Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Listen, Listen and Listen

Five months into a new work place and I have discovered how little my students actually listen. I was shocked when I first entered my classes because what greeted me was not the typical type of classrooms which I was used to (I don't know whether location, race have anything to do with this) but that of students busy having their own conversations or doing their own things while the teacher is talking. It took weeks of constant reminders and great effort to make them sit and listen. And while I have seen some degree of silence, making it a point that these kids listen while lesson is ongoing is a continuous effort. And a noisy surrounding certainly does not help. A great way to learn about life and everything else in it... We think more too I feel, when we listen well...

Notice how people redirect a conversation to themselves or topics of their interests while are in the midst of telling them something? Or how they start giving their own opinions less than a couple of minutes into the conversation? They are many ways a conversation is redirected or hijacked.

The art of listening is a dying art. I always believed that listening is one of the dominant ways of learning. If we are not able to listen, we will not be able to learn. And by learning, I don't mean the kind of learning that requires you to regurgitate stuff lock, stock and barrel. When one listens, one is supposed to make meaning of the sounds he takes in. The brain then extracts meaning from those sounds. It's a great way of exercising our brain if we listen well.

I learned something these last few days by observing how the people around me communicate. And I discovered that by observing how they listen, I could identify their intent. I could infer the intent of the person doing listening by just observing the responses given. And much to my chagrin, I discovered that many people are poor listeners. And guess what? Poor listeners aren't really interested in other people. Most of the time, they were into themselves. And so, very much like many of my students who were so engrossed with themselves that they hardly listened, I found that it wasn't very much different everywhere.

Good listeners make good learners. Good listeners understand that listening helps us understand more about life. A good listener learns to think more because listening is a process that includes the need to extract, make sense and reflect on the materials taken in. Only in good listening will we be able to process further the understated and the subtle.

I teach History this year too. And in Form 5, the MOE has introduced a new paper which is an open book exam paper. The lack of ability of our 17 year olds to think shows very painfully in this paper. Despite having mostly better students, I found their ability to think sorely missing. Even in copying portions which have been prepared beforehand for the exam, I see the lack of ability to discern. Hence, typo errors were transferred unchanged into the exam scripts without even any thoughts. Just to illustrate... There is no BM word for 'dating' but for those of us familiar with the auto correct in MS Word, you know that the original word is 'datang'. Yet students did no processing of whatsoever. It's easy to conclude that they brain was hardly thinking when the hands were copying. These are kids who have lost the art of listening...

I think conscious listening is helps to create understanding. I mean, one can always claim that reading helps us understand too... But I think, it's by listening to our surrounding, the people around us that true understanding takes place. Cos listening is supposed to be two way. It shows us what we understand and don't understand. We have conversations but if listening doesn't take place, there will be no understanding. We become lonelier people, I should think. And in the world, if we don't listen, chaos will reign.

People don't listen for many reasons. There are too many distractions. We are too desensitized by so many things around us. Kids don't listen in class because they are lulled by the thought that their tuitions would see them thru. People around us don't listen because they are not interested in others. Whatever the reasons, the inability to listen brings about a lack of understanding.... of ourselves and the world around us. Not being able to listen actually dumbs us...


Friday, May 3, 2013

Fix Our Schools

Fix our schools... that's what I think we need to do, if we are to stand a chance of righting the wrongs of the last few decades. Fixing our schools would probably fix our society; our society which built on racial lines which divides than unite. We have so many different types of schools. Our students are divided along racial lines. Our education system has been watered and dumbed down. Yet our leaders keep hailing it as among the best, even when international assessments show us to be regressing.

Fix our our schools.... perhaps that would give our young a chance to grow up together, as Malaysians and not as Malays, Indians, Chinese and so on first. Instead of having so many types of schools, have one where people need not fear about their identity because we aim only to build one identity - to be Malaysians. Al schools should get equal funding. These days exclusivity of schools comes with other names too - cluster school, high performing schools and so on. Oh yes! I forgot the residential schools... And so those fortunate enough to get into such schools continue to benefit while those who end up in the lesser schools get less... Is this our new social reengineering?

Fix our schools... instead of dumbing down our exams. Set a standard and keep to it so that our young minds can be challenged and aim for the world. We do not lack brains or talents as many of our people have made it on the global stage. Instead of flip flopping on our education policies, dare make changes and embrace them so that we can stand tall among the best. Make teaching a career of choice for our best and brightest so that together we can inspire a new generation of Malaysians.

Fix our schools... so many things are not going well in our schools. Ensure that schools get heads with calibre. We have way too many mediocre heads. We also have way too many heads who ought not be leading schools. We have way too many heads who focus on too many wrong things. We are now paying the price for our skewed morality. Schools are very much like a political entity now. The wrong people get promoted because they have the right connections.

Fix our schools... our curriculum is slow in adapting to the changes in the world. We come out with bombastic sounding blueprints and they remain very much just that. We have grand sounding ideas and programs but very often they remain just that. This year, one that I have been hearing is Memelihara Masa Instruksional. An observation I have made is, these are readily sacrificed to achieve and maintain certain standings. And very often at the expense of students.

Fix our schools... Assessments. PBS, PMR (soon to be abolished), SPM and at pre-uni level, an unfair playing field where the field does not seem to be even... STPM, Matriculation, University foundation courses for those who vie for places in our public universities. PBS is a sham. Many teachers are already complaining of the huge amount of work. Assessments seem to be a sham. Many are wondering whether we will wake up to a bigger nightmare when these PBS kids get to their SPM. At pre-university, the segregation is telling and it is very racial.

Fix our schools... Perhaps when we start to truly fix our schools, we might finally begin to move forward as one bangsa Malaysia. But we need Change.... Will we see that change so that we can fix our schools?