Friday, October 17, 2008

Walking encys NOT required

A comment from that Revamp Pri Ed site.

1. What do you think should be the desired outcomes for students at the end of primary education?
By 12, a child should be an independent learner, with teacher as a facilitator. He or she should know how to learn, where to find the needed information, and how to work in teams to solve problems/ situations. The next few decades will bring unexpected challenges, and children are rapidly outpacing their teachers in terms of technology. What we need are independent learners who can get together to brainstorm and share their strengths while recognising their weaknesses (no one is perfect, striving for 4As across the entire cohort is an unnecessary waste of time and resources.)

2. What would you like to see taking place in a typical primary school classroom and outside of the classroom?
Reading, writing and maths are SKILLS, everything else is CONTENT. Children do not need to be walking encyclopedias. They do need to have a fire for learning and to see the things they learn as relevant to their personal lives. Learning to pass exams defeat the purpose.

Maturity and humility requires perspective. History and human geography need to be seen as relevant subjects (but please don't add tests just to lend weight).

Acceleration should be allowed for advanced learners, from preschool levels. Learning how to tune the teachers out start there.

More time and space to think and play with ideas. More experiential learning, less tests and exams.

3. What are your views on single-session primary schools?
Single-session - great idea. School should start at 8.30 or 9am. Children should be able to get enough sleep.

4. What do you think are important qualities of primary school teachers?
Passion and aptitude in their chosen field, speak standard English. Definitely need a smaller student-teacher ratio to faciliate quality teaching.

Agree with all that's said there. And I couldn't agree more that Walking Encyclopaedias are not required. Am always drumming into Brian that unlike during my time, having lots of information in your head won't be a huge advantage anymore in future. With portable devices, anyone can google for info on the go (In fact, I told him I'm looking forward to an invention, where I can just press a button, say on a watch or pendant, and a hologram of a monitor and keyboard appears in front of me; ahhhh, this means I'll be able to surf anywhere, in the car, in the toilet...) What's more important is what you do with any info you have, hence the need to be constantly curious, to think critically, to have an opinion and voice it in a calm, rational manner.

And what do you know, based on what's written in that comment above, Brian's current school seems to be on the right track. The only thing is that the school does not allow for acceleration, though I would have to agree that the programme itself, PYP which leads to the IB, does allow the child to go as far or as little as he wants.

This is because lessons are conducted according to Units of Inquiry and aren't limiting; they are NOT content-heavy, but discussion-heavy. In a school year, knowledge is developed through inquiries into 6 transdisciplinary themes of global significance; Sharing the Planet, Who we are, Where we are in time and place, How we express ourselves, How the world works, How we organise ourselves. Somehow, lessons from the past stick in the children's minds, not like the way crammed knowledge regurgitated during exams are discarded and forgotten forever once the exam is over(speaking from my own experience).

For example, in one Unit of Inquiry last year, the theme "How We Organise Ourselves" was explored through a unit on advertising called "Made you Look!" The Central Idea for this unit is “Our judgement is constantly challenged by the media”. This idea is further broken down into areas of inquiry such as: the promotion of goods and services; the impact of advertising; the rights and responsibilities of consumers, marketeers and media. During the month or so that this unit is explored, Science will not feature in the classroom.

The class visited the Coca Cola factory and a parent came by to talk about this industry. Brian now looks at ads with a more critical eye, and no longer believes everything his senses are bombarded with. He'll go, "this is a good ad, cos you remember the product after the end of the advert." He likes to cite an ad he saw in a Singapore cinema, where they used Ferrero Rocher in the advert, but the advert was for something else, maybe TV or something, we can't remember. He said that's such a bad ad, cos all we remember is the chocolate! In groups, the class brainstormed on a product they want to promote, the characteristics of the product, target consumers, ad slogan etc; then each group acted and came up with their own advertisement, using a video-cam. Pretty funny.

And I can tell you, Brian did not find the unit easy-going at all. So in that sense, he is being challenged in school; to think about stuff around him, be more aware, think critically, learn the value of teamwork and realise that every person in the team has something to contribute.

This month, the unit of inquiry is about the Role of Government. They learnt about the different types of govts, fascism, monarchy, socialism, communism, democracy, anarchy (which isn't really a type of govt cos it means no govt) and went on a field trip visiting the Kremlin armoury museum. They also discussed the current US presidential elections.

The following scenario was put forth to the class: There's this white guy. As a child, his home had a black housekeeper, hired by and treated respectfully and well by his mother. In school, the white boy's teacher tells the class that all black people had smaller brains and hence are stupid. However, whenever the white boy wants to insult black people, his mother would scold him. The question: How would this white guy, now grown up, feel if Obama won. Most of the kids in class said the white man would be angry.

We don't discuss current affairs enough at home, and Brian isn't quite aware of the deep-rooted prejudices in societies, yep, he truly is colour-blind. His response? "The white guy will feel fine, cos he'll know that to have won the election, Obama must have somehow won the support of most of the white people." Aiyaiyaiyaiyaiiiiii....hahaha....when he told me, I said "HUH? What kind of answer is that? Not true what...maybe only a small group of white people voted for him, but all the non-whites did." Brian's teacher was most kind, he said, "That's a very interesting perspective. I hadn't thought of that." hahaha, seelah, teachers here so encouraging. Another example of the areas that Brian need exposure in, he's not worldly-wise enough. He's become more interested in watching the news these days though.

So yes, as what the comment-writer suggested, English, Math and Writing are taught as skills, but everything else is content within context, and that includes Science, History, Geography. Hmmm, now things are making some sense (I still would like more rigour in Math though.)


monlim said...

Couldn't agree more. Actually, this sort of thinking, moving away from content-based learning to problem-based learning (ie the world is abt solving problems, we present a problem and you find the resources, integrate the materials etc to find your own solution) is not new in SG. Temasek Poly, when I was working there almost 10 yrs ago, had already adopted this and Republic Poly adopted it as their main pedagogy when they were launched. Many sec schools are also now focusing on discovery and life-long skills, not just on giving that one "correct" answer as defined by the teacher.

But somehow, this focus has not filtered down to the pri schools. I'm not sure why it's still so entrenched that young kids have to know so much content. If you see the science syllabus, it's madness. So much of what they have to know and regurgitate is what we used to learn in sec school. Maybe it's just for the lack of a good pedagogy? Dunno.

Great to know that Brian's school is on the right track. See? not so bad afterall, despite all your complaints!

Lilian said...

I told you I'll always find something to moan about what...

In NUS, it was still very much content-based during my time, at least for the subjects I took. I remember seeing an American uni website, and the way they taught statistics was totally different from NUS. They managed to make it relevant and real. All I got out of Stats was a huge headache, I never knew how all the squiggly symbols relate to usage in life. I'm sure things have changed there since my time lah, hopefully.

Yes, when I first saw Sg's P3 science assessment books, even P4, loads and loads of stuff to, well, not really learn, most of them required pure memory work. P5 & P6 less memory work, more conceptual I think. Science to me is about discovery, observation, testing hypotheses; not so much fact-memorising.

In Brian's Frankfurt school, and even in London, there were no textbooks for Science, just a workbook to jot down their experiment results and afterthoughts. And we never knew when exams were held; so he never had to mug beforehand. COS COS COS exams there tested what you've retained from classroom instruction, not how much facts you've memorised from thick books or worse what hasn't even been taught at all. This doesn't mean the tests are straightforward, but they test your understanding of concepts, not your memory prowess.

bACk in GERMANY said...

Can't agree more with that comment. And in fact, that's university learning too.. What did I learn from my uni days: To learn how to learn and find out answers in life. It's the skills. The thinking. And problem solving!
Contents/details? Aiyoh... just google it lah! In fact, the contents will always be there... it's how one uses it that makes a difference.

Monica, it is there. I know it. MOE believes in problem solving skills too. But seriously, I don't know how long more it will take for this to filter down to pri school level.