Thursday, August 09, 2012

Beau Geste

So, that's why we went picking apple snails from the river. We were getting it nice and clean for the PM to give his National Day address in front of.

Anyway, 3:27 in the video (above) raised an eyebrow: "Let us prepare every child for the test of life and not just a life of tests." Apart from the trite cliche, the man is referring to an aspiration, though the reality is proving to be quite the stumbling block.

It is true that we all want our students to do well.  But for many of us, "doing well" means passing the next exam, and we don't quite see much further than that. Qualifying the kids for University IS our stretch goal because we have no control over what happens after that. Once they're undergrads, we've done our jobs. Good luck, kids, you're on your own now!

Secondary schools say the same thing about preparing kids for JC; primary schools say the same thing about secondary schools. When kids pass their tests, we pat ourselves on the back and it's on to the next test, ad infinitum. As long as the paradigm that preparing kids for tests is preparing them for life, I think the big boss and we the bottom-feeders are going to have a little conflict of expectations.

Which is why I like teaching GP. Unlike the other so-called 'content subjects', GP presumes zero knowledge when it comes to taking our tests. Ours really is a test of life. We present a problem no one's really considered before -- the more surprising, the better -- and what we evaluate is the student's ability to go from "whuuuttt??" to figuring out a process that brings whatever little knowledge he has on the issue to bear on the problem and reasoning out a conclusion.

Just like real life, no one can claim perfect knowledge. What we have to go on are the little we do know, the little more we can acquire (Paper 2, the compre paper) and enough common sense to make a reasonable decision. It helps that the student is well-read because the bigger the initial pool of knowledge, the more options are open, but of greater advantage is a well-trained brain that can deconstruct the problem, filter out the relevant knowledge-components and synthesize a conclusion. In our test, knowledge is always secondary to the process.

The other aspect of GP that is so different from the other content subjects which neatly categorize and compartmentalize knowledge into arbitrary 'topics', is that in GP we recognize that true learning is chaotic. There is a reason why we do not subscribe to a textbook: our knowledge currency is everywhere; updates itself on a daily even minute-to-minute basis sometimes; and is virtually limitless. Our job is not to package up finite knowledge in a neat bundle for memorization and later regurgitation, but to train our students in skills of knowledge management, communication and initiative, if not leadership.

Some snide person once asked dNYel how we can squeeze out more A graders in GP. The answer to that is to reduce our kids' dependence on us -- especially at this late stage when the students should be needing our guidance less and less while increasing confidence in themselves, their training and their abilities more and more. Also, there is a growing pool of students who are already well-trained and at this time, we should be putting their abilities to use by helping their fellow students to improve, and not taking the full burden on ourselves.

If we're really going to help our students to take the test of life, we shouldn't be doing more for them, which will only increase their dependence on us further. We should be doing a lot less. We focus, we target, we customize. We do not blanket cover everybody with a one-size-fits-all programme catered to the lowest common denominator and make it compulsory. That proposal sounds like a recipe for disaster.

GP is not one of the content subjects. We are the last department standing that is keeping the Industry of Education from becoming the Industry of Indoctrination. For the sake of the future that the PM himself is envisioning, we must hold out!

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