Monday, March 19, 2012

On Education Reforms

Much has been said by politicians and the media about education reforms. Let me give my opinion on the education reform that I would like to see in our country. As facts are important to be remembered, I think that students have become empty boxes to be filled in with syllabuses that need to be finished by certain dates. The current education focuses too much on remembering things than encouraging students to think. The spark of creativity is just not there. More than 70% of jobs that will be in demand in the next 10 years have not even existed today. If we focus only in filling these students with facts and figures that only applies to the present day, these knowledge would become obsolete if we do not encourage creative thinking. Creative thinking allows them to grow the present knowledge to suit any future environment they will live in and any job demands that will be created.

Students should read books outside of their school syllabus in free times. Many would disagree and say ‘even the things that I am supposed to learn in my syllabus has not been finished, how can I read something else?’ This is a very common thinking and they are actually missing the point. The point of learning is not to take in as much as information and vomit it out exactly word by word on the exams paper. Knowledge has to be digested by the mind to cultivate an intelligent way of thinking. The level of creativity and critical thinking is the important thing. I define creativity as when the line of thinking is not exactly a line but a network of lines connecting an area of knowledge to another. Hence, the more variety of knowledge we acquire, the more of our ability to think creatively will flourish. Our brain is an amazing organ. Once it learns something, that something can be used in all sorts of situation. However, we fail to recognize this ability and when we learn an area of knowledge we only apply it on that same area of knowledge. 

I like to take examples in medicine as I am a medical student. Medical students learn about diseases. Yes, we need to remember all those facts about the human anatomy, the bacteriology of the etiologic agents and what’s wrong with the physiology going behind it. Then we use these facts and have them in mind when trying to diagnose a patient. We think hard to diagnose that patient and with time we successfully come out with the correct diagnosis. However, when facing a problem in life that needs to be solved in a creative way, many are unable to access the same level of creativity as they are able to do in diagnosing patients. This is because of a narrow mindset that one knowledge is only for a certain field of area. 

The same creativity in thinking when diagnosing a patient should also be used to creatively to think in a larger context and apply it to other things that may bring good effect to the greater community, like diagnosing what is wrong with the politics and economies of today. However, many students are so stuck in their own field that when a peer goes out to join forums and read books on things outside their field, like business, economics or politics, would get a skeptical look and being asked the usual question of: ''Are you going to be a doctor or what? Focus on your studies!''. The irony thing is that I have been in student organizations most of my student life, and some of the organizations has nothing to do with my field of education, but somehow I find most of the people who are very actively involved in these work are the ones who actually score in exams. How can this be possible, when we have even less time than our peers to study? Again, it's about cultivating a way of thinking. The more experience we get, the more knowledge we gain, the better our way of thinking, and the better our ability to tackle exam questions that require critical thinking. Still, many are stuck up in formal educations and insist that we must finish certain syllabus in a certain time, and for them, to finish reading these things, they must leave all other co-curricular activities that would actually develop a better way of thinking. To top it all off, I remember that even the exam papers in high schools demand that students remember word by word the facts and figures.

I read a book called ‘Are You Smart Enough To Work At Google?’ It consists of trivia can questions that needs a certain way of thinking to answer. They never asked about certain names and dates that need to be remembered and vomited out. I believe that in the future, jobs in demand will be require similar thinking skills of workers that Google today demands. If we were working toward a high-income nation, we should start to really reform our education so that every Malaysian has what it takes to work in Google-like companies.

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