Essay on “Education” by Eugene Tai (ACJC)

“The word ‘failure’ should never be used in education.” Discuss.

Before considering how one should be educated, it is imperative that we bear in mind the most fundamental purposes of education. Generally, education entails the transfer of knowledge and skill from one generation to the next through various mediums, such as teaching, training, or perhaps engagement in autodidactic research, and has aims to ensure the maturation and growth of a person in the various aspects of his life. The usage of the word ‘failure’ in an educational context has long been a controversial one, with proponents of the word arguing that it is useful in enforcing discipline and motivating the child to do better, while critics counter by mentioning that academic success should not come at the expense of the child’s psychological well-being. While it is true that the usage of such a word may continue to find some success in building a student’s mental fortitude, I am of the idea that it is a backward method of managing students who struggle academically and should be replaced by more constructivist methods that can better facilitate learning.

The word ‘failure’ should not be used in education simply because it contradicts the educator’s noble goal of educating and illuminating the minds of the young. Through education, one aims to achieve two main goals: the development of the child’s cognitive potential as well as his or her socio emotional development.

The child’s cognitive potential consists of a multitude of areas, including but not limited to creativity, linguistic ability and logical discourse. Cognitive skills should be nurtured by a teacher who is encouraging, patient, and willing to clarify any doubt raised by the student, as these traits will enable the student to develop a profound love for learning as well as possess the courage to ask questions. An educator who repeatedly labels his students as failures would likely do little to encourage the development of their cognitive areas as more energy and resources would be spent chiding them for their past mistakes rather than doing productive work in aiding their cerebral expansion. Furthermore, we are also aware of the different cognitive processes and definitions of intelligence, making it unrealistic to ensure every child conforms to the same standards of measurement. According to Gardner’s Theory of Multiple Intelligences, intelligence is not dominated by a single general ability but by several different modalities. While a person may appear to be deficient in a particular area, he may be exceptionally gifted in another. Academic assessments do not take into account all the cognitive processes of a student, and therefore performance in these areas cannot serve to indicate whether or not the child is a ‘failure’, a brutal and derisive term that is often loosely and inappropriately used.

A student is also expected to undergo some form of socio emotional development over the course of his or her educational journey, such that he or she becomes able to form and sustain positive relationships with others, experience, manage, and express different emotions as well as be able to freely explore and engage with their surrounding environment. However, the socio emotional development of the youth varies greatly between individuals, and it is largely up to the student or child himself to manage this aspect of his or her growth. Teachers and educators can do little except leave the youths to their own devices and develop the skills through their own personal experience, while only stepping in to mentor the youths under the appropriate circumstances. We find that there is little use for the word ‘failure’ in this context of education, as students who appear to be slower in the development of their social skills are not ‘failures’ but merely individuals who require more time to mature and organise their convoluted thoughts.

In fact, in education today, we can see that many developed countries are doing away with ‘failure’ in their education systems, instead replacing it with various measurements that indicate a student’s degree of responsiveness to learning. In Singapore, students who take the GCE A Level Examinations are not explicitly told that they ‘fail’ should they have a less-than-stellar performance in the examinations, as the minimum grade they can achieve is an ‘Ungraded’, or U score. The Scholastic Assessment Test, a standardised test for college admissions in the United States, does not label students as having ‘passed’ or ‘failed’ either, as students who have sat for it are merely given scores that indicate performance.

However, while education as a profession has shunned from the use of the word ‘failure’, this term continues to be used to measure the overall effectiveness of the education system. An education system may ‘fail’ in many ways: when its products do not display signs of significant social, emotional, ethical or linguistic growth, when its educational models are predominantly compliance-based and suppress the growth of children, or when we find that there is no support system whatsoever for underachieving students or even teachers. Essentially, all these methods of failure lead to the same outcome: a generation of incompetent graduates who cannot contribute to the welfare of the economy and nation. In some cases, the graduates’ immense skill deficiency may lead to structural unemployment, creating huge costs for individuals and the economy as a whole. The education system in the United States of America is said to be failing for the above reasons. In comparison to local standards, schools in the US are highly dysfunctional, with many public schools requiring students to undergo full body searches before they are given permission to enter the school compound. In certain states, students remain segregated according to the different racial groups. The signs of failure are glaring: not only are students taught that apartheid is fully acceptable, they are also educated in an environment in which drugs and violence have been fully integrated into the school culture. Thus, a link between ‘failure’ and education continues to exist, not in the form of students’ academic performance but in the form of the outrageous inadequacies of the system itself.

In conclusion, the word ‘failure’ should never be used in the education of children in order to protect their self-esteem and enable educators to focus on other practical matters that provide greater benefit to the development of the child. However, the same word can in fact be used in evaluating the success of any education system, which is prone to failure and in need of constant refinement. The word ‘failure’ thus maintains its link to education, but should be used under the appropriate circumstances only.

My comments: A thought-provoking essay. Sensitive treatment of the terms “failure” as well as “education” adds depth to the writing.


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