An inconvenient truth

JAN 10 — I think the time has come to ask ourselves the big questions about education.

What is the point?

What is wrong with how we are doing it?

How do we change?

I imagine that these questions are bantered around in Putrajaya quite often, but there must be something wrong, otherwise our education system would be evolving by leaps and bounds. So we postulate that the people making the decisions are not taking these questions really seriously, afraid to face the answers, or they are making these decisions with some degree of bias.

But let’s leave them alone and really think about the problem at hand. To really think about something you need to let go of bias. Maybe your son or daughter is right in the middle of the system. Maybe you are. Maybe you’re a teacher or an educator and your livelihood depends on the system, and the truth may mean you might lose your job. We all have some sort of stake in the matter. I ask that for the rest of this article you devote some thought to the matter outside of the confines of the box you find yourself in.

What is the point? I think the answer to this question is fairly simple, but often neglected in the complexities of implementation. We are preparing our children for the real world. Whatever the future holds, whether or not we are in it, the children need to know how to deal with money, how to communicate effectively, how things work and so on. The future is unpredictable, but with a solid education we hope that our kids will be able to handle whatever comes after the next bend in the road.

What is wrong with how we are doing it? Actually the main problem here, in my opinion, stems from us getting the wrong answer to the first question. Instead of viewing education as a foundation for all things to come, somewhere along the line we started to view education as a way to prove that one kid is better than the other. We established exams, prizes and standards. Anyone who cannot do well in the exams is made to feel like they are doomed.

But this is not true, there are many who have done badly at school because their forte just didn’t happen to be the conventional subjects like science and maths. Some people are dancers, some are chefs. And some of these people eventually end up making far more money and being far more successful than the people who slog it out with maths.

I think you can agree with me that as long as we think that exam results are the be all and end all, we will be doing it wrong. Look at what we have done so far to “help” our education system. We are lowering exam pass marks so that everyone can pass the exams and appease their parents and educators. We are making entry into university easier so everyone can get a degree. Instead of encouraging learning and application of knowledge, we are pushing our kids so hard that we are actually teaching them from a very young age that what they want to do is not important, and sometimes their best is not enough.

How do we change? The first step is to go back to the foundation of things and really think about the first two questions. The second step is then to change the focus of the education system. Instead of pushing all the kids to score straight As, push the kids to learn how to find information, how to share their thoughts and how to apply their knowledge. Give them space to pursue the things outside the curriculum that they like to do. We should reward interest rather than intelligence, and keep the bar high so that an A really means something. I could go on and on.

Deep down inside, no matter what your bias is, you agree that we need to address the big questions before we can work on the small. I hope the people up in Putrajaya or even in any school or educational institution will find it in themselves to push away the things that cloud their judgment and do what is right for the children everywhere.

* The views expressed here are the personal opinion of the columnist.


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