To Learn Or To Drill, That is The Question

Published by alvinauh on

I thought the days of being called into the principal’s office was long gone for me. As I sat in the principal’s office, I was asked or rather, grilled on my students’ current progress. I later found out that my principal is someone who is rather performance oriented. This is not surprising with private institutions, where fees are paid to quickly prepare the students to face the exams. However, I find that you can’t rush learning. Some assume that constant drills and practices would lead to better learning. That, in my opinion, is not always the case.

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This private institution is one of my new gigs and teaching there has been a blessing. What intrigues me however is the philosophy behind their teaching method. Now, let me be clear, this is not intended to criticize anyone but merely as  a way to air my views. Upon doing so, I will leave it to you, dear reader to formulate an opinion on the matter.

The issue at hand of course is this, can learning be forced or expedited? Especially if a business markets itself to being able to do so. Thus, lets delve deeper into the topic.

Education As a Business

Education as a business is different in many parts of the world. However, in the Asian context, the business conventionally have one objective. That is to prepare the child for exams. Thus, most businesses would market their institution’s ability to boost a child’s results from a C grade to an A grade. Some may even guarantee a child’s passing grade in an exam.

In all these businesses, the product is not the child’s learning but the child’s results. This creates several misconceptions. For one, it creates the belief that the more you pay, the better quality of exam results you would get. In this case, better education is equated with better results.

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In addition, the other misconception is how success is measured. Most assume that success ends with great exam results. As such, the best strategy, logically, is to expose the children to as much exercises and practices as possible. Hopefully, with enough practices, the students will be able to achieve academic success.

Now, looking at both these misconceptions, I can understand that there is a need to market the business in a way that looks enticing. However, I think learning and exams are essentially two different things.

Defining Learning

If we were to define learning by the results the child obtains, we are hoping that the exam is reliable enough to correctly measure the child’s learning. However, what if the exam is not reliable? For one, it is easy for exams to measure what a child knows but to measure their creativity and application of knowledge, this requires not just a great test, but time.

As such, if you were a parent, what would you be paying for when it comes to education? Well, I think the first is mentoring and not lecturing. Looking back at the misconception mentioned earlier, more practice does not mean examination success, let alone guaranteeing the child’s ability to learn something. Mentoring however is a better option. Often, mentoring would require the teacher to help the child make sense of not just the content, but the strategy in answering the questions well.

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As the teacher teaches the child on how to make sense of what they are learning, they will also provide the child with opportunities to learn and fail. With that, you will train up a child who is rather clear on his/her weaknesses. This would eventually lead to better results.

The other thing that a parent pays for in education is continuous development of the child’s skills. This includes reports and diagnostic testing of the child’s strengths, weaknesses and how they can improve on it. Learning after all is a journey and if you choose to focus on exams, you would speed through that journey without learning more about yourself. As time goes by, the teacher would help the child work out how they can learn better, score better and solve problems better.

For Me…

I am not blaming the institution, its not my place nor my business. I however I do wonder what are we teaching our children. I wonder if we are really equipping them for life by nurturing their learning, or setting them up for failure by focusing on exams.

In my humble opinion, I think exams should be treated as a report of one’s current and not an end goal. It is through reports that we learn how to deal with what we don’t know. Perhaps, if more would see exams as such, we can get back to teaching our children  about life instead of drilling them for the sake of exams.