I want to take you all back to the days in your school life (in case you’re of the working class), back to elementary school. You’re sitting in Pre-Algebra class, learning how to shift expressions in equations, making unknowns as subjects. At the start, you may feel it tough, but after a few questions and practices, you sort of got the hang of it, that is, if you’re one of the brighter students.
You look towards your other classmates, Joe sitting right next to you. He seems to be struggling a little with his Algebra. No problems, just do what you can, try your best. A few days go by, a few months and then it’s your final exams. Being the math whiz you are, you easily nail that A+ grade for a top-scoring 96%. Congratulations! But what about Joe? All that hard work put in, and he nailed a satisfactory 67% for his math. Oh well, you’ll do better next time, and we all move on to our next year, a year of new lessons and subjects.
Fast forward to high school, we’re all in Precalculus. It’s generally tougher, but you’re handling it. Joe, on the other hand, has no clue what he’s doing. All that practice and questions that he attempts, hoping it gets him far enough to pass another exam, eventually has loses its effect. Forget parametric equations or inverse functions, Joe was having trouble even understanding what he’s looking at. His exam results start to slip more and more, and the next thing you know, Joe has decided to drop out of Math class.
Do you see what just happened right there? You may not realize it but, we have just lost potential. Potential to be a future Mathematical theorist or Statistician or Actuary. Joe may not seem like a person to be able to go far in Math, but what he needed was just more time and tutoring to master the subject. Compared to you, you’re able to find the derivative of a trigonometric function twice as fast as Joe could, but what if Joe had twice the amount of time you had? Chances are, he’ll eventually be able to keep up with you, and do just as well as you, just with more time and guidance.
You see, that’s the thing with modern education. We’re given a syllabus, a structure of what to learn and what to be tested on at the end of the educational year. After we’ve gone through all there is to go through within the time-frame given, we test the students with examinations and give them scores. Everyone gets different scores based on how well they do. You’ve aced the subject, but I’ve barely passed the course. No problems, let’s move on to the next course. As we go on with more advanced lessons, the materials which I was unable to master, or even grasp, I bring it forward to my next lessons. It starts to stack up and I’ll end up with a whole lot of “I don’t know”s and “I have no freaking idea what I’m doing”s. From that, I get the notion that I’m not good at this subject, I’m not made to do science or math or literature or art, and I’ll never be good at it, I’ll stop doing this.
Students in schools are not given the adequate time required for them to learn what they are supposed to learn. Modern education caters for an average time which a student learns a stretch of materials. What we don’t realize is that the learning capabilities of everyone vary from one another. We all learn at different speeds and even different styles. Without taking into concern this flaw in education, we are faced with a staggering loss in potential for our industries, mainly because students lose interest in the subject, or consider themselves to be incompetent to handle it. Learning slow does not mean incapable of learning, it just means you need more time and a right approach.
Here’s a situation: I want to build a house, so I’ll need a carpenter to build it. I hire you as my carpenter and I tell you to build the first floor of the house within a given period. So, you get on to work with the time given (whether it be just 2 weeks or 4 months). I come back to the site after the time allocated and I evaluate your work. I walk into a room with some patches of wet cement, some holes on the ceiling, maybe a few bricks missing around the walls here and there, but hey, it’s standing alright. Tell you what, I’ll give you a 60% score for your effort. Now build up the 2nd floor, and then the 3rd floor and so on. You carry on with the work, building it floor by floor, but as soon as you start laying down the tiles for the 3rd floor, the whole house just comes crashing down into a huge pile of rubble.
In education, we ignore the fact that students are not fully grasping the subjects. We move on with the next lessons if we pass the semester, whether it be 100% for your exams or a 50%, we’re all passing. However, our foundations are not laid down properly. We are not mastering the subject before we move on to the next phase. This is the issue: education for test scores, not mastery.
We need to shift our focus of education from producing excellent test scores to equipping them with knowledge. Students should be taught to the point of them mastering the subject: mastery-based learning. Let the teaching of each student be personalized – at their own pace and learning methods. Give them all the time they need, and evaluate them once a while. Once they have mastered the skills needed, only then, we’ll move on to our next topics. Just like Taekwondo, you start off with the white belt. You take as much time as you need to go through all the white belt techniques. You get graded, and once you’re deemed to have mastered these techniques, you may move on to the yellow belt. As you keep mastering techniques for each belt, you may move on the next one until you achieved the black belt, a true master of Taekwondo. With mastery-based learning, you get people who not only has a complete understanding of knowledge, but you’ll also get an increase in graduates of these areas of study. We won’t have students ending up doing things they do not enjoy, or even dropping out of college.
You may argue that it is not logistically possible to accomplish this, teaching every student in a class of 50 or so at their own pace. You’d need a teacher to teach different materials with different learning styles to different students. It wasn’t possible, maybe a couple of decades or so ago. With the existence of online courses and software in learning, we’ve gotten rid of this logistical boundary. We can learn the subjects which we desire at our own pace. You may take a year to finish the course, and I may take a decade to finish, but at the end of the decade, we’d both be doing just about the same thing in the industry.
Education should not be made into a contract – a job needed to be done within a time-frame. I have always believed in education to be free and fluid, and that education does not just come from the learning institutions, but also from the thirst for knowledge within the student themselves, their willingness to seek answers. This flame of passion for learning would be doused off when the learning in school starts to become a chore – a chore which gets harder and harder if we’re not able to cope with the constraints that exists. Let not the flaws of modern education kill the spirit of learning. When the passion for knowledge starts to die off, learning will ultimately go down with it.