Monday, May 21, 2018

Better Teachers, Better Schools

We can all agree that educational reforms are needed towards securing a better future for our children - and consequently, society as a whole.

As to what these educational reforms should be - that's the real question.

Abolish vernacular schools? Revamp the syllabus? Reduce exams? Adopt English as the main teaching lingua franca? Promote charter schools (government-funded but privately run)? Promote technical apprenticeships?

Good suggestions, all of them. Shouldn't cost much to implement, the biggest hurdles being political will and social backlash.

But all these reforms will come to nothing unless we first address one fatal flaw in the Malaysian educational system - lack of good teachers.

We have a lot of distance to cover, and destinations to reach. We can invest in the most high-tech planes to take us there. But until and unless we have good pilots to fly them, we'll never take off to the skies.

A typical Malaysian student

Who Should Be Teachers?

I remember most of my teachers from school and university. If I had to brutally honest, I would say only 2 out of 10 were truly competent.

It's a real pity that most teachers are civil servants, hence well-protected from retrenchment. If not of the law, we should sack all the non-performing ones immediately. The money saved will be better used to hire better teachers, pay the existing ones more generously, and to invest in facilities.

But let's take a step back - do even we need so many full-time teachers anyway? Many people with full-time jobs would love to teach part-time - at university level, their working experience arguably counts even more than stuffy professors who have spent their entire career living in an ivory tower detached from the real world. Top students can act as mentors to their juniors.

Teaching should be more inclusive, not exclusive.

What Should Teachers Focus On?

Education is synonymous to examinations. That's why most teachers are focused on guiding students to score in examinations, rather than expand their knowledge base and critical thinking.

People with a 'fixed mindset' perceive education as an end, not a means. They only care about results. They only care about looking smart. They believe intelligence is static.

In contrast, those with a 'growth mindset' enjoy learning for the sheer joy of learning. Failure and looking silly is all part of the process. They believe intelligence is elastic.

True enough, research has shown that children praised for their intelligence performed worse in future tasks compared to those praised for their effort.

Good teachers don't just teach. They motivate. They inspire. They make learning enjoyable.

But first, let's get rid of half the teaching population

How Should Teachers Run Classes?

Back in high school, there were teachers who would silently write notes on the blackboard for the entire lesson - the only time they would speak is to ask the class whether we had finished jotting down everything on one side so they could erase it and continue writing new notes.

At university, lecturers are now tech-savvy enough to prepare Power Point slides. But the irony is that they would proceed to spend most of the lecture reciting the slides, almost in verbatim.

Students should be reading their text books and lectures notes before class. And teachers should be inviting questions or throwing questions during lesson (better known as the 'Socratic' method of teaching which has been around for centuries). Or even better, they should be incorporating games and projects.

Point is, lessons should be as interactive as possible. Passive learning can be done by students in their own time.

If a student falls asleep in class, it's mainly the fault of the teacher - not the student.

Teach And Learn

I have had many great teachers throughout my lifetime.

My parents taught me well.

My bosses taught me well.

My students taught me well.

Teaching and learning is a symbiotic process. The more I learn, the better I teach. And the more I teach, the more I learn.

Everyday, we live and learn... no, that's not quite right...

Living is learning.

Friday, May 11, 2018

M Is For Malaysia

Out in the streets, people are smiling, laughing and cheering. Within chat rooms, friends and families exchange celebratory messages and mean memes mocking the losers.

Yes, history has been made - but at what cost?

We're treating the electoral win like some kind of heroic victory against the hordes of darkness from conquering over the galaxy.

In truth, it's more like rushing back home to turn off the kitchen stove that you've carelessly left on for hours just in time before your house catches fire and burns down.

Yes, victory is sweet, no matter how it's sowed and squeezed.

But surely, we can't really celebrate too hard successfully cleaning a mess we ourselves spilled, can we?

M is for Many More Challenges Ahead

M is for Mistakes

It's hard not to be touched by the sight of our elders standing in queue for hours, braving the scorching sun, and casting their vote in defiance of the Electoral Commission's to rig the elections.

It's hard not to be touched by them rising to their feet, dusting their sleeves, and proclaim "Okay, enough is enough, they've crossed the line this time!"

It's hard not to be touched by the spirit of rebellion.

But the tyranny has been on-going for, what, the last 60 years. Where were you all this while? What have you been doing to stop the rot? Why did you stay silent?

Why we ended up in this miserable state in the first place is because of the mistakes we've made. For years, we've sided with our oppressors.

Victory? What victory?

M is for Mediocrity

I'm sure the excuses are plentiful: Protect my rice bowl. Public servant, no choice. Scared police come tangkap. Corruption not so bad last time, now very, very bad.

Bullshit. Malaysia is screwed up because of the bad choices we made. The main offence being placing our faith on incompetent and suspect leaders, from both sides of the divide. Undoing them now is a good step, but doesn't remove the stain of our guilt. We deserve the leaders we get, and we deserve being screwed by them.

We could've stopped the tyranny years ago. We should've stepped up earlier. We could've swayed our family and friends into the right path.

Instead, for the longest time, we chose the path of least resistance - and justifiably languish in mediocrity as the rest of the world race ahead of us.

For 60 years, we chose to be mediocre - we surrender without a fight, we gloss over our mistakes, we settle for less.

Now's not the time to be shouting "We did it! WE DID IT!"

Instead, we should all be taking a long look in the mirror: "Sorry, I won't mess up again, I promise."

Over-jubilation doesn't end well, kids!

M is for Monsters

In the end, the monster tripped over its own feet, devoured by an even bigger and ancient monster.

How did the second monster even came to our side? Maybe it grew a conscience. Maybe with age, comes wisdom. Whatever. Point is, the heroes won not because of their sheer will and competence, but because the monster had a change of heart. For now.

More ominously, the monster hasn't gone away. It's actually wearing the crown, calling the shots. And the people it has terrorised for decades are fine with it, on the slender promise it'll behave this time.

Talk about redemption. From villain to hero. It's okay to keep a monster, as long as it's on our side. Right? RIGHT?

Personally, I have no problems with monsters. No one is perfect. There's a monster in all of us. And our monsters don't really look super monstrous on the universal scale of monstrosity (as compared with the Mugabes of the world).

But I do have problems with people who view others as monsters or messiahs interchangeably, whenever it suits their interest. How they can conveniently forget the past and switch allegiance with a snap of a finger. How they're fine with keeping a monster so long as it's on their side and terrorising their enemies, but not when it's unleashed against them. Bloody hypocrites. Passion prevails over principles.

Perhaps the ugliest monsters are the monsters within us.

Messiah or Monster?

M is for Mess

This is not how victory is won. This is not how freedom feels like.

Our compromises will haunt us in future. Our shackles have barely been undone.

Yes, the battle is over, for now. The scarier monster may have been vanquished. But the bigger battle is to overcome the monster lurking deep inside of us - and inside the people we care about. Do we dare to call out our friends and families for their crimes and corruption? Sadly, many of us lack the courage to. Emotion prevails over reason.

Mistakes still remain unfixed. Mediocrity still pervades everywhere. Monsters still lurk in the shadows.

Brace yourself, Malaysia. The war has just begun.

Tuesday, May 1, 2018

A Winner Loses More Than Wins

What's the difference between a winner and a loser?

A loser is someone who is fully obsessed with winning.

A winner is someone who isn't afraid of losing.

Winning Is Easy

It's actually very easy to be a 'winner'.

When I was in high school, I enjoyed a lot of 'wins'. I won first prize at my school's 'Read A Lot Project' (shh.... I sort of 'cheated'). My brother and I tagged-team to victory at an Inter-School Scrabble Competition. And because of such 'wins', I was summoned onto stage by the principal during morning assembly in front of the rest of school.

But deep inside, the wins felt hollow and cheap. I was the only student who rented 4-5 books a week from the local store. I used to play Scrabble with my aunt, cousin, brother and mother almost weekend. (Yeah, I was quite a nerd back in school)

Winning is easy when you have a head start in the competition. Winning is easy when you have resources others don't. Winning is easy when no one else is seriously competing.

Losing Is Better

My 'losses' outnumber my 'wins', though.

I couldn't break into my school's debate team. My best mates and I competed in a band competition and went home empty-handed. I couldn't even win a damn essay competition at school (though I managed to outdo my schoolmates at the regional level and embarrass my teachers - haha suckers!).

Oddly enough, I remember my 'losses' more vividly than my wins.

As a wise Jedi master once said: "The greatest teacher, failure is."

It's human nature, after all. When we win, we tend to get carried away with our inflated sense of superiority, and overlook external factors such as luck and our opponent's mistakes. When we lose, we reflect more deeply about ourselves - where did we go wrong, what could we have done differently, what should we improve on next time?

Biggest loser in the galaxy

Winning Isn't Everything

Over the last 2 years or so, I've trained a lot of students for mooting competitions.

Some have won trophies, most haven't.

Most people would define a 'winner' as the person with the most trophies. But not me.

One could 'win' a trophy for a variety of reasons. The level of competition wasn't that strong. It was a strong collective effort. Luck and timing.

Likewise, one could 'lose' repeatedly for a variety of reasons. The level of competition is much harder. Lack of resources. Luck and timing.

As I've said last week, context is everything. Basic facts alone can be deceiving. Every detail matters.

Which is better: being a champion of a national competition or finishing Top 10 in an international competition?

Sadly, Malaysian society tends to value the first higher.

(I believe it's all due to our 'jaguh kampung' (village champion) mentality. Despite our burning passion in football, we've slipped to an all-time low of #175 in the world. In every field we do, we're just stuck in a bubble of mediocrity.)

Fear Of Losing

The greatest weakness of students is not lack of ability, but fear of losing.

They deliberately avoid challenges that they're not confident of winning.

Even after they've won something, they avoid competing again in fear of losing and tainting their 'legacy'.

They care more about winning than learning and developing themselves.

But as always, karma is a bitch. The obsession of winning may win you 'trophies' in the short term, but ultimately make you lose out in life in the long run. The fear of losing limits your reach, and ultimately, the level of your success.

Those who fear to lose ultimately turns out as 'losers'.

Those who let go, those who don't give a f**k about their self-image, those who dare to push beyond their limits... these are the people who eventually turn out as 'winners'.

And the winners and losers are...

I could give real examples. I can delve into the details.

But I won't, because I do not wish to embarrass certain people. I do wish, though, they would read this, take the hint and get out of their 'loser' mentality.

I could name the 'winners', of course.

But I won't, because part of what makes them as 'winners' is that they do not crave the spotlight, and may even feel embarrassed being put in the 'spotlight'.

Ultimately, they're 'winners' precisely because they couldn't care less about how many 'wins' and 'losses' they have. They're just focused on the next challenge. They don't have time to celebrate and feel all nostalgic about past glories. They're busy trying to push themselves, stronger and upwards

Occasionally, I do write about their 'modest successes' - like for IMLAM and Price Media. But I do so not so much as to recognise their achievements, but to inspire others to be like them.

from right to left: Winner, Winner, Winner, Winner, Winner, LOSER!!!

Lose First, Win Later

Stop obsessing about winning.

Stop fearing failure.

Stop being a loser and start winning in life for real.