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.

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