Not too long ago, four of us sat around a table talking about what we can do to incorporate critical thinking, creative thinking and studying skills in students. We are not doing this for some altruistic motive but rather asking ourselves: How we can fill in the gaps in the current educational system? Don’t get me wrong, we need to make money to survive; but in the process, we want to do the responsible thing (note, I did not say “right thing” because that is subjective), so these students have a better chance at life than we ever did.
We hope to raise the bar for all of our students’ performance and engagement as they make their way into the universities of their dreams. So the new program we are talking about stems from the lamentable fact that quite a number of graduates out there are finding it tough to secure the best and most rewarding positions available now. In fact, quite a number may secure said jobs through the certificates they possess (if not the fibre optic cables they can pull), but quite a number too, fail to sustain and move up in their positions through sheer lack of critical and creative thinking skills – much to the dismay of their established superiors who rightfully expects a lot more from qualified graduates.
Later that day, I sat through Andreas Schleicher’s TED talk: Use data to build better schools. It was enlightening and the teacher in me applauded him all the way as he articulated what I have felt in my heart all these years.
There are four quotes from his video that made a real impact on me and I want to share it here with you to ruminate. The link to the video is at the bottom and you can watch it in your own time, if, like me, you crave a future of educational excellence.
Quote 1: “Learning Is Not A Place but an Activity”
My 2 Bits: We spend hundreds of millions in educational infrastructure; with the assumption that better school buildings will show a concomitant result in raising the learning standards. We spends millions more recruiting teachers who have no desire to become teachers but who only signed up for this profession as they did not qualify to further their studies on their actual desired fields. We spend a few million more on top of that, writing a blueprint for the educational protocols of the country – it is usually just a new spin to the basic, fully-functioning and adaptive blueprints from the past that are rehashed to suit the present administration’s “values”. Unfortunately, it is also usually done with very little clear goals in sight other than sexifying age-old aspirations which boils down to two words: Educational Excellence.
Quote 2: “better degrees don’t automatically translate into better jobs or better lives”
My 2 Bits: Last night, around a sumptuous Indian meal, an Associate Professor in a leading public university recounted an incident where she gave in a recent talk. The theme of the workshop was based on the future of hospitals and teaching environment in Malaysia. She was incensed with the derailing mindset of the current graduates who showed little incentive to exercise their thinking skills, in addition to, little or no desire to gain the ability despite her prodding. Amidst the consternation of her own superiors and the embarrassed, downcast looks of her students, she enjoined them to think beyond just producing factory-like graduates, who will have no relevance in the economy of the future; and to consider that “we need to change our admissions criteria so we can change the quality of the students we recruit”. No truer words have been spoken.
Quote 3: “The test of truth in life is not what we can remember what we have learnt in school; but rather whether we are prepared for change”
My 2 Bits: Schools throughout the country pound “information”, which is not necessarily “knowledge” as the curriculum tend to change to reflect the mindset of whatever is required by current political climates; and these students are then tested on how well they have retained and regurgitated what they have learnt in class on a piece of paper. Here is where we get students with 9, 10, 11, 12 A’s, who then proceed to get a scholarship to some of the most prestigious schools in the world. But half way through, many (and I mean, MANY), crash and burn miserably in these prestigious universities because they are so ill-prepared to change and communicated effectively. Will this cycle never end?
I am old myself, in my 50s… so for the old-timers and semi-old-timers like me out there bemoaning “ours was a better time, a better-equipped generation or a better accomplished cohort”; we need to ask ourselves:
HOW WELL AM I ADAPTING TO CHANGE NOW?
Quote 4: “Placing a high value on education is only part of the picture; the other goal is the belief that all children are capable of success”
My 2 Bits: Every parent should want the best for their child. Every day I sit in front of them as they articulate their hopes and dreams alongside their fears in a world where everything is changing at a rapid pace, and their world metrics seem inadequate. My constant challenge is to assure parents that all they can do is create opportunities with options for their child and very importantly, believe that their child will succeed. While putting a child in a great school in no way guarantees success, he or she would at least have been given the opportunity to grow and delve into their areas of interest and hopefully these opportunities creates an individual with the skill sets to better manage their own challenges ahead – personally, professionally and proudly.
WATCH THE VIDEO:
Andreas Schleicher heads the Program for International Student Assessment (PISA) at the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD, headquartered in Paris, France). He has designed tests that are given to hundreds of thousands of students around the world (the most recent covered about 70 nations), that offers unprecedented insight into how well a nation’s education system is, in preparing their students for adult life.
The PISA test does not measure students’ retention of facts, but their readiness for “knowledge worker” jobs which require them to think critically and solve real-world problems. The PISA test results are fed back to governments and schools so they can work on improving their ranking. The data has inspired Schleicher to become a vocal advocate on educational policy changes that his research suggests, make for great schools.
How much ambition is too much ambition? “Be the best you can be”, has been the rallying cry of Ben’s generation and that of his father’s, and his father’s father. The cry may possibly be traced to the beginning of civilization. And now, at 50 years old, ambition to him means growth – one that builds character, not deplete it.
It was not too long ago when we all exhorted to lend our eyes to the skies, and grasp the vision that the stars offered – to rend the fabric of time to mould our future, to assail the gates of heavens to vindicate our dreams and to feel the god-like power of a creator. It was a stirring vision; perhaps a bit too intimidating for some, and perhaps not enough thought given by others of what this truly entail.
Business schools want ambitious students, make no mistake about it – if there is not an ounce of drive in you, you’re not ready! It is a fundamental zeitgeist that ambitious people create change, propel our society to meet the challenges of our shared future and, for better or for worse, these are the ones that the mantle of leadership shall fall.
SARAH, STORMS AREN'T BREWING IN YOUR EYES
I was surprised to meet a candidate who was “not really that ambitious” recently (let’s call her Sarah so as to protect the innocent as well as the guilty). She is blessed with having a privileged background, is highly intelligent, and has a job that many would kill for. But by her own admission, she is not really that driven to aspire to reach the greater heights that is always available to the fortunate few of her ilk.
So, the greater part of my teaching sessions with her involves trying to prod the embers of aspirations to spark, or better yet, rage. If only she knew that if she could bring the resources that are at her disposal to bear, she is a candidate that most schools would want to grace their prestigious halls. It was a lot of work.
After much prodding, like a slow trickle to a steady gurgle, her ideas of what really matters to her becomes clear – of what she wants to do, what she wants her future and the future of her peers and children to be; and what a glorious future it could be. Hallelujah!
I WANNA TALK ABOUT ME
On the extreme end of the scale, I met John (again a made up name to protect…), who constantly dream big dreams – where he is the protagonist, where everyone depends on his largesse with varying degrees of gratitude to him and him alone.
Now he was someone whom I had to take to the realms of reality and face the brutal truth that he was not likely going to be a candidate of any consideration lest he tempers his over-arching drive. He needed to come to a realization that aspirations are only credible if they are backed by the day-to-day grind, by a string of failures and a few gems of success; by a constant gnawing voice in your head whispering that you are a failure, and by grim determination to never give in.
GOOD FOR GROWTH
Our dreams are gestated by our travails right here, right now. By the constant repetitive chores that we do; by the humbling realization that we might die before we can even sniff the beginning of our dreams and ambitions materializing.
If not for anything, our eventual demise should propel us to dream and dream realistically. We should not procrastinate to reach for the stars but we must also realize where this beginning begins; and it begins with one simple question:
Where do I go from here?
The gift of smile is free; when it's sincere, it's priceless.
Death is the ultimate teacher to those who are left behind.