Archive for May, 2008

The ways of Dr Always

May 16, 2008

Once upon a time there was a professor by the name of Dr Always. Dr Always always gets his ways. He feels that all the schools in this world except his has deviated from their main purpose of education. He gives the example of schools proclaiming to produce future leaders for this nation but end up focusing on grades instead. He cannot seem to see the link between producing straight ‘A’ students and producing future leaders. He doesn’t have to look further than our leaders’ result slips to see the connection.

He then speaks of an education crisis as though we have been educating people wrongly for as long as time began. But strangely enough, he survived the same education that he professly detests and even did well.

He laments how easily students forget what they learn in school and concludes that what they forget they have never truly learnt before but have instead memorised them. But he forgets that different people have different memory abilities. Some people can hear a name for the first time and remember it instantly for life. Others forget the name the moment it is introduced and cannot even recall it after repeating it for twenty times. So if two persons were to study the same material and the one with the better memory remembers it better, Dr Always will always conclude that the one with the better memory has truly learnt whereas the other person merely memorised.

Furthermore, memory also depends on interest. Our minds are naturally inclined towards things we like and so we remember them better. If a person can recall history better than math or science, Dr Always will always conclude that the person has truly understood history but has mugged math and science instead.

Dr Always advocates using disappearing ink for our educational certificates, the moment the knowledge is forgotten, the grades should disappear as well. I wonder if he would use disappearing ink for his emails and photos as well. The moment he forgets his primary school mates for example, their faces would disappear from his childhood photos. The moment he forgets an event, that email is automatically erased from his hardisk.

Of course if everyone can be like Dr Always who never seem to have to venture far from what he learnt when he was 16 years old, remembering can be easier because there is less to remember. But the world is churning ever faster than before and the knowledge worker finds himself having to constantly upgrade and acquire ever more new skills. The last thing he would expect is to be asked to recall what he learnt when he was 16 years old.

Dr Always says that knowledge doesn’t equate to being educated so it is better to impart general principles to prepare them for life in general. But he forgets that in today’s highly sophisticated and specialised world, general principles will not even get you a job. Jobs today require highly specialised skills unless one chooses to become a road sweeper or the president.

He speaks fondly of apprenticeship, the oldest form of education and of early paintings showing students of different ages doing different things and looking in different directions. He laments schools of today where students of the same age, face the same direction and listen to the same lecture. He should get someone to take a picture of himself giving a talk to see if he belongs to the former category that he is so fond of or the latter category which he detests.

He talks about how the fabric of curriculum should revolve around thinking, reasoning, forming opinions and ‘thinking on one’s feet’ as though they are absent in other schools. But I do agree that ‘thinking on one’s feet’ is a bit lacking in schools today. But if we were to regard ‘thinking on one’s feet’ as being eloquence, wouldn’t it be easier to simply place our students in some indian households and get them to practise tongue twisting for a couple years?

He tells the story of how Stanford graduates were stumped by a simple question of what transforms a tiny seed into a huge tree. He expects reasoning processes involving such things as ammonium compounds in the soil and carbon dioxide in the air. But is such knowledge as ammonium compounds and carbon dioxide process or content? If we were never told or read about carbon dioxide in the air, would we have included it in our reasoning process? Without the content that is carbon dioxide, what meaningful reasoning process would we have amounted to?

So we must naturally conclude that the fault of the Stanford graduates lies not with process but with content or the inability to recall content. This brings us to an earlier issue Dr Always deemed as an apparent disconnect between what we learn in school and what we actually use at work. He is of the opinion that there’s no need to teach students things they won’t need to use at their future workplaces. In that case, you would want to ask Dr Always why he takes issue with Stanford students not knowing photosynthesis when he knows they probably won’t need it anyway when they go to work?

Dr Always always says he is sick of students vomitting in exams and finds it stinking. He doesn’t realise his incessant vomitting of his ‘educational ideals’ is equally stinking if not revolting.

Last but not least, you would also ask yourself why Dr Always is always desperately seeking good students if he wasn’t confident that he can mould poor students into good ones? Isn’t that a slap on his face and an admission that he cannot deliver what he adamantly believes he is delivering?