Sunday, October 27, 2013

What is the purpose of sending our kids to school?

 A lot on my mind and in my hands lately, having trouble sleeping.
I'm attending a Baha'i Children Class Grade 2 teacher training, it's been inspiring and thought provoking. And at the same time I read some articles someone posted on facebook and met many children and realised that we seriously need to change the way we educate our children! Or at least let me start in a small way, and hopefully in time for my children to benefit from.  There's only a little dilemma in me - how to balance this ambition of mine without compromising my time and relationship with my kids. Is it a Either Or decision or can I do both? So far I'm been chasing this dream of becoming a teacher! I've missed my chance to study early childhood education during my university days, but having got married and having my kids, my love and passion for teaching have grown and I know what I am good at and what I want to do with my life. I want to teach!

I am a mother of 3 now, I do not have the luxury of time and energy to pursue my qualification in education. I guess I just have to be patient and wait till the kids are older. Hopefully it's not too late then. :)

For preschool, we still have the luxury of choices and I am pretty happy with my son's Montessori school. But having said that Montessori till 6 years old is not sufficient, and due to pressure from the parents, and preparing the student for the transition of Montessori learning to Route learning in schools, Montessori schools have to forgo many things and introduce testing, homework, drills...etc.

Just a few things that I've been thinking about. Our school system... is it really good enough? Living in the Southern most city in Malaysia and a stone throw away from Singapore, I can say we have quite a few options of school. Firstly it's the Local Malaysia Schools - Kebangsaan Schools, the Chinese Local Schools, the Private schools doing Malaysian sylllabus, the International School doing International syllabus such as  Cambridge GCSE, IB Programs, IPC programs, Schools in Singapore and the less travelled road which is Home Schooling. Each has it's pros and cons.

I see a big gap between class room learning and life in general. Just a question: What is the purpose of sending our kids to school?

Answers are many but I don't think we are really certain of what the real purpose should be?

Just from my own understanding - In the industrial period, schools were built and created to prepare the children for the work force, so a standard curriculum was applied to everyone. Every child have to study this subject and that subject and everyone need to pass it to go on the next level. Sounds like a reasonable plan if we are going to produce factory workers who will do the same thing to produce the same product. But in reality, we are humans. No 2 humans are alike and no 2 humans have the same capacity and talents. There's very little room for children to really explore and discover their talents and develop the gifts within them. Education in schools prepare children for the work force, but does it prepare them for life?

 "All men have been created to carry forward an ever-advancing civilization. " Baha'i writings.

Look at our life today, for the past 100 years, life on earth has progress and changed so much. We are so advance in our sciences and discoveries and everyday there are new technologies in the market and we can do so much with the knowledge we acquire now. However as much as we have achieve, we have lost as well. Look at how we treat the earth and how we treat our friends and neighbours? We may be losing more than we have gained.

We have to re-look the purpose of our education system. Is it just for the advancement of ourselves? Most of the children only want to get the best grade, to win and get the gold medal. Most want to study hard, earn lots of money and have a happy life. All of this is good, but a little inward looking, is education a pathway for fulfilling an individual's material needs? And always think, while we are enjoying our life here with 3 television in the house, each room with an aircon, water heater in each bathroom, 2 cars at least, a maid at home and money to eat out every week (I'm guilty as charged!) there are so many people in the world that are worrying if they have food for the next meal, clean water to drink, a shelter to live in, let alone a chance to go to school and learn.

We were talking about 'Justice' the other day in the Bahai children class that I conduct in my home. What is justice? "It's being fair."said one of the students. I did a little activity where I have a number of crayons in my hand, and I pass it to one of the student and the rest do not have any. How is he/she going to act in such a situation. The logical thing is to share it. 1st round I give the first child enough to share 1 crayon with each child. The 2nd and subsequent rounds, I gave less and less and in the end I only had one, they need to work out a situation that is fair to all.

After the activity, I asked the children again, so what is justice? How did they practice being fair? "We have to share it in a way that everyone gets an equal share."

'So justice is more than being fair, it's about sharing what we have.' So we shouldn't just worry about ourselves, and not only worry about our country but we need to look at ourselves as world citizen. We need to worry about our world. The earth is ours and we need to come together in unity to love and take care of it.

So our education should strive towards the betterment of the world.

With this in view, are we doing enough just to put our children through test and exams and go from one grade to another? Are we tapping on our most precious resource and potentials?

My son is in Primary 1, 7 years old and attending a school in Singapore- yes he travel overseas to go to school everyday :) . I was quite happy that Singapore is moving away from examinations and that there's no exam for Primary 1 & 2 but series of different test to evaluate the children's ability. However it's so ingrained in our education system that it's still a long way from ideal. My son came back and told me he feels 'stressed', that he needs to complete the paper in school with so many different questions on time, multiplication, division... etc.

Hmmm... 7 year old feeling stressed? I am also stressed that he can't catch up in school for one of the language subject that I agreed with the teacher's suggestion of tripling his tuition time these past 2 weeks. I'm partly to blame...

And also when I tried to teach him more things, he said 'teacher say just learn this is enough, Don't need to learn so much.' My fears are here, he is slowly becoming the 'exam-child' - only learn to pass the exam that's it. No joy, no curiousity, no creativity. Just memorise and spit out at the exam hall.

I met my nieces today and they are so happy because yeah exams are over and holiday is coming!
There's nothing wrong with that on the surface, but I just wonder why learning can't be fun? So fun that everyday is a holiday? Learning shouldn't be just in school, and not just for passing the exam but every moment is a learning experience whether at home at school or when travelling. Learning should be inspiring, exciting and interesting. Education is like lighting a fire and this light should keep burning brighter and brighter. Learning brings joy, brings laughter, fulfillment and growth. True education should also allow a person to listen, to observe and to think deeply about everything. To discover their talents and interest and work towards it and using the knowledge and expertise to contribute back to the society not just for personal interest.

One of the most unbelievable thing I heard during the teacher training today was from one of the children class teacher, she herself a mother of 3 kids in local Malaysian schools. She said her daughter told her that the teacher told them no laughing during the examination periods. It seems when you laugh, all the knowledge you learnt will be gone!!! How absurd!!!

"Joy gives us wings! In times of joy our strength is more vital, our intellect keener, and our understanding less clouded. We seem better able to cope with the world and to find our sphere of usefulness. But when sadness visits us we become weak, our strength leaves us, our comprehension is dim and our intelligence veiled. The actualities of life seem to elude our grasp, the eyes of our spirits fail to discover the sacred mysteries, and we become even as dead beings." - Bahai Writings.

Joy should be as the above quote said...
I feel sad that our schools teachers are teaching such things to the kids... real sad...

The other few things I am thinking and also worried about is one the how little we apply what we learn in schools to our life- there's no or very little link between the knowledge we get from school and real life. The second is each subject is very isolated, there's no link between English and Math or Science...etc. There is some but not clear and children sees them separately.  There should be a intergrated curriculum which some of the western school systems have adopted. For example if they are learning about trees, they learn the Language and vocabulary related to trees, they learn the Science of the growth and parts of the tree, they learn the numbers related to tree- maybe years it takes to grow, counting the bark/stem to know how old the tree is...etc, and they do crafts about the tree, eat and cook food that comes from trees, the impact of trees to our environment..etc.

I think this is a very interesting and integrated style of learning that repeats the topic enough times to create a strong neural path in the brain and the child's understanding of trees becomes very strong. This style of learning can also cater to different child's learning ability and their learning preference.

I think that's all for now, I've empty out my thoughts today finally feeling sleepy. Good night. :)

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