Thursday, February 2, 2012

Alternative Education

One of the things when we talk about with friends whenever we meet them these days is our children's education and I marvel at how brave some of our friends are at picking the road less taken, homeschooling.

In the last couple of months, I've taken many looks at alternative choices to public education. Being in the public school system for almost 4 decades, both as a student and teacher means I have been able to watch it evolve.... or deteriorate. I think it's easy for a kid to get lost in the labyrinth that we've created in the system; one that emphasizes too much on grades but seem incapable of truly inculcating good principles and values despite having Moral/Religious subjects in the timetable. I listened with fascination one day, as a colleague regaled on how she was able to get her students carry books... by rewarding them with packets of drinks each time when they carry her books! I don't know what to make of this... Some will say this is incentive. I wonder whether bribery qualifies too.. Simple goodness in life needs rewarding... Something is wrong.

The role of teachers... While there are still many teachers who are committed to their calling, the damage done to the status of teachers via the negative perception of the society and also the mismatched people taken into the profession due to certain policies have all contributed to what many see as a regression. Good teachers make a difference. Good and knowledgeable teachers not only make a difference but inspire as well. The latter is sadly missing these days. 

So do our children have a balanced childhood? School, co-curricular activities, tuitions, music lessons, etc.....  Parents have a role too. The general feel these days is most parents seem to be in a rush for their children to finish their education so that they can enter the job market. They have their reasons but I notice more are entering the job market younger... There is no doubt that more students are scoring strings of A(s). But there is also a consensus that our graduates don't quite seem to be meeting market requirements. Smarter yet none the wiser.

About half a year ago, after a 'bruising' conversation with a neighbour, I decided that I needed to be more in the know where my girl's learning is concerned. That was when I started picking up Mandarin so that I could teach her Science. It was also then I discovered that she had been taught to memorize answers or answer the structure questions in a certain way. There was little understanding. The joy of learning is dulled. And that realization has brought me into a journey of discovery of its own....

While shopping for books, I chanced upon some books following the Singapore curriculum. I got some Maths and English books. They had books dedicated to just solving problems which required thinking skills. I got those as well. And boy! Was I in for a surprise! Years ago, those problems would not have posed much problem to us. For English, she was able to cope.... barely. The surprise was in Math.... she could do none of the thinking skills questions and was struggling with other normal questions. In later weeks, I would try some of the questions on a 19 year old who had scored an A+ in Add Maths SPM... and she too could not solve some of them. Mind you, these are questions from Primary 4 book.

It was then it finally sank into us that our schools (if not all, then many) are not teaching our children to use their brains to think.  I downgraded the books one level... started from scratch. And so began our 'homeschooling' with her. Suffice to say there were many teary moments. To pry open a mind, I have discovered again and again is a difficult task. Everyday at work, I come face to face with tens of kids, especially boys who seemed to have switched their learning side of the brain off.... switching them on is a gargantuan task. Most of the time, they come on for a while only to stay off for an even longer time. You  see, the brain that has been at 'rest' too long finds it difficult to restart again... unless there is a cable (teacher/parent) to jump start it all the time. And that is a very tiring.

Robots are programmed to think along set pathways. The human brain is supposed to be able to analyze and come up with better solutions. That's what learning Science is supposed to do, train our minds to think and analyse. In our chase for A(s) we have also been dumbing down our kids. Everything is rushed... time becomes scarce. Time to play becomes a luxury.

I's hard to deny thar rot exist and is spreading. Hence, perhaps too why we are seeing more disillusioned parents turning to alternative systems. I see some of my Malay colleagues opting for private religious school because they feel it is better for their kids... less behavioral problems, some real religious grounding. We are not that brave yet as to take our remaining kid in the system out. But our own experience with our boy has also indicated that perhaps it might be necessary. Generally, these days, when we sit down with friends and talk about children, one thing that seems to be popping up is the bad influence from school. But perhaps too parents are not playing enough role.

Anyway, back to alternative education. Education has gone global. Unless one wants to work with the government (and that door is semi closed to non-Malays), public schooling doesn't seem to be doing very much good... Global instruction is available these days; and many are top notched too. We've not been very successful in inculcating a love for learning in our kids or independence required for lifelong learning.

Alternative education.... these days, mainstream seems to be fraught with more problems. Or perhaps this is a view from a 'the grass is always greener on the other side of the pasture'?

February is into its second day.....

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