Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Exams... the new killer.

Exams... Examinations... Assessments...Test...
What's the purpose of it all?

It is formed on the basis that children need to be motivated to learn, that learning must be imposed, learning is not natural, that humans are born with brain with nothing and we need to fill it up with knowledge. And therefore exams are there to "make sure" kids learn.
My boys, 8 and 10 years are having exams this week. They are stressed... their mother, me is more stressed. I am in a huge dilemma of whether I should just step back and let them learn whatever they can and want in school and sit for the exams with that and accept whatever results that get OR like almost every other parents, be worried and 'kiasu' (scared to lose) and get heaps of assessment books and past year exam papers from the 'prestige' schools to drill my boys to score better in exams.  I am falling into the second category... which I hate what I am becoming! Every cell in my body is rejecting it.. and I am becoming increasingly frustrated and forcing my boys to learn as if they are empty vessels and bribing them with rewards to motivate them to learn. What can I do???

Schools or training centers were created to train human resources for the factories, for production, for the economic growth of the country. Therefore it's a set curriculum where everyone has to go through, and a set goal and examinations are conducted to make sure the outcome achieved is of a measurable standard. However that's not the case for every circumstances and that is not what education should be like. We have blindly followed the same model and make examination compulsory even for even little 6 year olds. My view of what examination is as follows:

- Examination limits imagination and creativity
- Examination limits the knowledge that is to be learnt and explored as they only learn those that are in the syllabus of the exam.
- Children are made to learn things that are not relevant nor of interest to them. 
- Children have no time to explore and learn things that are of interest to them... however little that is left.
- Examination kills the joy of learning
- Examination encourages competition 
- Examination discourages sharing of knowledge 
- Examination marks and grades damages self esteem and causes depression
- And sometimes Exams causes children to take their own lives... such a tragedy...
- Examination causes stress and pressure to perform
- Children are pressured to meet expectations of parents, teachers, school, society, government.
- It is a hindrance to the progress of civilization, retard the progress of humankind.(please read on...)

Children are taught as if they are empty vessels to be filled, and teachers are merely filling a bucket and not lighting a flame. Baha'i's believe that all man are created noble. "Regard man as a mine rich in gems of inestimable value. Education can, alone, cause it to reveal its treasures, and enable mankind to benefit therefrom."

Every human being is unique and each have their latent talents and virtues waiting manifest itself. However if we were to standardize learning and judge the intelligence of a child by some examinations, test, grades or marks, then we are judging the fish by it's ability to climb the tree.

Love this video and the courage to stand up to centuries of 'schooling'.

I believe that learning is a natural phenomenon. Babies absorb knowledge, language, mobility without anyone teaching him/her. We have to just step back and allow this natural development to happen. We often do things for children because they are 'clumsy' or 'slow' but if we show them how to do it and provide the means for them to practice and do it. They can achieve so much more.

I strive to practice this at home since my kids were born, by guiding and showing them how things are done, I then allow them to do it by themselves. Result is motivated, independent, active learners. Never do something for a child that he can do it for himself, if not we are impeding the development of the child. Montessori schools strive to do the same. And therefore I studied Montesssori and send my boys to Montessori pre school. However we don't have Montessori Primary/Secondary schools here, sadly so I have no choice but to enrol them into traditional schools. And that is when the light in their eyes dimmed.... and learning become dry and imposed and forced upon them. No freedom of choice of what they want to learn or their interest and talent lies. Everyone does pretty much the same thing.

If Albert Einstein, Thomas Edision... and all the famous inventors of the past were to be confined in a classroom doing what every other kid is doing, and sitting for standardised test, we would not have electric light bulbs, electricity... and every other great invention there is.
Baha'ullah, the prophet of the Baha'i faith continue to say:  " All men have been created to carry forward an ever-advancing civilization."

If we were to advance forward, we cannot only teach the children the knowledge of what is already known. We have to allow plenty of time, room and space for the children of today to explore, to become active learners, independent thinkers, have time for them to dream, imagine and then discover, create and experiment and build a better world then what we have today.

I am guilty at charged of limited time for play and exploration to STUDY and score for the examinations the past few weeks. It has been a very stressful time for both the kids and me. What is the purpose really? I see no joy in learning the things they are being forced to learn regardless whether they want to. But there's a few incidents where I gave them some break time, and they found some recycle papers and started making paper planes. And all 3 of them were so engrossed in it that they took such a long break that I was beginning to get irritated and I find myself wanting to tell them to stop 'playing' and get back to 'work'. But, I took a step back and I observed.  They are so happy and they are working together and discussing ways to make the plane fly higher, faster. They were exploring and experimenting what happens if they fold the front and make it thicker, what if one wing was bigger than the other, what happens when they use another type of paper, if they fold it a different way. I came to a big realisation that this 'play' is the real 'work'! First they chose it, they were joyful, what started off as a simple origami craft at break time became a test for a hypothesis, they were experimenting and learning about physis and science and in the process, they were focus, their attention were high, they were engaged, they were thinking, they were motivated to find tapes, staplers, other materials to make their plane better, they were repeating and practicing until they achieve excellence or almost there. Can you imagine the satisfaction, the sense of achievement, the amount of self esteem each of them have?

Can you imagine if for every single thing that each child learn, they get this feeling of achievement? of self fulfillment? Can you imagine what all this children will create? And when such motivated positive children grow up to be self fulfilled, motivated, young adults... together what they can achieve? The future is limitless!

I don't know what I can do now to help my children achieve this, but I will strive to provide more break time and allow for this latent potential to manifest itself. I hope in time we will abolish examinations and find a way to harness this great and precious resource we have to advance civilization.

Thursday, September 29, 2016

A life well lived.

6Today we attended a Baha'i funeral of a dear family friend, a wonderful soul whom we dearly call her Aunty Peng. I was asked to give a speech... as I was preparing the speech, I thought about my life and realised that Aunty Peng was a big part of it when I was growing up. For without her guidance, I might still be that timid and shy girl. When we encounter death, we would learn a lot about life. For only when we understand death, we will not fear it. This is when we will truly live a life of purpose. For this life is like a dream..  and our true life is the life of the spirit.

Here's my speech I prepared on the way to KL and together with another childhood friend Kumar, we shared who Aunty Peng was to us.

Dear friends and family,
Allah'u'abha. My name is Shirin Tan. I am here to share some beautiful memories of Aunty Peng, especially during the days when the Chew family lived in Johor Bahru ~around 1988 for almost 8 yrs.

Just a little background- I'm the only girl in my family so when the Chews moved to JB I was so happy to have some girl friends to play with. So me, Su yyn and Su fern quickly became best friends. Thats when dear Aunty Peng became a part of my life as I was growing up.

Aunty Peng has many wonderful attributes that will always be remembered in our hearts.

First, her Warmth and Kindness.
She is always very warm and welcomes everyone to her home. So much so that I am always there at their home and often have sleep overs there.  I even recall calling myself Chew Su Lin to feel part of the family!

Our families and the JB Bahai communities had many fond memories together.  Especially the fun we have at the weekly Bahai children class,  the picnics at Istana Garden, the southern regional Bahai summer schools, and all the Bahai activities. We also took many trips together camping in desaru, waterfall at kota tinggi where we had 10 people in a car, train rides to port dickson for winter school. And not forgetting our late night suppers for ais kacang at the satay celok stall or also known as lok lok( literally translate as dip dip as Uncle Chew will say).

Aunty Peng is our dear loving teacher in everyway. She was always encouraging.
She taught me many things. The first and most memorable lesson I learnt was to finish my food!

When I was a little girl, I would take hours to eat my food and do not look forward to meal times. And I would always end up throwing almost half of my food into the bin at the end of each meal. My mom went to aunty Peng and ask her to help teach me a lesson. So one night I was at their home for dinner, and aunty peng gave me a very small scoop of rice and she told me to finish it first and I can ask for more if I want to. Over time  I realise the wisdom behind that.

She let me realised that I can finish my meal and not waste any. Through this small action, she built my confidence and I began enjoying my meals and eat my food much faster now! This is a small example but it is through her firm yet loving encouragement that she teach every student of her.

Aunty Peng is selfless. She always think about others first especially the children. I remember she and Uncle Chew got a van just so she can ferry more children to Baha'i children classes every week. She would let us roll around literally in the back sit of the van playing sandwich which is pushing and squashing each other. And we would scream and make so much noise that if it were any other person, they would have thrown us out of the van!

Aunty Peng is patient. I will always remember her ways of handling crisis especially now that I am a parent. She would talk to us in a firm yet loving manner when we made a mistake. She never raised her voice or scolds us. She will take time to talk to us and find a fitting consequence for our wrong doings.

She is also a very patient driver, when asked why she said you never know if that you will need to teach the faith to the person one day. We are in deed ambassador of the faith.

Gifts... Aunty Peng always come bearing gifts! Since I was a child, whenever we see aunty peng, she is like Ms Santa claus always giving little gifts for us.

Unlike most people, she never buys us lavish toys or expensive gifts. The presents she gives instead are truly unique and precious and with lots of love ans thought. Often she will give us little  note books decorated with her beautiful handwriting with beautiful poems or quotations or beautiful books for us to get inspired. Some times she will give me a bag of little mystery items like once she gave me a brown paper bag with coasters, boxes, stickers and odds and ends. To the normal person, those stuff may look like nothing useful but we are asked to use our creativity  and imagination as there are endless ways we can do them. She truly sees the potential in everything, a beauty in everything.

I'm often told by my parents and Yyn and Fern to not become like Aunty Peng and clutter up the house with so many things. Fortunately or unfortunately I have picked up the same passion or talent. Seeing the educational value of every single thing and every single trip or opportunity. Of course I will try to do this with moderation. ;)

Lastly, I want to say that Aunty Peng has taught me and many others many valuable lessons for life. One of the lessons I learnt though she never said it but showed through her example was this- To always think about the children, involve the children, give the children a part to play at the feast, holy days, teaching events, every child is unique and noble. She truly sees the gems in us all and make us feel we can achieve anything if we want to.

Dear Aunty Peng, Thank you for your love and encouragement. We will all continue to share this love and lessons to others.

Thursday, January 14, 2016

A new year! New challenges! New uncertainties! Keeping hope.

Its the new year! I'm trying to keep positive and driven but it's getting off on a rocky start with doubts and uncertainty.

For many years now, I have been 'obsessed' as so to speak about education as I believe that the only way to make this world a better place is to educate the young minds in the 'right way'. I hope to do my part amongst all these chaos... bitterness.. injustice...inequality... prejudice...

The 'right way' seem very far fetched.. and sometimes I feel like I am not moving any closer to my dream...

I met Montessori, fell in love with the beautiful phillosophy of respecting the little beings, believing in the nobility of the spirit, and that the hope for a peaceful world begins at birth.

Dived into the world of nature with Wardolf. Forest Kindergarten. Green School in Bali. So much reverence and respect given to mother earth... connecting back to where we came from... immersing in the forest.. the sea... the moutain... preserving our earth for generations to come, growing new aspirations.

Inspired by Reggio Emilia, bringing out the creative being in us, freedom to create and build, propelling a forward looking, ever advancing civilisation.

I am a Bahai. Bahais believe in Oneness of God, Oneness of Religion,Oneness of Man,  The truth is but one, ignorance have multiplied it. Search and we will see that we all seek the same thing in life. Peace... Happiness... Unity... Love... Family... Laughter... Health... Shelter... Food...
Human is essentially a spiritual being and all knowledge comes from our Creator God. An education is only complete when we unite all these truths and with our heart and soul turning towards God.

I hope that in my lifetime I will be able to find a true path.. true education. One that is universal and one that is for everyone regardless of wealth or status, one that unites all, one that brings out the latent potentials and virtues in all of us, one that will strive for excellence in every field and most importantly one that will help bring about wonderful selfless beings to serve and make the world a better place.

Reflecting in my 'world' now...
I am currently home with my 3 boys. Despite all the above ideals I have in my head... sadly my boys ( 2 elder ones graduated from a Montessori preschool a few years back ) are not enrolled into any Montessori/Waldolf/Reggio/Bahai school. And I am beginning to feel very frustrated and pushing my kids to meet the ideals of our traditional school. I dont want to... but if I dont push them.. they will fall behind in the rat race. I am at war with my inner self... I feel that my world is in turmoil. It is said that turmoil and out of equilibrium is a good thing. It pushes oneself to discover new truths and find the new equilibrium.

I have contemplated homeschooling for a long time. But never had the confidence that I can do it. Schools are not perfect but it is what it is for now. It gives the children a sense of the 'real' world out there. I dont think we are meant to homeschool our kids, humans are social beings and we need to interact and socialise to survive. It is also a 'waste' of resource I feel, all the work that a parent does just to teach your own?  ( I am looking at it from a point of what type of education society needs.)

I did homeschool my kids. Basically learning begins at home and a child's first educator is the parent. I taught and guided Tristan with whatever I knew, I did it at a more 'formal' level for Trevor and Tyler with my Montessori training and took in students to create the social environment for sharing, caring and interactions to occur. However at this point of life, I am not able to commit and take in student as I am swarmed with housework and managing the kids.

Tristan is independent and is doing well academically and thriving in our traditional school system. Trevor I am getting worried as he prefers moving about and working with his hands, fixing things and building things. He is not sensitive to language, reading... I am finding a hard time teaching him. Pushing him to meet the standards set for him to meet. It is hard to decide which path to take...1- Push him to meet the standards but suffer all the way... 2-Let him be and let him do his best... but getting his self esteem crushed with standardise test...

I hope I find the balance soon... I really do...


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