Sunday, 1 November 2015

On Education Again

I read Han Fook Kwang's "Fix the economy? Focus on Education and Culture" in the Sunday Times (1 Nov 15) with interest. I am no economist, but I thought he was insightful to pinpoint education and culture as the main factors of the slowing growth of our economy. In his article, he mentioned the urgency of moving away from the exam-orientedness of our education system and I totally concur.

Today, I gave J a past-year math paper from a reputed school to practise on. He did it quite conscientiously, although he had to deal with his sister's crying - she had been feverish and the crying was unusual. J saw me write his final score on the cover page and was almost in tears when he saw that he had only scored 89/100. I showed him his mistakes, and he could tell me immediately the correct answers without me explaining. He then proceeded to tell me that all the mistakes, save for one, were due to carelessness. The question he could not do was this: 9 x 4 = 4 x 4 + ___ groups of 4. It looks simple enough, but actually it does involve some knowledge of order of operation which is taught in Primary 5 and J is in Primary 2. Anyway, he easily understood my explanation and I used the opportunity to remind him to check his answers during the exam. However, due to the score he obtained, J declared that he was horrible at math.

Contrast the above with a  conversation I had with J yesterday. Over lunch, he asked me an algebra question and I asked him one in return. I started off with "If a + 1 = 8, what is a?" After J answered, he excitedly asked for a Level 2 question. We eventually progressed to "2x^3 = 54. What is x?", "a + b = 15, b - a = 1. Solve for a and b" and "x + 1 = 0, what is x?". He solved them all mentally. When Lyn came home and I told him that J and I had been discussing algebra, Lyn asked him what x was if x^2 was equal to 9. J said 3 or -3. Negative numbers are only formally introduced in secondary 1, but J was interested to learn more. I did not press him to learn. I did not even initiate the conversation. J was the one who asked for more challenging questions. THIS is education, rather than striving to obtain high marks in a test. I would really appreciate a shift from the focus on exams to an emphasis on the joy of learning.

Recently, my 17-year-old nephew who studies in Canada designed a game. He managed to interest game makers with his concept and was invited to make a video displaying how the game is played. I am so happy that he is able to pursue his passion of game designing there. If he were studying locally, he would be preparing to sit his JC promotional exams, leaving little time to pursue his interests.

I sincerely call for a review of our focusses in education.

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