I READ with great concern about the government’s intention to increase the number of school teachers in some states. I worry because the country’s education system has failed to keep up with the times – and this is compounded by the failure to carefully choose the right individuals for the job.
The word “education” comes from the Latin root word “educere”, which means to bring out what is within. From this perspective, education is not about imposing knowledge; rather, it is about the process of unfolding the dormant gift that is present within an individual.
Children have naturally inquisitive minds that want to experience and learn the functioning of their internal reality (thoughts and feelings) and their external world. The gift of a questioning mind allows them to develop critical thinking and problem-solving skills as they grow into adulthood. This process happens in the early part of a child’s life and is readily shaped by his or her external circumstances.
Have you ever seen an infant who refuses to learn? Yet, you hear so many parents complaining that their schoolgoing children don’t want to learn. But it’s not that they dislike learning, it’s just that their minds do not naturally learn the way they are being educated.
Generally, younger children do not learn best from gruelling hours of passive listening or attempting multiple assessments. They learn by engaging with hands-on real-life scenarios through problem-solving activities. This gives them the opportunity to make mistakes, learn from their peers, and internalise knowledge without having to endure the fear of failing exams.
When a large amount of information is impressed upon an inquiring mind – it’s known as information loading – without allowing it to question and evaluate the underlying suppositions, the mind slowly gravitates towards passivity.
Instead of learning ways to process the information, the mind simply stores it.
At best, students learn how to memorise and retrieve information rather than to reason logically.
In many cases, the connection between the information and real-life applications is missing (except for passing exams!), leading to boredom and even apprehension towards learning. When information loading becomes the primary mode of teaching and learning, there is little time for self-reflection and internalisation, and certainly nothing to bring out the unique brilliance that lies within every student.
As a lecturer, I regularly encounter undergraduate and even postgraduate students who struggle with basic critical thinking processes, and I see this in students from all different backgrounds and races. This has convinced me that we are failing badly at providing the right learning approach at primary and secondary levels. Unfortunately, by the time they reach university, it is often too late as the flawed, superficial learning style is already ingrained.
Clearly, a one-size-fits-all approach in education is ineffective, but that is what the system has been set up to provide. We are still trapped in the outdated idea that education is meant to create a continuous supply of workers to meet the demands of the nation’s economic engine. There is nothing wrong with providing knowledge and skills-based training to fit the needs of the workforce, but these should come much later in a child’s life, after his or her gift has been allowed to unfold in the first 12 years of education.
To do that, we need to hire teachers who not only have pedagogical knowledge but who also understand and will facilitate the natural process of wholesome growth in children. We need teachers who can fuel a passion for learning, not those who merely want to make extra money by giving tuition. We need teachers who can become good role models and carve out young leaders, not those who set wrong examples and discourage thinking.
Ideally, teaching should be the highest paid job in the country. The educational sector should not only recruit the best brains but also individuals who will put their hearts and souls into helping a child’s inquisitive mind to grow and shine. Such illuminated young minds will be the country’s greatest long-term assets.
Accomplishing this is a tall order now. At the very least, the educational sector needs to employ teachers who love to teach and who understand what the process entails. Ultimately, the entire system needs to be overhauled.
DR KUMAR S. , Petaling Jaya