Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Getting It Right...

So what makes a good learner? Been teaching for over 20 years and good learners are elusive as can be.

It's exam season now. Mid year exam to be exact. We have our own version of 'common core standards' here. I am located in a state that is positioned third bottom in terms of achievement in the SPM, bettering only states like Sabah and Sarawak. Basically it means we are the last state in the Peninsular. And the Education Department has been breathing down our necks basically for the last few years because of this. Even Kelantan which is a poorer state has fared better.

Program after programs, detailed analysis, making calculated predictions, common exams set by a central committee... the list is long. Yet we fare no better.

My two sen of experience... I have just had the best round of grades from my students for their Form 5 History Paper 2. One student after another and scores over 80 greeted me again and again. I even have a few 98s. I should be ecstatic cos the results indicate that I must have done something right. Yet, it is now an open secret that every single paper in this mid year exam which came from the Department has leaked! So much for that momentary ecstasy that I had managed to inspire students into liking a subject which many label as boring and dead as those dead civilizations or people they depict.

Getting it right... Grades are all that seem to matter to majority of the kids. Good grades used to imply that a student is good. And a good student in turn indicates a good learner in the making. Well, that is a myth. It is also a open secret that straight A(s) students don't have good thinking or communicative skills, let alone creative thinking or problem solving skills. Prospective employers have complained enough about the quality of our graduates to give us an idea of what our schools are churning out.

Students have become very good at answering questions. Questions are hardly challenging. Grades are often adjusted. We are a nation of many straight A(s) scorers. Imagine a student with an A in English who cannot write a good composition. Or another students with an A+ who cannot solve a Primary Six (Singapore syllabus) problem solving based question. The PISA and TIMMS scores imply that our kids are around 2 years behind their counterparts. Well, I think it is probably more than that.

So, what is wrong? I think the whole way we approach learning has gone awry. Yeah! A(s) were super important during my time too. But I think we loved to learn too. I was surrounded with friends who loved all kinds of knowledge.... the sci-fi types to the lofty giddy poet wannabes. School was a place where we learned to learn. Most of the time we had to learn to find our own way, figure out the solution... in short we had time to reflect and dream. Kids today? Well, their time is jam packed with extra classes.... we have the schools to thank for that... and extra tuitions.... we have the kiasu parents to thank.

I was in my class when the History paper was collected. I had time to walk around the class before I collected the papers. I guess my students must have felt sorry for me for believing the unbelievable... that they were actually beginning to see some light in the 'dead' subject... when one of them piqued that they knew the questions beforehand. Of course I went into a tirade of sorts... But more than anything, I felt sorry for them. I felt sorry because the system has failed them. We are 'teaching' them to get the A(s) but definitely not in the way that benefits that in the longer run.

The questions leaked... We have to ask how and why. The how is obvious... probably teachers and the likelihood of tuition teachers being the culprit is high. When money is the motivator, little else needs to be said. Why? I guess it's a glimpse of the greater malaise that plagues this country too. This is a country built on sanctioned racial divide.

Getting it right. I guess we have to go back to the basics. We have to get it right at the core. We have to beat least seen doing right from the top. Walk into many schools in this state and it's not hard to see what I mean. Wrong people are sitting up there for the wrong reasons. We have to right that first. Good heads make all the difference. We have too many heads of schools who are not fit to lead. Yet they are there. I think I have served under 10 principals and countless Senior Assistants. I think I count 3, maybe 4 who made a difference. But what is probably worrying is most of them were in my early career.

It's hard to get it right. Life is hard to get right as it is too...

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