Crippling Learning With Unrealistic Standards

I was reading a past-year Primary Three mathematics exam paper this evening – with all its ridiculous problem sums – when I decided to write this long-overdue letter and send it to the newspaper forums in Singapore. I also posted it on my Facebook page. The Chinese translation comes courtesy of a good friend.

The Today newspaper published it here, and Lianhe Zaobao published it here. Thank you to the editors who deemed it fit to be published, and to the many parents and readers who shared it across social media. The Straits Times rejected the article as it wanted exclusivity on the piece and it found out Today had published it.

The primary school education system in Singapore has been the point of much debate among educators and parents for a long time now.

As a product of the system in the 1980s, and now a father of two children in Primary One and Three, I fear that the system has become one of irrelevant and unrealistic standards. And I come from the perspective of being someone who has excelled within the old system, yet have always questioned the relevancy of the content we were taught in real-world settings.

Sadly, the situation has only gotten worse.

Let’s take primary school mathematics as an example – why are students being asked to solve questions of higher level logic at such a young age? Does it make them more creative in problem-solving? Does it help them when they are faced with heuristic problems that even adults don’t have to deal with in the workplace? No, it only leads to more rote-learning of – ironically – heuristic methods. The vast selection of assessment books and tuition centers that teach heuristics is testimony to this claim.

Another observation is that school teachers sometimes do not have the opportunity to reinforce the basics of simple arithmetic, and are forced to make their students do sums that are more useful in weeding out mathematical geniuses than genuinely impart knowledge. Within the cramped periods of each school day, it is simply impossible for teachers to cover all the bases in today’s punishing curriculum.

It’s no longer a matter of excelling in class, but to simply pass Mathematics today, it is mandatory to have tuition to fill the gaps that school teachers sometimes struggle to fill. If so many students require tuition, then it means our education system has failed in its basic goal of imparting the correct skill sets.

My wife, a university honours graduate, gave up her job to coach the children at home, but is herself exasperated at the standards required of students today. I have yet to observe any beneficial efforts of pushing children so hard at the primary school level apart from high stress levels and sapping of intellectual curiosity.

Apart from removing the joy in learning, another side effect of today’s education system is that my children hardly have time to enjoy childhood. They have less time to play outdoors, to read their favorite books (which is a great way to improve one’s English), to explore new hobbies or simply to learn about the world around them. All because they have so much homework to do.

I could go on about the other subjects, but the scenarios are the same. The schools are not teaching less, nor are the students learning more.

Ian Tan Yong Hoe

*********

And here’s the Chinese translation as done by a great friend. This goes to Zaobao.

不切实际的教育标准:学习的绊脚石

长久以来,新加坡小学教育制度是导师和家长们热烈辩论的课题。

我出身于80年代的教育制度,现在已是两名就读小一和小三孩子的父亲,我担忧本地教育制度已是个不切实际并与现实脱节的制度。尽管在当年教育制度下考取好成绩,我当时已经质疑校园所吸收的知识在现实生活中能有多大用处。

遗憾的是,这种情况每况愈下。

就 拿小学数学作例子。为什么学生们必须在年幼时就学习解答更高年级的逻辑习题?这是否真能协助他们以创意思维克服人生障碍?让小学生面对这些成年人在工作 上都无需接触的启发式问题,是否真对学生们有帮助?矛盾的是,这只会导致小学生用死记硬背来学习启发式演算法。课外教材泛滥,补习中心如雨后春笋冒出,足 以证明这一点。

我观察到的另一点是,小学教师往往没有机会着重灌输数学演算法的基础知识,而被迫让学生解答高难度习题。与其传授实用知识,这些深奥习题更像是为选拔数学天才而设。在学习时间有限的学堂,期望教师们在教导现今艰难的课程时面面俱到,是不可能的任务。

今时今日,让小孩子补习,以补充学校教师有时无法或没有时间传授的知识是一个必要。家长这么做,不再是要孩子名列前茅,而只为了让他们能够数学及格,仅此而已。如果这么多学生需要补习,这意味我们的教育制度在传授正确技能这个基本目标方面,是失败了。

我太太是大学荣誉毕业生,为了在家督导孩子而放弃事业,对于小学生面对的严苛考测标准,她感到忧愤。在小学水平就要学生们面对严峻学习挑战,除了带来高度压力,削弱孩童学习好奇心之外,我至今仍然看不出有什么好处。

浇灭学习乐趣不说,现今教育制度的另一个副作用是我的孩子已没有时间好好享受童年。他们没有多余时间进行户外玩乐、或阅读心爱书籍(这是提升语文水平的好方法)、或尝试新嗜好、或只是单纯探索身边周遭的一景一物。这都归咎于他们有太多功课要完成。

对于数学以外的其它科目,情况也是大同小异。学校并没教得更少,学生同时也没学得更多。

陈永和

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Ian Tan

Ian worked in the media industry for a decade, focusing on communications, photography and technology. He now works in the IT industry, permanently plugged into his PC and Facebook.

4 thoughts on “Crippling Learning With Unrealistic Standards”

  1. Many thanks for voicing out on behalf of many parents and kids! Really hope primary school exam standard be lowered. It’s creating a lot of stress to teachers, parents and kids.

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