A number of universities from Asia are included in the list of the top 100 institutions in the world. When compared to students from the rest of the world, Asian students outperform in areas of math, science, and reading. Nevertheless, there has historically been a heavy emphasis on rote learning and a student's ability to score well in exams, rather than on conceptual learning and the application of concepts in real-world scenarios.
Research conducted in a series of Chinese High School students highlighted the array of negative impacts that can result from an overly exam-oriented pedagogy. It was shown to dilute students' imagination, creativity, and sense of self. In addition to this, amidst a spiraling global mental health crisis, it is significant that the study also saw improvements in psychological health when high-stakes testing was de-emphasized.
Exams were once merely periodic marker posts, serving the main purpose of giving the students themselves an idea of the progress they were making. Now, instead of being complementary to the curriculum, they are actively dictating the material that makes it onto the syllabus.
The need for a revised educational approach that will ironically in turn entail less revision - has already been recognized by a handful of education institutions across the world. One of the few institutions in Malaysia creating this shift is Quest International University (QIU) in Perak, Malaysia. Instead of focusing on exam-driven standards, QIU has developed a new pedagogical model that focuses on preparing the student for all aspects of life, as well as for future studies.
Established by Malaysian entrepreneur, Vijay Eswaran, with the aim of making the institution the Harvard of the East, QIU has integrated a holistic model of education. Eswaran's objective is for students to finish their courses have not only gained a valuable academic qualification but to also be equipped with the skills needed to become responsible citizens who contribute towards their communities and their workplaces.
QIU has partnered with startups to ensure that students get hands-on experience in their potential future fields while gaining mentorship from industry experts and distinguished academicians from around the world. As a result, more than 90% of the university's students receive employment offers from leading companies within one year of graduation.
Further West, one school tried removing grades altogether for the opening few weeks of the year. This resulted in significant increases in motivation across the student body. Interestingly, when grades were reinstated, students lost their enthusiasm for learning for the sake of learning, and instead returned their focus to merely collecting grades.
Cultivating an excessively grade-oriented environment leads to students opting for the shortest and most straightforward pathway toward their targets. Intellectual risk-taking is reduced to a minimum, with grades repeatedly being shown to chip away at the overall quality of students' thinking.
"Asian universities tend to focus predominantly on academic learning. We do not need more degree mills; rather, we need to empower students to transform their lives through the lasting power of education. By turning our university into a center of excellence, we hope to have a significant impact on students and their families, as well as on the economy and society as a whole," emphasizes Eswaran, who also serves as the Chairman of the University Council.
Despite being a very young university in a region dominated by well-established giants in the education sector, QIU has managed to distinguish itself due to its prizing of intellectual curiosity over traditional learning methods. Since it opened its doors in 2011, QIU has welcomed students from five continents and has produced around 2000 graduates in an array of disciplines that include medicine, pharmacy, science and technology, business, engineering, the humanities, and more.
QIU's unique model continues to earn accolades in a variety of national and international competitions in science, technology, medicine, and the humanities. However, just as its students' eyes are not clouded by the transient allure of grades, the university is not motivated by acclaim. It seems long overdue for more of Asia's educational institutions to follow QIU's lead.