A need for students to learn and think

Sunday October 7, 2012
http://thestar.com.my/education/story.asp?file=/2012/10/7/education/12074291&sec=education

OPINION
By JOSE MARIO DOLOR DE VEGA

Seeking an education is to acquire knowledge and ensure learners think and analyse, but have our students and stakeholders been successful in achieving these goals?

ONCE again we return to the perennial question of the kind of education system that we have in the country.

Indeed, it is not an exaggeration to state that our present academic set-up, instead of encouraging critical thinking, acquiring soft skills and other relevant intellectual weapons, is precisely the very one that kills creativity, stifles innovation and impinges on independent dynamism.

Indeed, our prevailing exam-oriented, score-based, points-mindset educational system undeniably distorts motivation and learning by our overemphasis on the importance of scores as outcomes and measures of students’ abilities.

This “myopia” is one of the root causes why our students lack personal confidence and intellectual creativity.

Sadly, they are not even qualified enough to fulfil future tasks that requires beyond memorising.

I am specifically referring to jobs that demand conversation, writing and oral or verbal communication.

I doubt, if receiving instructions, writing memoranda, engaging in a discourse or presenting one’s idea in a meeting can be memorised. I doubt if there is a book that will teach our kids to learn those methods, skills and craft!

It is my contention that those skills can only be harnessed and cultivated by the very act of practising them inside the classroom and even beyond the four corners of the university.

There seems to be a grave confusion with regard to what we want for our students as against the interest of the general system.

Confusing objectives

Extrinsically, we are encouraging them to memorise and to get high marks, yet intrinsically we are demanding that they must possess critical thinking, creativity and persuasive discourse.

This is a blatant contradiction and self-defeating to the utmost.

How can we expect our students to possess critical thinking when we are not encouraging them to speak their minds?

How can we expect them to become creative if we consign them to the borders of the lecture-notes and syllabus of the subjects? And most importantly, how can we expect our students to express and talk in a brilliant persuasive discourse if they lack the personality, the basic foundation and the necessary training (both the written and the oral form)?

I believe that it is unjust for the system and for the teachers to expect too much from the students, given the confusion and contradiction of the system.

It follows that it is also unfair for the student to be expected to deliver when they are not even trained and nurtured in the first place.

How can one expect the horse to run fast, if the trainer of the horse does not fully practise and exercise the maximum speed of the said horse?

If we do not allow the horse to run freely in the plains to explore the vastness of the wild; but rather subject the same to the four corners of enclosure, do we expect the horse in question to perform well the day we release it for the race?

Lastly, if we do not give the “finest grass” and the “best vitamins” to the horse; do we have the right to expect the animal to launch and unleash its full prowess and potential?

Teacher’s obligation

At this juncture, I would like to talk about the paramount duty of the trainers, the mentors, the lecturers, and the teachers.

The obligation of the teacher is to inspire and guide his students to think, to question without fear nor hesitation, to speak courageously, to express boldly and with fortitude, and to be confident.

The teacher must be able to make his students think.

Not all students understand the process involved in the different thoughts and ideas that will lead them to a much higher plane of diverse views and more superior discourses.

If students can grasp the inner workings of this complicated, yet truly liberating process through their meticulous efforts and painstaking endeavour to render justice to the whole enterprise and craft; and if they can draw the comprehensive paradigm of the interconnection and the interdependence of the different ideas and varied thoughts, as discussed in the class; and if they could see the ultimate similarity and the profound inter-relationship of these various and multifaceted elements, then the entire class will be happy.

This is because the teacher has won in his academic passion and it will be a victory for both the teacher and students.

Theory without practice is dead, in the same vein that a good point, without the confidence and the courage to justify an argument in an open discussion in a classroom, is totally unacceptable.

The relationship between the teacher and the students must always be present, from the beginning of the lesson right up to its completion.

A true teacher is one who can gear his students to think independently.

The teacher must be able to discover and consequently construct their own truths, to nurture and create their own structure and foundation, and to simultaneously answer their own questions.

Let me dwell now on the other perennial problem of the matter and that is the focus of the system.

The ultimate problem of the whole academic system is our extreme emphasis to the extrinsic aspect of education as against the intrinsic element of it.

This aspect refers to the memorisation and rote learning of our children so that they will get high scores and good marks in an examination.

At the outset, there seems to be no problem here; however, look at it again and analyse the whole spectrum.

Getting good scores and full marks in the test is not bad in itself; it becomes bad the moment an educational system devotes its entire focus and energy to it at the expense of the intrinsic part of the whole general education!

In the critical words of political author Chris Hedges: “We’ve bought into the idea that education is about training and ‘success’, defined monetarily rather than learning to think critically and to challenge.

“We should not forget that the true purpose of education is to make minds, not careers.

“A culture that does not grasp the vital interplay between morality and power, which mistakes management techniques for wisdom, which fails to understand that the measure of a civilisation is its compassion, not its speed or ability to consume, condemns itself to death.”

The intrinsic part of the education is precisely the key, in order for our students to develop confidence and nurture creativity.

These are necessary ingredients in order for them to develop soft skills and other inter-personal skills.

The intrinsic aspect is the practice, the practical part or the practicum.

What we need is the rational and reasonable merging of these two elements for the benefit of our children!

Henceforth, it is my suggestion to the stakeholders concerned to take a break and pause and think about what we truly want for our children.

Having said so, it is my firm belief that the Education Ministry in particular must re-evaluate and review the education system

The stakes are high as it affects not only the future of our children, but also the future of the whole country!

The writer has a Master’s degree in Philosophy, a law degree and a degree in AB Political Science. He was previously teaching Philosophy, Ethics and Anthropology at an institution of higher education in the Klang Valley.

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