A HARVARD education specialist Dr Tony Wagner was recently quoted in the New York Times as saying that Finland is perhaps the only country where students leave high school “innovation-ready”.
They learn concepts and creativity more than facts, and have a choice of many electives — all with a shorter school day, little homework and almost no tests.
This is indeed food for thought. Not that I’m suddenly ascribing a premium or excellence on the Finland system, but their success could certainly be reason for us to use as a source of reference and comparison.
Whilst commendations must be given to our Education Ministry for also gearing our schools to “learn concepts and creativity more than facts” and to “have a choice of many electives”, the practices on the ground, however, indicate otherwise.
In fact, the very opposite practices are the norm. We have now longer school days, much more homework and certainly there are tests that are carried with even greater vigour.
Something must be amiss. Given that we and the Finnish have the same desired objectives; two diagonally opposite approaches are not likely to lead us to the same destination.
Firstly, taking cognisance that “a shorter school day” in Finland may not be any shorter than a normal school day in Malaysia; the point is they have made it “shorter” as compared with their previous practice.
Here, our school day seems to have continually been made “longer and longer”.
It is common today that in many secondary schools, a day begins at 7.30am and does not end until 3.30pm, a whole eight-hour engagement! And, we have not yet counted in the hours of additional “revision” classes for examination-year students.
In some primary schools, we actually have formal paid “tuition” classes after school for UPSR pupils purportedly to spruce up their performance.
Some of these classes begin much earlier as in the middle of Year Five.
Admittedly, we are still very much into rote learning and studying for the sole purpose of scoring in examinations; an exact antidote prescription for creative and elective learning.
On the other hand, we also hear of normal classes being often left unattended because teachers are away for courses, meetings, workshops, sports and other activities.
The additional time in school can be due to these teachers trying to cover back “lost” periods; usually bearing little effect on the students.
We need to relook at our school time management. Some heads seem to think that just putting in “quantity” time will justify the outcomes, whatever that may be.
“I’ve tried my level best; I’ve covered all angles; I’m not to be blamed” is the typical explanation or excuse given by a school head.
It is time to examine the type of “quality” not the “quantity” that’s put in.
If school administrators give more thought into schooling hours, then perhaps, students, teachers, parents and other stakeholders can be spared the agony of unnecessary long school hours.
Our students and teachers would certainly need more of their “own” time for their tired minds to rest and rejuvenate so that they can be creative and innovative.
A daily regimen of work and more work is certainly not the formula to facilitate creativity and innovation. Long hours in school must go!
The heavy school bags issue is yet another matter that has not been resolved.
What have we done about reducing the homework load? We are far from it. If we examine more closely, homework is in fact a “drilling” exercise.
While ‘drilling” and rote learning might have their benefits, too much of these practices may in fact, be detrimental to cultivating a creative and innovative mind.
Many “smart” pupils are stifled by learning in a repetitive nature.
It stifles their initiative and inquisitive nature. In the case of secondary schools, with the introduction of School-based Assessment (SBA), students and teachers are equally burdened with assessing the many projects required of the subjects taught.
If the aim of every project is to inculcate a “holistic learning process”, why then is there a necessity to have project for every subject a student takes?
Can’t projects be better coordinated so that students carry out less projects which in turn could enhance their quality?
One needs to have some space for thought to enable the creative juices to flow freely.
Finally all this talk about having only school-based assessments seem quite utopian to many of us. While such assessments are meant to remove the stigma of an examination-oriented school system, the implementing of it could prove to be quite “hellish” for many students, teachers and parents alike.
Now, students not only have to worry about the numerous assessment or tests throughout the school term, but also the end-of-term exams as well as the end-of-primary UPSR and end-of-secondary SPM exams.
On top of it all, there is now a more stringent examination grading system.
We have: A+, A, A-, B+, B, C+, C, D, E and G; all together 10 levels of passes.
In addition SBA has introduced a six-level band system of assessment.
Can all this contribute to a creative and innovative mind?
We have the same aspirations as the Finnish in our education pursuits.
If theirs has been proven effective, it is perhaps time for us to look at some of our own practices.
We have no doubt that the Education Ministry and schools are working but the approach towards realising our aspirations might not be so.