Inspire passion for learning

  • Education
  • Sunday, 23 Feb 2003


IN one of my classes recently, I offered the students systematic guidelines on how to study more effectively.  

After explaining the method in some detail and giving them several examples of sub-topics and the manner in which they could be tackled efficiently by using the prescribed method, I noticed that one of my students had thrown down his pencil with what appeared to me as disappointment.  

He had been copying with alacrity just minutes before but now he had the down-in-the-dumps look. 

“Why?” I asked, “What's the matter?” While he was hesitant at first, upon my probing, he finally blurted out, “But, I still have to study as much as before!” 

Looking at him, I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry. Finally, I said as gently as possible, “Yes, there's no escaping the fact that you will still have to put in the necessary effort.” 

His gloom at my answer was so marked that some of the other boys in the class broke out into laughter. I silenced them. To me, what this one boy had voiced out is a common expectation among children of today. Who can blame them?  

Given the huge amount of knowledge they are expected to amass and be tested on in their schooling years, what they are really looking for is a shortcut to studying. They want to learn how more can become less. But what we teachers can offer them are just techniques by which more can become clearer. 

What do we do? In the examination camps we invite them to attend, in the tuition classes they have with us, in the workshops we design for them, in the extra classes we arrange for them, what we do essentially is to try to make life easier for them by offering them tips, guidelines, explanations, techniques and methods by which subject matter becomes streamlined and more readily understood. 

Yet, for all the tips that we give them, they simply wish they had to study less. They simply want more time for themselves. In a nutshell, they would like it if they could spend less effort on the whole act of learning for examinations, on homework and all that regular school brouhaha. 


No effort, no gain 

The sad fact they have to face is this. It is only effort that yields results. As the Malay proverb goes: Usaha tangga kejayaan (Effort is the key to success.) No effort, no gain, no As. 

So, what can we teachers do to make the burden of effort seem more bearable or better still, the more desirable or tolerable alternative to shirking? We can of course always embark on the veritable sententious moralising we are so well-known for, but as everyone knows, for the majority of students this often leads to the “water off the duck's back” effect. 

Reading the Reader's Digest recently, I came across a comment made by actress Angelina Jolie. She said: “The only way to have a life is to commit to it like crazy”. Makes sense, don’t you think? Want to like your teaching life? Be committed to it. Want to do well academically? Well, be committed to it. 

Teacher's job? Our job should be to inspire commitment. Inspire effort. Inspire the passion for learning. In short, inspire motivation. 

Besides teaching well, that is indeed the best we can do. And, then pray that the rest will fall into place. In this, we are helped by parents who motivate, support and encourage their children's efforts at home. Our job is also made easier by students who have an intrinsic sense of motivation, but for the others, it is our input that has to make the difference.  

To inspire commitment, I have found that the following help: 


  • Talk to your students and get to know them personally. They are more likely to heed your advice if they feel that you empathise with them and understand the life they lead outside of school, in terms of the time they have on their hands and the problems they encounter. 

  • Hold guided peer discussions regularly so that they can interact with one another and learn co-operatively. If they have a resolve, having the right friends to support them can help firm this resolve and reinforce the need for effort. 


  • Offer constructive feedback on the work they do. This must be often and immediate. Effort must be praised. All students need encouragement to know when they are on the right track. 


  • Help students to set realistic, achievable goals for themselves. Have “Let’s see how you are progressing” sessions. Individual attention from a teacher can motivate many a child. These sessions also help to identify kids who are beginning to stray away from mainstream targets. 


    Finally, in my attempts to inspire, I am always aware that I can reach some or all of my students some of the time but never all of them all the time. 

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