Saturday, March 10, 2012

Content with Content but value in Values

The industry has set some new targets. We've been so focused on academic goals, it's time to bring back values. That's what I've been saying all along. In the practical sense, it's the way to go because what is abundant is cheap, and what is scarce is treasured. Today, Content (information/knowledge) is so abundant it's virtually free. What we've grown so scarce of is Values, and if we casually scan our immediate environment, it's clear how lacking we are in this basic human trait. So people who chase after Content, hoard it, and seek to capitalize on it are going to be disappointed in how little return they are going to get out of it. Those who will benefit most in the near future are those who have cultivated the right Values that can guide them in putting the freely abundant resource of Content to the best use.

By the way, I'm referring to Content and Values within the context of my pet subject, GP, hence I am looking at the issue as an academic working in the industry, not as a layman. Lately, campus has been looking to add value to our year-end results. Not that it hasn't been a preoccupation before, but now that our intake has been attracting increasingly better performing candidates, it's been getting harder to add value to our students year after year, since by their 'O's they are already doing well in their academic subjects.

It's difficult for us, especially, because we once had students who were happy enough to pass their 'A's; but now our students are aiming for top grades. Our strategies have to change, not in little increments any longer; we have to take bigger and bolder steps. I can only speak for my subject, so I will venture to examine how our grade rubrics work in order to suggest what else we might be doing to squeeze out that extra value to meet and exceed our new expectations.

Remember that there is little value in abundant resources and a much higher value in that which is scarce? Since Content is abundant to the max given our electronic information access and retrieval capabilities today, providing more Content for the kids to study adds little value to their learning. Content makes the difference between outright pass and fail, though, so there is still a bunch of students whom we must feed Content to and they must be content to just scrape through. But if we examine the GP rubric, the higher grades are attainable by exhibiting good judgement in evaluating Content knowledge based on strong moral principles backed up with logical reasoning, communicated clearly and succinctly to others.

If we're wondering how we have the time to 'cover' so much Content and so much skills training in the slightly less than two years that we have with each cohort, I say we up the emphasis on the skills we are lacking in and downplay Content teaching (what most people are so worried about) which is so abundant, it's valueless. After all, in grading GP papers for so many years, it's clear that depth of content does not gain additional marks but instead distracts the candidate from responding to the main question who then fails to show evidence of thinking, reasoning, evaluating and communicating, thus resulting in mediocre to near-fail grades.

Let's be assured that knowing a little about many 'topics' makes a candidate more flexible in dealing with the tough moral questions that he or she will face at the 'A's than a candidate with a lot of knowledge about only a few pet topics. A daily scan of the news as a personal habit is much more beneficial to a student, because it allows him or her to participate in the up-to-the-minute global conversation, than a topical content package that provides a false sense of security. Such packages are more for assuaging guilt than they are useful in training young minds to become global citizens of the 21st century.

Since the JC timeline is two years duration, I think the first year we should train the kids to source Content for themselves, that is to plug themselves into the daily flow of news, to observe patterns of human interaction and to identify people, concerns and events that repeat themselves over time. It's throwing them into the pool at the deep end. It'll be chaotic as they flail about, struggle, curse and complain but most will get the hang of it, while those who are seriously going under are the ones we are watching out for with the rubber ring.

Second year, we push the kids out more to exercise their moral judgement, critical thinking and communication skills as a natural follow-up from their previous experience. Second year is not the time for Content drilling any longer since (ideally) they have already immersed themselves in the ebb and flow of global information currency. What they need now is to be able to pick a point on the Content map and navigate their own way there, and this is going to require more kids getting involved in classroom interaction and less of teacher-talk which just eats into valuable training-time for the kids.

The reason why I've brought up this discussion on values education is because the industry, bless the top management, has clear and good intentions for the needs of our nation but, like the bureaucrats that they are, their only solution for encouraging schools to embark on Values education is to throw money at it. People have the wrong idea that Values education is a separate entity from Subject education. It's not. In fact, Values education is integral to subject mastery (at least it is for GP) and to reward it with money and certificates gives the very wrong impression that a person's values can be exploited for personal gain, and that values are used to differentiate people from one another instead of integrating everyone inclusively through the sharing of the same values in common with one another.

All the more so that we send out the right message of Values education because we are finding ourselves living in an increasingly diverse society, where tension between people groups is running alarmingly high.

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