THINGS were easy, interesting, yet tough for me through my school days. It was only recently that I realised I have a huge creative streak buried deep inside me. That was after I did a dermatoglyphic test which indicated my creativity quotient was ranked above average.
For years, I had been wondering why I was a Jack (in this case Jill) of all trades and master (mistress for me) of none. My friends call me "Information". This is because I am like a book of knowledge (from cars to do-it-yourself, information technology and child development).
I have this feeling that there is so much to learn in this world, yet so little time.
I am bad at repetitive work and bad at memorising facts, but when it comes to projects, assignments and new ideas to try out, I will be the first in line to give it a shot.
A pupil painting an empty tin. Schools must encourage children to use their creativity to find solutions to problems. Bernama pic
Why am I writing about this? Our government seems to be extremely keen to revolutionise our education system. I have talked to parents, teachers, friends, etc. Almost all just shrug their shoulders and have resigned themselves to fate that since they can't change the system, they have to change themselves.
I refuse to do that. Our current system is like fitting every child into a square hole.
I was lucky I was just a little tad smart. In school, I did sufficient work to stay at the top of my class. For the rest of my time, I did so much to fill my inquisitive and creative mind.
I was involved in many sports, including netball, rounders, hockey and volleyball. I was also head prefect and head librarian. I got involved in school activities because I felt I had a better purpose than just sitting for exams.
I felt I should know more in the coming year compared with the previous year, and I don't mean just getting better marks.
In my secondary school, I got the chance to organise talentimes, do community projects, get involved in drama productions, organise campfires and combined meets, learned cardiopulmonary resuscitation, how to bandage an injured limb, was head prefect again, almost picketed in class and the list just goes on. It was like my school allowed me to be flexible, to fit my oblong shape into a square hole.
We were all very lucky because our school didn't just want to produce straight-A students. Our school's motto was not to let any child be left behind.
Also, the composition of the students was well balanced. Chinese, Malay, Indian, Portuguese -- it was a melting pot of mini Malaysia.
Our principal was a Canossian sister. She did a great job of making sure character building played an important role in school. Many of us were talented in our own ways, that was why we had talentime contests every year. We were able to develop at a relatively slower pace compared with other prominent schools.
Even with all that, unfortunately, I didn't flourish after school, because I later realised that I was too well protected by my parents.
Though I had the necessary skills and brilliance, they were afraid to take risks. Because of that, I lacked life skills and street-smart skills needed to survive in the working world. Because I didn't get to try out the various opportunities out there before I entered university and because I was above average in all my endeavours, I didn't realise my greatest potential.
I was like so many other Fifth Form leavers before me, just wanting to get into university to finish my degree.
Like lemmings, I took up the most common course available, that is accounting and finance. My creativity was left buried. It was only later in life that it surfaced and made me see the errors of my education.
Children today are living in a digital world. On top of that, due to the hormone-induced diet they have been consuming all their life, they mature way much faster than I did.
To them, it's no longer "follow the rules and stick to the path". They view living life as playing a computer game. You need to play many games till you get better and manage to find all the tricks set in the game.
They need to have hands-on experience of what life is all about before they mellow and realise what's good for them. They need to have a purpose in learning.
They need to know why they are doing this in the first place before putting their heart and soul into making it successful.
I am talking about children who are natural-born leaders who are creative, inquisitive, not into rote learning and memorising facts.
We need to have an education system where choices can be made. If Ujian Pencapaian Sijil Rendah is still on, then let the children and parents have a choice whether they want to sit for the exam. If they choose not to , then they can have a choice where their child can be in a stream where exams account for only a certain percentage and the rest are measured in coursework.
Let them build a portfolio of the work they have done, be it a website, handy projects, etc. Parents can advise but not help them do it. They can plan at home and do it in class.
I teach English but I admit I do not teach just the Queen's English. I write whatever that comes into my mind because when the creative juices flow, I just can't stop them.
It's like my brain purging. My students, most of them from Chinese-medium schools, have to do a lot of grammar and comprehension -- the usual works.
But I use overseas publications, like Cambridge, Oxford, and Pearson Longman books, because they have an abundance of knowledge and information.
We talk about languages in the Amazon, gorillas in the mist, sumo wrestlers, life in the 1900s, high school students having their own band, students getting to be newscasters or DJs, etc.
When time permits, which is usually during the school holidays, we do projects and write about them. So far, we have made solar ovens, did the coke and mentos experiments, cooked an egg in an aluminium foil in an oven, etc.
My pupils are from Year One till Six and all get to do the same projects. We get to talk a lot in class, too. And after class, they get to play at my house before their parents pick them up. We try to use as much English as possible.
I have many varieties of books and they love Asterix and Obelix. They will never find them in their school library because the books there are mainly Chinese books.
So in my two-hour weekly class, we get to do Science, Maths, History and Geography. The children love their English lessons. That way, it keeps the passion of wanting-to-know-more-things-in-English going for them. My class size is small, about five in each class.
The gist of my story is:
WE need to do away with classifying lessons into subjects.
WE need to focus on knowledge, not language. When the thirst for knowledge is felt, the children will want to know the language to get the thirst quenched.
MAINTAIN the traditional way of learning but introduce a parallel system like I have mentioned and let willing parents try this out. Many home schoolers are using this method. Many like-minded parents face financial constraints implementing this but if the system is up and running in government school, more takers will be willing to give it a try.
The government should consider letting such homeschoolers join the normal education system in their later years without looking at paper qualifications. This is especially so for vocational or technical schools as many such homeschoolers have better skill-based knowledge than exam-based knowledge.
MORE project-and-research- based evaluation should be introduced as this will gauge the child's understanding in applying what he has learnt and if he is able to use his creativity to find solutions to problems.
DO not rush the child into learning too much at a rate faster than his own pace. (Right now, our schools are doing Form Three work in Year Five. Check out the Chinese and Bahasa Malaysia syllabi in school. They are creativity killers.)
If you allow this, the left-brained child will get to do the kind of education he wants, that is mugging and logic and rote learning. The right- brained child will get to tap his creative potential.
And not forgetting, the sporting types will get to excel, too.
Get students to organise events in school even though they are in primary school. If they can organise their own parties, why can't they organise a competition and talentime, exhibition, etc?
We have spoon-fed them too much. Nowadays, it's the teachers who are doing all the organising. The children don't get the chance to be involved, except as participants and part of the audience.
If I have the money and opportunity to set up such a school, I will do it. It will be the first school where students will be more involved in the running of the school the way they want it. Teachers should be mere facilitators.
By all means have a fighting competition for kids, but with protective gear and all. If they want to have a tortoise-racing competition, let them. They will be learning how to organise and manage an event.
It is not sufficient to have an education review. We need to revolutionise our education system to be in line with current developments. We need to address the fact that the core of the problem is that the policy-makers in our education system are out of date with current and modern studies on children's mental and physical development.
We should not go along the road of mass education where one size fits all. Different children have differing learning styles and different multiple intelligences. No child should be left behind.
By Karen Lee Huey Shyan, Shah Alam, Selangor
Source: New Straits Times Letters to the Editors 21 May 2012