to education.

Infernal Ramblings is run by John Lee. For more, see the About section. If you have any questions or comments, do drop him a line.

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