Saturday, September 29, 2012
In The Garden of Beasts is a nice read. Hitler's Germany... Most kids in our schools who don't read anything beyond their textbooks won't know him. Neither will they know the atrocities he committed to his own citizens, especially the Jews nor how most chose to keep silent despite his mad actions.
The author brings us back to Berlin through the lives of the American ambassador's family. William E. Dodd was appointed the Ambassador to Berlin at a time when there were few takers for that post. He moved his family there; his wife, an indiscriminate flirt of a daughter, Martha and son, Bill. We are brought into the world she flirted in; powerful men, well-known figures. The novel gives a good firsthand account of the gathering dark of Hitler's rule. One wonders too if the course of history could have been changed had the rest of the world taken a stand. Oh! how everyone missed the real danger posed by Hitler and his regime. All the signs were there, yet the world chose to hope that Germany would change herself. None of that happened.
In Germany itself, the people kept their silence. This rather reminds me of the silent majority that is us too. Hitler was a megalomaniac, and he coordinated everything. Even candy fruit drops had swastika symbols embossed on them! An estimated 6 million Jews died in his hands. It's a fact that some have gone to some lengths to deny. He plunged Europe into war. He left a trail of destruction. We meet the people who worked with him in this book, Diels, Rohm, Goring, von Papen and many more. We are brought to the streets of Germany a decade before war, how animals seem the happiest creatures there because they were well treated, better than people who betrayed each other to the Secret Police.
So through the eyes of an ambassador who felt oddly out of the diplomatic circle, the experiences of his family members, Erik Larson brings us through one of the most tumultuous era of the 20th century and also a subtle reminder of how history is allowed to repeat itself over and over again because the silent majority often hope that things will change without them having to do or say anything. Book 16 for this year.
Thursday, September 27, 2012
Over the years I've met and worked with many teachers. Sometimes their work comes back to us in the form of modules... errors abound in these modules these days. Take the recent PBS (for school based assessments) modules for example. Many of the assessments were dotted with errors. They are quite boring too.
Our education was once world class. Today we are getting world class institutions to set up campuses in our country. But in our very own backyard, things are rotting... our public universities will feel very inferior if we don't do what is right...
Wednesday, September 26, 2012
There were 2 of these framed manuscripts and they hang at the entrance of our home church. Home church was the church of my youth. It was where we did our growing up, learned about God and also about responsibilities. It was where we were given opportunities to test and discover ourselves.
Sis liked Art and her manuscript writing was very good. She didn't mind spending hours practising her manuscripts. I had no such patience. And so when the new church was completed, the late Rev Hwa Chien approached her and commissioned her to do these... Now they hang on these walls. I think they're already artifacts in a sense cos people don't do them any more these days. In time to come too, this will join the ranks of the lost art. The computer will substitute all these manual and time consuming labour, in the process robbing also a little bit of the old ways from us too.
Friday, September 21, 2012
Anyway, Foos Steakhouse is located right at the junction to TESCO, on the opposite side. You can't miss it if you are coming from the north. The place was quite empty when we walked in. But judging from the well-stocked bar, I think it's quite a popular drinking hole.
When the menu was given to us, I was surprised with the choice available in it. One will be spoilt for choice actually. And so we ordered....
The beef was not bad. Tender to taste, minus the usual beefy smell. These cows are supposed to be fed on beer and sake. But these aren't imported from Japan cos I read somewhere they ones reared there almost never make it out of the Japanese market. Anyway, I thought it was a good experience. Come to think of it, a treat like this on our kids would probably not get the same level of happiness. But it's different when it's for our parents. It's a different sort of happiness for them.... and I think that's money well spent.
This was another order that we made. Their bento set. The presentation looked good. I particularly liked their food arrangement and portions were generous.
Sitiawan has come a long way where food is concerned. I don't know if I can get Wagyu beef here. But our favourite food remains the food we grew up on - kampuan, loo-mien, ko-ru, ko-rau-wu, chap chai... the kind that one gets only in Sitiawan.... But these days we try to do both too.
Saturday, September 15, 2012
Tackling the 'lost boys' in education system... The recent preliminary report contained in the National Education Blueprint stated that 'girls consistently outperform boys at every level; the gap in performance already evident at UPSR level and increases over a student's lifetime up to university level, where female comprise approximately 70% of the cohort." And this seems to be a worldwide phenomenon.... girls have overtaken boys. Boys are languishing...
It used to be that boys were deemed to better in logical subjects (Maths, Science) and girls were better in languages and mugging subjects. Boys were thought to be smarter... The tables are turned now. And I think we shouldn't be surprised.
School as we know it today are not meant for boys. Too much sitting down, too much memorising... there seems to be something in their genetic make-up that seems to clash with current systems. Emphasis of grades have caused education to swing completely to achieving A(s). And we're doing it the way we think should be... spending more time doing the exercises, doing so much that one can just go on auto and spew out answers.
And boys generally aren't good at that. Boys learn differently from girls, I've observed. They need to be engaged. Not that girls don't need to be but their gentler nature means that they are more likely to accept things unquestioningly, sometimes even foolishly I feel. And so in a system where the ability to learn by rote is prized more than anything, the boys become the lost gender. And I think it's going to get worse if we don't do something about it.
Bored boys retaliate... bored girls follow instructions. As a result the latter will still do better. When one retaliates and the result is often detrimental to the grade's well-being. And so the boys get left behind. The curve has gotten rather steep these days and catching up becomes a problem.
During my time, the boys somehow would always catch up by the time we got to Form 4. It was easier then. A little realisation, a dash of hard work... everyone more or less got back on the same footing. It's impossible these days. Everyone is just way too ahead. Tuition has ensured that! The way we drill our kids leave the boys not much chance of catching up... and it's downright boring too.
Imagine learning History, and all the kids do is just memorise bunch of facts about some event which has no meaning to them. Many would just rebel and chuck the subject away. But try giving this same group of boys Temple Run or Dota or any of the popular computer games, they come alive, show great dexterity in and concentration in trying to conquer the game, in besting their personal scores and the result is instant. Yet when you sit down with most of them and ask them which is more important, nearly all will give the right answer that studying to pass History is important. However, many will still chuck it away. That's what boys would do. It's an inbuilt mechanism. Personally, I think Science and Maths appeal to boys because they can see the results of their efforts quite immediately. Boys have no patience for endeavours which bring them rambling down a long winding path most of the time. They are after all the descendants of the hunter gatherer... one can't be chasing his hunt whole day! They need to see quick results if the family is not to go hungry. Hence, engaging them to love learning is important to overcome this problem later on... But some boys adapt to such rote learning too, though there are fewer of them.
Computer games engages. History does not. Mind you it's not that the latter can't engage. The inability to engage stems from the failure of the delivery system. But engage the boys in History, and you'll find that they'll do just as well too... when you give them meaning. That's why boys do well actually in the fields that are supposed to be traditionally women's domains too - hairdressing, cooking, and do just as well if not better. Boys are not dumber. The system is not balanced. Today's schools are more suited for girls.
By the MOE's own admission; in the same preliminary blueprint, "a 2011 research study found that only 50% of lessons are being delivered in an effective manner. This means that lessons did not sufficiently engage students, and followed a more passive, lecture format of content delivery. These lessons focussed on achieving surface-level content understanding, instead of higher-order thinking skills." And guess what, it's estimated 60% of current teachers will still be teaching in 2- years' time. It'll be difficult to change the system. The problem is no longer just a thorn in the flesh. It's gone into the bloodstream and by the looks of things, signs of septicaemia are beginning to show.
Too few men in the teaching profession. Too few role models for boys to see. Education these days is mostly women's domain. How can it appeal to the boys? There are far and few men for them to follow. Kids watch by observing. And what we've been providing are mainly females in the teaching profession. Education has become very unmanly; and made even more so when you have poor male role models. Lost boys.... there'll be more of them. Used to be just 60% a decade ago. It's now 70%. All of us should be worried about this imbalance.
Thursday, September 13, 2012
Wednesday, September 12, 2012
I've been reading.... stuff which I normally don't read. And I've been doing lots of thinking too. Crossroads, not a major one but at one, nevertheless. The History course I signed up on Coursera, run by a Princeton professor has just started too. I do not know whether I'll complete it. The course itself feels daunting. World History from 1300 and a 750-word essay every fortnightly. I listened to the first video lecture two days back and I think I will enjoy it but am not sure whether I can find the time. Something usually must give for something one wants. But I shall just give it a shot. I learned quite a bit from my previous course, though I did not complete it. Had to give up towards the end when other pressing matters came into picture. I kinda miss my uni student days.
And that project jolted from the recesses of my grey matter, memories of paper toys. When Son (and neoghbour's kids) were small, I used to print these paper toys from the net. Those days it was called paper toys. We'd spend days (during the long break at the end of the school year) cutting, folding and gluing them together. Much of the work was tedious as the cutouts had to be precise. But we 'built' many stuff; the Eiffel Tower, the Mississipi River Boat, Big Ben and many more. Those models sat on our piano for years until the dust won the battle and I had to throw them away.
And, the new National Education Blueprint was announced. Just like its predecessor, it looked real good. Am in the midst of reading through it... the report is around 270 pages. Gone through about a third of it. Old stuff, new way of repackaging. What I wonder most is whether the delivery will fail. We've got to correct our 'skew' before we can see real improvement. Double standards will always mean just that... unethical practices. So how can ethics come out of unethical practices?
Recently, I'm beginning to hear more of my friends saying how their schools are glossing up marks so that the school's overall report is better. It seems some school heads are telling their teachers (directly and indirectly) to add marks to students marks so that they'll pass. With SAPS (marks go online), passing percentage reflects a school's standing. See what I mean about ethics.... cos as the competition heats up, worse things will come out.
Tuesday, September 4, 2012
These days education is about the the A(s), though I feel we're trading a lot for that. For those who can cope, they'll continue to cope. But for those who struggle with the academics, it's trickier. With so much emphasis on academic achievements, co-curricular activities have been put on the back burner. Sports are no longer avenues for those who are athletically inclined cos most schools can't wait to get their sports over and done with. Games run on a token basis. But everything looks good on paper.
Kids either perform academically to get noticed or none at all. Athletes are no longer looked upon as in the old days. One can't strut around because he is superior on the field. Those statistics don't count. It's the ones scored in exams that do.
Learning these days is mainly learning how to answer to score. We don't really bother whether students actually learn something. It's the statistics that we're chasing. Other Half went to see our gal's Headmaster recently regarding the one angle open ended essay. He was told that no doubt her essay was 'right' but within the UPSR mark scheme, it is wrong cos there can be only one perspective. And they want to make sure the kids all answer according to that prescribed perspective. Sad, cos our young minds are being regimented in a very dumb way. In Science, they are super particular about the terms used too, the way a question is answered....
Chasing for the material - the A(s) don't come free though. Boys suffer the most I feel. Sitting in the class listening to teachers ramble on and on, and as soon as they're done with the topic, dish out questions after questions as a drilling exercise. We cram in as much exercise as we can, hoping that the rote learning will help them retain facts. The thing is, we forgot that not all kids can be pushed that way. So, we get lots of misbehaviour. It's not uncommon to see kids shouting on top of their voices as they walk the school corridor these days. Rules be damned. It's as though they have to let it out, show to everyone that there is this something in them which they need to show to everyone else. Culture has been sacrificed.
So Sept 11 is supposed to the day when another national blueprint is announced. Response from some groups that I've joined in conversation seems to indicate that the government hasn't been paying much attention to their suggestions even though there are active groups campaigning for issues like preschool education, English medium schools, PPSMI, etc, etc.
Whatever it is, I hope the new National Education Blueprint offers some hope. We desperately need that. Our education system has gone into the doldrums.... and increasingly there many who seek alternative education. Alternative seems to be an in thing these days.... but then again, perhaps we should embrace it. The tested has not been able to lift us higher. Perhaps the alternative would....
Sunday, September 2, 2012
With Son, I kept an eye by getting directly involved with his schooling, coaching him in his school lessons. But it was rather tiring, working and trying to learn so many things at the same time, though being a teacher and having a gung-ho attitude helped. But it was super tiring. But am thankful that I found strength to do that. Tuition was at bare minimum and he survived up till Form 6!
What is the purpose of education really? Is it to ensure that our kids score strings of A(s) only? They are important but are there other things which lie beyond this goal? Obviously yes but they way we go around thing seems not to imply that. Kids attend so many tuitions these days that they have no time to read, explore on their own. Spoon feeding has become the norm and many prefer to just sit and wait for the teacher to move them.
In the past few years, I've realised how important reading is. I mean I've always known that but I've come to appreciate how reading trains the mind and attitude in making us better learners. Without good reading habits and ability, lifelong learning becomes more difficult. And generally kids read less these days. They have less time and more pressing needs.
This is an age of tremendous changes... the late Sir John Templeton in his Financial Chaos memo, written in 2005 envisioned that in as quickly as 50 years, as much as 90% of education will be done electronically. And I think we will need a great degree of individual independence to get maximum benefit. Our schools don't prepare our kids to learn independently, nor seems able to inculcate creative and critical thinking. In my school I am seeing more bored kids... perhaps it's only unique in my school. I don't know. Our views tend to be shaped by our environment. But perhaps my environment is not the norm and everywhere kids are thriving in our education system.
And if anything too, the latest open essay episode my gal went through seem to have highlighted to me how one track our Chinese vernacular schools are. And how there is a lack of questioning among the teachers for themselves. But perhaps it's uniformity they seek. And perhaps too, that reflects the Chinese mindset. Even in Science, the kids are expected to churn out answers in prescribed ways. We have always felt that Chinese school was a better option compared to national schools because of the discipline and diligence. Most national schools pale in comparison to Chinese schools in these areas. The rigours one goes through are undisputed.
But Chinese schools are without problems.
Could it be the language of instruction? We are often told, Bahasa Mencerminkan Budaya... Language is a reflection of one's culture. Chinese are authoritarian, Malays too if you look at the konsep daulat... the culture here does not encourage questioning. Perhaps it's too simplistic of way of looking at things but sometimes I wonder. Where do we see the most creative and meaningful outputs?
I have been reading up again on homeschooling in greater frequency these last few days. And I've also made a few friends online who have shared their experiences. Many of my friends are already homeschooling their kids. And some already have college going kids. Theirs is the road less taken. I wonder whether I'll be brave enough to walk it.