There has been much ado about the bell curve system NUS utilises for examination grades. This is a system where the grades of students are moderated according to how they have fared in relation to their classmates. Students have complained that it heaps unnecessary pressure upon them to outperform their peers. Additionally, it has resulted in selfish behaviour on the part of students as they are afraid that any help rendered to fellow students might be to their academic detriment.
“Ya la, of course must be selfish what! You lend people your notes then they score better than you, skew the bell curve against you, then how? But yes, actually this system is very unhealthy and should be removed. It forces students to become increasingly obsessed with their studies while neglecting the more important things in life, such as spending quality time with friends and family, virtual or otherwise,” groused a second-year Communications and Media major, Hartkor Gamur, from behind his oily dishevelled fringe, and en route to his daily three-minute shower break from World of Warcraft. When this writer was unable to halt the rise of his eyebrows from incredulity, Gamur responded defensively, “No choice have to chiong leh, if not later my level 90 tauren paladin kena demoted in the guild then how?”
Indeed, virtual life to Hartkor is a relentless chase for excellence, and one should never blur the lines between reality and the virtual world. It would be foolish to exert the same amount of effort in the real world, wouldn’t it? Especially if it concerned your examination grades and your future. Pfft, who has time to strive for that?
It appears this resentment against the bell curve system is shared by other students as well, even reasonable and sensible individuals like Ting Tong Belle – President, Resident Conductor, Composer Emeritus and Honorary Secretary of the NUS Handbell Society.
“Musically speaking, from a musical perspective, I think that the bell curve system is very inappropriately named and has brought our most revered musical instrument into great disrepute. Bells should only be heard, and not feared! In addition, the bell curve system is stifling and does not allow for the freedom of expression of each individual, which is especially important for musically-inclined people like me. All academic efforts are made only with reference to getting ahead of the bell curve, and not for the love of learning! It’s like… you’re enclosed in a… GIANT BELL!” lamented Ting Tong between sobs, while her twin sister Ting Ke Belle nodded rhythmically by her side and harmonised with each of her words under her breath.
This writer agrees profusely with Ting Tong Belle and her sister, and believes that along with the abolishment of the bell curve system, NUS should also install a nudist beach at UTown and introduce a more liberating Freshmen Exposure Module—FHM1101E. All strictly for the sake of freedom of expression, of course.
One student, however, departed from the majority’s opinion, and believed that the death knell should not sound for the bell curve system just yet.
Choosing to remain anonymous but specifying that we used his moniker “PunishmentOfGod91”, he murderously muttered in raspy breaths while dragging a suspicious-looking body bag in tow.
“The bell curve system is fair. It. Is. Fair. Very. Fair. Society is naturally segregated. Students have to learn to exterminate, sorry, I mean, excel, in the midst of competition. Instead of abolishing the system, why not just abolish people? Oops sorry, sorry, I meant “apple polish” people. These are essential life skills… or rather, life and death skills. Sometimes losing out marginally by a decimal point makes you dismal. In such cases, one must learn to decimate, sorry, I mean, dissimilate him or herself. Take a breather, engage in plenty of slaughter. Aiya, I mean laughter! Hahaha!” Seizing up this writer with a predatory glint in his eyes, he threatened menacingly, “If you have any disagreements with me, email me at email@example.com. I will lay you to rest.” Spotting this writer’s apprehensive look, he hastens to add, “—and your concerns of course, haha!”
Perhaps then, the system inevitably results in cutthroat competition. Nevertheless, it does appear that the teaching staff is in no hurry to remove the bell curve system as well.
According to Associate Professor Nobell Nohunny from the Department of Biological Sciences, the bell curve system is effective in bringing out the very best in students and the only available means through which their potential can be maximised.
“Yes… the bell curve system… it’s been under some fire hasn’t it? But I am all for it. Back in the day when I was an undergraduate without the bell curve system, everybody was getting As! The only way to distinguish yourself from a “no bell curve system” was to win a Nobel Prize. So I think the bell curve system is very good, and is in accordance with Darwin’s Theory of Natural Selection, the survival of the fittest. We want only the cream of the crop to emerge. Yes, we might have students die from the stress and pressure (“I’m kidding! I’m kidding!”). Some students might begin to suffer from social anxiety disorder due to the prolonged lack of social interaction. And male students might develop the ability to lactate because of their continued persistence in milking whatever marks they can get from their examinations. Nature truly works in mysterious and wonderful ways,” he enthused, whilst casting a furtive glance in the direction of his shirt pocket (“Sweat, this one. Hot day today.”).
As it stands then, it seems that the bell curve system is here to stay for the foreseeable future. Nonetheless, arguments against the system will continue to ring incessantly in our ears. Yet like an errant fire alarm bell, no substantive remedy action will probably ever be taken to address them. As much as the system continues to be a killjoy for the likes of Hartkor and stifle expressive individuals such as Ting Tong, it will at the same time be the only means through which to stretch our evolutionary capabilities to become better, faster, stronger and potentially more capable of producing lactose –an increasingly necessary trait in a world devoid of the milk of human kindness. Of course, it is always lamentable when things reach murderous proportions. Therefore, it might be useful to put to death our desire to abolish the system and think about how we can collectively and humanely transcend the system instead – as in opening lines of John Donne’s poem “For Whom The Bell Tolls”:
No man is an island,
Entire of itself.
Each is a piece of the continent,
A part of the main.
We are all a part of the greater whole, and kindness and the willingness to build each other up should not be contingent on an implemented system. Bell curve system or not, one thing is for sure – the death bell eventually tolls for you and me, so let us make the most of our time here in NUS; not by griping, but by gripping firmly to each opportunity to edify each other. The bell may continue to toll, but let it not take its toll.