Monday, July 02, 2007

Children and education

In March/April every year, I see splashed on the front page of the newspaper stories about outstanding students who have scored a string of As in the PMR and SPM. I was blinded by the number of As these students scored. When I was in school, scoring 10As in SPM was a big deal. Even then, my school mates and I have whispered amongst ourselves "How to study for 10 subjects ah?" Now, we have students who score up to 15 A1s! Why am I not jumping for joy for these people? Why am I not impressed?

What brought about thinking aloud about the state of education system? What I'm about to express is strictly from the point of view of a mother to a 7-year-old and a 4-year-old.

My daughter goes to a Chinese medium school in the city. It is a well-known school with a good reputation. Most days, I coach her on her homework. With Mandarin, I help her wherever I can as I have limited knowledge of Mandarin. With every subject, I encourage her to ask her teacher if she doesn't understand what is being taught. Laura seems to be coping well in school, getting A and stars for her homework done. However, when she couldn't do her Bahasa Melayu, I mean Bahasa Malaysia (can the Education Ministry please make up their mind??), I was shocked to discover she is VERY weak in BM, not being able to understand simple words and definitely not able to string a sentence without help. Doesn't help that the BM syllables for Std 1 is extremely difficult! They are already making sentences and using words like "pelawas". How many pupils in Std 1 know what "pelawas" is? Ironically, BM is a subject taught every day in school.

How does one learn languages? Laura is brilliant in English. She can read and understand story books, eg books by Enid Blyton (Blue Dragon categoery when I was a kid). Stories of elves, goblins and magical faraway lands which are written in simple English. Did she learn to read from school? Yes, she did. She learned phonics and very quickly was able to make out words and soon learned to read books and such. Why? Because she grew up speaking English. Laura is coping well with Mandarin, having learned a lot of words and able to make simple sentences in Mandarin. She speaks to her schoolmates in Mandarin, even though her first language is English. Why? Because everyone speaks Mandarin in school. So what is established here? Laura is strong in the two languages which she has heard being spoken and which she speaks. She has learned subconsciously the language structure and also what word means what. How is BM taught in school?

Every day, she brings back stacks of workbooks - Maths and Science in English, Maths and Science in Mandarin, English, BM, Mandarin. Some subjects have two workbooks. On top of that, she writes pages and pages of words. Eg of what's in her workbook, make a sentence from jumbled words:

buaya tajam Gigi sangat

She didn't know what buaya means. She also didn't know what tajam means. How did she know how to do her homework? In class, her teacher gets them to pull out their workbook. This is the same workbook she'll be facing at home. The teacher asks them to read out the words, which presumably everyone can. Then asks if anyone knows how to make the sentence. The students who know raise their hand, those who don't keep quiet. Student who gets picked makes the correct sentence. So the teacher writes down numbers on top of the words. Gigi = 1, buaya = 2, sangat = 3, tajam = 4. Viola, even weak students know their homework now. Alright, everyone knows how to do their homework. Nobody said anything about them UNDERSTANDING what they're doing.

This applies not just to BM but also English. So with this method of teaching children, the obsession with workbooks, the students just aren't learning anything at all! What happens to families who do not use the languages regularly? The same applies to non-English speaking students who studies in the school. Do the teachers speak to the students in BM and English? Do the students hear stories in these languages so they know the flow of the language? Do the teachers encourage the children to interact in these languages so the children get to practise what they hear? Do the teachers make the lessons fun by playing games so that what is taught is memorable to little 7-year-olds? Obviously not!

What is the solution most parents choose when faced with kids who are weak in school? Send to tuition! So the poor kids spend hours in school, get home and have to face homework, rush to tuition and then deal with homework from tuition.

(school + homework) + (tuition + tuition homework) = exhaution, frustration and still not understand

Something is wrong with this equation...

Some people may argue with me that more students are scoring 10As and above then when I was in school. How many of these people actually understand what they learned? Did they go through years and years and years of past year exam papers to spot the questions that are coming out? Then muck and memorize what they need to score?

I can't help thinking that Einstein, Newton, Franklin, Curie will not have achieved anything if they had gone to school with this education system. In the first place, they wouldn't have had time to explore and experiment. Also, they wouldn't have had the time! And there isn't any space at home with postage stamp-sized land with 4 walls and a roof which we call houses here. But that's another post. Here's what could have happened:

Newton sits under an apple tree (or if you prefer a mangosteen tree). His mother comes out and shouts, "Isaac, come in here to finish your homework now! You have to get to your Science tuition at 3pm, then swimming at 4pm and art class at 5pm!"


Benjamin Franklin takes out his kite (alright he was already a grown up by then but play along with me here) and he heads out the door. His father hears him and asks, "Ben, where do you think you're going?"

Franklin: "I'm going out to fly a kite"

Franklin Sr: "Fly kite? You finish your homework already ah? No need to go to Maths tuition meh? Is that thunder I hear?"

Franklin: "I've finished my homework and my Maths tuition changed to Sat morning already"

Franklin Sr: "Eh, I hear thunder lah. You better not go fly the kite lah. If it rains you'll fall sick and you will have to miss school. How to catch up?"



Anonymous a&a'smom said...

Yep BM is really tough! I've been borrowing BM story books for both my boys & every night b4 bed, I make them read to me (individually) & I explain whatever they dont understand. They have improved since I started doing so. Their interaction with Malay friends also helps a lot.

12:34 pm  
Anonymous alternative-mom said...

I totally agree with you that children have less time for exploration now and are so confined and in some cases, academically inclined but definitely very tunnel-visioned. Interesting thoughts that are worth exploring of where our children are heading. I'm always thinking, too ....

3:30 am  
Anonymous twin said...

yeah i totally agree ... especially english speaking medium family ... BM to them is alien and teachers are not helping much either. i look at my niece's workbook .. she's also in std 1 .. it's a bit different compared to the times when i was her age. and the amount of books they haf to carry .. poor thing!! i worried too for my kids ..

6:25 am  
Blogger La Cucaracha said...

My two kids, age 10 and 8 this year, had same problems with bahasa malaysia. It was worse as they were in a private school and English was the main medium of communication. English is also the medium we use at home. This resulted in a dislike for bahasa and low marks for the subject.
Now they are going to an international school and because there is no bahasa, they are performing much better in school. Also the change in the way a syllabus is conducted, the non-exam orientated atmosphere sees them both enjoying their school life and lessons.

9:15 pm  
Blogger Min said...

I wasn't specifically talking about BM only although it is a worry. What about those who don't speak English at home? Or Mandarin? Schools with large fields are expanding, cutting back on the field so less extra-curricular activities. And the authorities wonder why more and more children are overweight?

Is private schooling the answer then? What about those who can't afford private schooling? What then? Plod along and hope for the best?

9:23 pm  
Blogger La Cucaracha said...

I think today's children are far luckier compared to kids my time ( I can hear my parents saying the same about me) LOL.
Somehow, I think it might be because the system has not evolved to suit the needs / demands of children, which has evolved. I know it's easier to blame the system than blame our kids but come on, we're not talking just isolated cases but a collective amount with the same problem.
Personally speaking and introspectively, maybe the problem could lie with my own style of parenting. I don't believe in tuition classes as I think the school system should be sufficient in educating my kids syllabus-wise. I give my kids freedom to choose extra curricular activities and have been known to cave in when they refuse (on this front, I've decided that sometimes kids need that extra "push" for their own good LOL).
I don't know if my parenting skills are better than my parents, but I do know it's definitely different. I think it's more a case evolution.

9:57 am  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

lol! BM is spoken everywhere in Malaysia. Get your kids to watch the news, some movies or even cartoons in BM. kids catch up real fast. that's how my kids learn the language. hear them spoken, read them and use them whenever they can. if a foreigner can speak good BM after just a few months here (since BM is a super easy language to learn) why not our kids? unlike english, kids do not need to leran phonics. bm sounds just as it is spelled. that's one aspect taken care of! as to waht they mean, just get them to be more exposed to BM. and not to friends or other MNalay people talking since they usually use bahasa pasar but to the radio, tv and movies.

6:09 pm  
Blogger Mommy Chan said...

try homeschooling...there's lots of benefits and non of those 'life draining' elements!

10:43 am  
Blogger Min said...

Here's the impression that I get of homeschooling...
1. No interaction with other children
2. I'll be stuck at home with my kids all day every day *GASP*
3. It's illegal to keep children from school (std 1-6 is compulsory in Malaysia)
Obviously I'm totally ignorant about homeschooling. Please do enlighten me!

11:03 am  
Blogger Mommy Chan said...

this is a site of a veteran homeschooling mom!
She came up with a list of sites for your viewing... Like everything else, life is what you make of it.

Another Singapore lady who homeschools plus resources:

(Ask your hubby if he knows a Michael Chua from Kuching, I am MC's daughter!)

12:29 pm  
Blogger mamasan said...

i totally agree. some of the bm exercises have such ambiguous answers - any combination is possibly correct. the analysis and understanding is not being taught - but why should it at such a young age? they should be learning vocabulary and simple sentence structure. then the teachers have the nerve to recommend tuition (mia dropped from A to B last semester because she was doing her bm on her own while i was at work). now i find that even though Afd and i speak good english at home, i can hardly understand her bad sentence structure... i so believe in homeschooling, though i am such a lazy person the thought of it strikes horror into my heart!

10:22 am  
Blogger mamasan said...

my kids go to a local private school which teaches the local syllabus. the only benefits seem to be smaller classes and privacy. the teachers still seem to be lacking, ot because of being overburdened, but because they are not equiped with the teaching skills needed to impart even the concept of grammar. it's all rote. lucky for mia she had a great teacher in std 1 who inspired a desire to achieve.

10:26 am  
Blogger Min said...

Good teachers are hard to come by. Some teachers I've met come across as not even liking children. How to teach them?

Mamasan, if cannot afford private school how? Our kids will be royally &*#@!

4:50 pm  
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3:33 pm  

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