As a kid, education meant going to school, finishing homework, and following whatever the teacher told me.
I was really good at school. Just as well cos I looked like this LOL. I gave up all sorts of activities – taekwondo, piano, electone, swimming, Chinese, art class… The only thing I really stuck with was my studies.
I entered Year 1 (age 7) in a government school. The main medium of instruction was Malay and I didn’t understand a word. When we chanted the Rukun Negara every Monday, I heard the words undang-undang (law) and wondered why we were talking about prawns (udang) WTF. I had to sit next to a girl I knew from kindergarten who translated everything the teacher said.
By some miracle, I did well in my exams. Good enough in fact, that I was first in my class wtf. And still, cos I didn’t understand Malay, I didn’t know I had been announced first and Mummy Ooi didn’t find out until she came for report card day wtf.
So the bar was set. I was supposed to be clever, so my parents had high expectations, anticipating straight As and top class rankings. And for the most part, I fulfilled that. I scored straight A’s in all major exams, and also the minor ones wtf.
But I saw no significance is what I was learning, except that it was good for passing exams. I’d memorize facts days before an exam, vomit them out on the test paper, then immediately forget everything… until the next test.
It didn’t even matter whether I even understood the content, as long as I knew how to answer test questions. For example, I scored an A1 in Add Maths for SPM because I was so good at answering questions. I didn’t understand Calculus at all, but I could dydx the shit out of it. When I got to college though, Calc turned out to be a graduation requirement. College level calc actually requires you to understand the concept, and I nearly failed. -_-
I’m pretty sure that was the case for most of us in Malaysia. Now that I’m a mom, that’s not the learning that I want for those two! I was actually thinking a lot about the purpose of education, and I do think that education is not only about learning facts. Because today’s world is so different – information is literally at our finger tips with Google, so I think what children today need is not what to know, but how to know. They don’t necessarily need to know information, they need to know how to get the info they need, and what to do with it.
I asked this question on Instagram too! I don’t remember anyone mentioning they wanted their kids to ace exams, but I remember getting a lot of answers like learning manners, independence, sociability, kindness.
So here’s what I want Fighter and Penny to get out of their education.
The ability to solve problems
I am the worst at this honestly. When faced with a problem, my first instinct is to refer to an authority for answers. Because I’m so used to getting the right answers from my teachers and not having to discover answers myself. So yeah, I want my kids to be able to look at a problem, and think and find creative ways to solve it.
This gets me so much because I feel like 70% of people around us? Don’t know how to think wtf. Simply put, critical thinking is defined as the objective analysis of an issue in order to form a judgment, but I really feel that is lacking in Malaysians every time someone RTs a cyber trooper or sends a whatsapp message with some urban myth. It drives me mad honestly, when people don’t do some quick research and just jump on a bandwagon for something or worse, spread misinformation. I want the kids to learn how to think – to seek information, to be discriminating, analyze and then form a logical judgment. And to know when an opinion (even if it’s their own) is wrong.
To love learning and own their own learning
Like I’d mentioned earlier, I had very little regard for what I was learning in school. I especially hated Sejarah in high school, but when I got to college, I randomly took a class on Chinese history to fulfill my requirements. Surprise! I ended up falling in love, and majoring in Asian Studies with a focus on Asian history. In college, I finally understood the significance of history to how it affects us today. When I wrote essays and papers, I knew I was improving my writing, not just to get an A. I started to appreciate the effect of learning – the joy of unlocking new knowledge and knowing I was getting better and smarter.
And that’s what I want for my kids. To have the joy of learning, and not only when they go to a liberal arts college. And I want them to control their own learning journey without me nagging from the sidelines wtf.
The world today is so different from our parents’ time and it’s changing even more quickly. It’s going to get more and more crucial that children today learn the skill of adaptibility. As current jobs phase out and new roles develop, they’re going to need to know how to turn their hands to new challenges and tasks.
This one speaks for itself la wtf. I am again terrible at coming up with new innovative solutions to anything because I never tried and I wasn’t pushed to either. Fatty is actually excellent at this! I think creativity can be cultivated, it’s just that local schools are crap at this. So kids, please be creative wtf.
Humans are social creatures and nearly everything we do will involve other people, and forming and maintaining relationships with people. To succeed at anything, we will likely need to know how to get along and work with others. I hope my children will have empathy and know how to read others right and treat others well.
This is such an underrated skill in Malaysian schools I think. Besides maybe the debate club or something, I don’t think this is a key focus at all, at least not in my schools. Malaysians are generally at least bilingual which is great, but everyone has a first language. The problem is, I notice that for some, they’re not even fluent in their first language, be it Chinese or English. Eg. they could lack a strong vocabulary or make grammatical mistakes. Angela and I talked about this years ago; she wondered how people who didn’t have a good vocabulary would articulate ideas even inside their heads if they didn’t have the words for it. I figured that instead of one accurate word, they probably used a string of them to describe something in particular. But I understand what she means.
Language is essential to the development of ideas. And communication is a way to share those ideas. Without effective communication, where would we be? How would we spread ideas, persuade others to a cause, change perceptions? I don’t mean saying whatever comes to mind either. I mean organizing thoughts and conveying ideas in an articulate, eloquent manner, whether it be written or spoken.
All these skills I wrote above? I don’t even have all of them but those which I do, I developed only in college or when I started working. For example, being a liberal arts school, the writing at Mount Holyoke was rigorous. We had to craft arguments, sell ideas, tell stories. My writing improved so much after four years of writing papers.
Children shouldn’t have to wait until they get to a good college or start their careers to start developing these skills. In my last blog post I wrote about my concerns about Chinese school and received a lot of comments from people who did attend Chinese school and fared well. I’m not saying that Chinese school or other options we have are bad; I just believe we should want better for our children.
What do you want for your kids?