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Remove blinkers in education system to produce thinking leaders

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We need to produce Malaysian who are able to think independently and intelligently instead of moronic yes men, writes Khong Kah Yeong.

I was drawn to the article “Education Reset” by Teo Chuen Tick, particularly his comment on bureaucrats in the education service being more interested in form rather than substance.

That reminds me of what my grand-daughter is experiencing and has been complaining to me almost every other day.

It appears that to score well in the moral education paper the class had to memorise certain values as listed in their text book and reproduce them word for word in a defined format as answers to the questions in their tests. Any variation or attempt to use they own words for the same purpose would be rejected and penalised accordingly.

To me, that surely is not nurturing young minds to think for themselves and preparing them to be independent for the future.

Another case in point was when their mathematics teacher set them a problem of finding the perimeter of a comma-like shape (like that seen in the centre of the South Korean flag) made up of a big semi-circle connecting to the two ends of an S-shape formed by two smaller circles. They were told that the radius of each of the smaller circle is half that of the big circle.

My grand-daughter whether by intelligence or by intuition, saw that the perimeter of the figure was made up by the semi-circumference of the big circle and the circumference of the small circle and proceeded to work out her answer accordingly.

But when she handed in her work her teacher marked her working as wrong and proceeded to show the class the “correct working” ie:

(1) find the circumference of the big circle and divide it by two,
(2) find the circumference of each of the small circles and divide each of them by two.
(3) finally, add the three answers to obtain the final answer.

I leave it to you to form your own opinion of the teacher.

I think what my grand-daughter experienced was the result of a blinkered view indoctrinated by the blind use of a centralised marking schemes, which are intended to produce a certain uniformity in the marking of answer scripts by a large number of examiners over a period of time.

This has resulted in teachers either afraid or unable to use their discretion to accept answers that are correct and logical but not in their marking scheme. Hence their answer when challenged is nearly always “it’s not in the marking scheme”.

Hopefully the new Minister of Education, Maszlee Malik, will be able to look into this and sweep away such cobwebs and blinkers so that our education system will produce citizens, especially leaders, who are able to think independently and intelligently instead of moronic yes men.

Update: May I thank readers for their comments to my observation, one in particular for agreeing that both the teacher’s and my grand-daughter’s methods of arriving at the perimeter of the comma-shaped figure are correct. In other words, the method set out in the marking scheme is not the only road leading to Rome.

In fact, my simplistic mind, along with definitely limited knowledge of Mathematics, tells me that there are three or maybe more ways of arriving at the answer to that problem.

The first, and I consider the most brilliant, is simply to find the circumference of the big circle and give that as the answer. If it were possible, I would give that student bonus marks for that! It shows high intelligence and a great depth of his knowledge of mathematical concepts.

The second is to find the semi-circumference of the big circle and add that to the circumference of the smaller circle formed by the “S” shape part of the figure.

The third is that shown by the teacher concerned.

From the above, it can be seen that there are more roads to Rome than just that in the marking scheme. Is it fair, therefore, for the teacher, or for that matter anybody else marking answer scripts, to penalise a student for not using the route set out in the marking scheme to arrive at the same and correct answer?

Khong Kah Yeong is an Aliran newsletter subscriber who has some acquaintance with Malaysian schools.

The views expressed in Aliran's media statements and the NGO statements we have endorsed reflect Aliran's official stand. Views and opinions expressed in other pieces published here do not necessarily reflect Aliran's official position.

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Dr Wong Soak Koon
28 Jul 2018 5.04pm

I totally agree that the centralising of curriculum, the focus on uniform ( unreflecting, unthinking) ways of teaching and marking is onerous! I have long been angry about the Moral Education paper. Having taught Literature for decades at the tertiary level, I found it very hard to teach students coming into universities from our secondary school system the paradoxes, ironies and complex human emotions and experiences that all great literary texts explore. I really can’t blame the students as they have been force-fed on black and white answers. I’ll be writing a piece soon on “critical literacy” ( the opposite of rote learning ) both for a popular venue and an academic journal.Teacher training has to be reassessed and improved dramatically.

Phua Kai Lit
Phua Kai Lit
6 Jun 2018 8.00am

Repressive regimes fear citizens who are critical , well-informed and politically active.

I remember how exciting it was, as a student in the USA in the late 1970s, to be able to
get my hands on and read “subversive” material in the university library and as part of my course readings i.e. Marxist scholars and periodicals.

I am not a Marxist today, by the way 🙂 But I acknowledge that Marx was a great sociological thinker.

PolitiScheiss (a.k.a. IT.Scheiss)

Contd /- This is a symptom of the teacher being unable to think out of the box or is too afraid to use his or her brain and instead abides by set guidelines as if they are scripture.

It could also be a symptom of our rote learning-based system or even an outcome our our system of objective testing based upon a multiple choice of answers, of which one is correct, which was introduced in our SRP (LCE) exam in 1968, of which I was the first batch to sit.

I find this tendency to not be able to think outside the box but to follow memorised procedures and answers pretty common amongst Malaysians, who will virally forward whatever they receive on social media without first investigating its source, veracity and timeframe.

PolitiScheiss (a.k.a. IT.Scheiss)

The “taichi” symbol of taijitu.

Correct. Both your daughter’s and the teacher’s approaches would produce the same answer.

You daughter could intuitively see that the circumference of the lower semi-circle that forms part of the black “comma” equals that of the upper semi-circle which forms part of the white “comma” so just add half the circumference of the big circle to the full circumference of a small circle and you have the circumference of the “comma” figure. However, if the two smaller circles which form the two “dots” are regarded as holes, then you may also have to add the circumference of one of these “dots” (inner circumference) to the “outer circumference” of the “comma”.

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