Thursday, 25 November 2010

Asgradian Thoughts

Unlike the yesteryears, drivers in the morning commute no longer need to endure banal chats and rants of radio deejays with info-focused radio stations around, namely Radio Ikim (for the spiritually inclined) and BFM (for the business orientated).

This morning, for example, I learnt the following from BFM’s much recommended Breakfast Grill:
In Norway, 73 percent of its populace is with tertiary qualifications and their primary schoolers do not undergo graded examination.

Instead the examinations are geared towards assessing if the teaching force (schools, teachers) are doing enough and equipped for the task and responsibility.

For the children, grading starts in their secondary schooling years.

Primary school goers still do homework, learn Norwegian English (hmm, what does this mean?), Math and Science amongst others.

My immediate thoughts were: how carefree – and reminisce that things were not that much different for Malaysian kids all those years ago when the only exam to worry about was the Penilaian Darjah 5 (yep, that’s how old I am).

Even then, not scoring there is not that big a deal although doing so would help get you a shot in one of the, admittedly not many, boarding schools.

Unlike today, tuitions for primary schools weren’t a norm. Schooling days consist of cycling/walking/bus-sing(?) to class in the morning and back in the afternoon, homework or play or both, then off to mengaji Quran in the evenings.

Perhaps I am talking only of my own experience, but my memories of how it was with friends seemed to place this as quite widespread a phenomena.

Thus with this in mind, I am rethinking if indeed the move to scupper the UPSR is a good one. Get rid of any unnecessary stress – and tension – creating item on the children’s part out of the way in the way of building their educational foundation.

Test the teachers and the schools instead by way of the non-graded assessment.

Can we do this, I wonder? What are the pitfalls of doing so?

Do we EVEN need to rock the boat?

Yes, we do. A young nation in a rocketingly competitive world, our children just cannot afford a dysfunctional education system lacking clear direction.

Our University international standing seems indicative of this. University Malaya, arguably the country top tertiary institution, have never been able to replicate its 89th THES (formerly The Times' Higher Education Supplement) ranking of 2004 and is at 207th placing this year.

So, how?

Monday, 22 November 2010

Storied Instructions

“Three countries that outperform us — Singapore, South Korea, Finland — don’t let anyone teach who doesn’t come from the top third of their graduating class. And in South Korea, they refer to their teachers as ‘nation builders.

The “us” above is the US of A, but it could very well refer to any other country including Malaysia.

There are several good points in the column, including (I think) the following: “There are three basic skills that students need if they want to thrive in a knowledge economy: the ability to do critical thinking and problem-solving; the ability to communicate effectively; and the ability to collaborate.”

Tough call? Perhaps if the rut in the education system is way too deep and too entrenched to rectify and revamp.

Immediately I am thinking of the move to make history a compulsory-pass subject. Will it allow the three elements above come into play?

Much depends, probably, on the way the subjects are being taught in school. I’ve heard of teachers who go beyond their syllabus to make learning enjoyable - dare I say - again…

These are the cream of the crop, and contrary to the view above, I don’t think high grades are the sole criteria for such lofty ambitions. Passion is just important as teachers, too, learn while they teach, don’t they?

I’m wishing, though, that I know how exactly to instill these traits into my own daughter.

Just this weekend, she and her cousins joined their auntie for a jaunt at KL Pavilion, with the Times book store one of the outlets visited.

Clearly in a generous mood, their auntie had acceded to financing their purchases so off they went to the children section.

There weren’t that many books, but still enough to whet any bookworms’ appetite*, but in the end, my daughter exactly what her favorite year-older cousin chose. A diary. One of those lockable types which I know will end up being a doddling book.


She’s always seemed so reluctant to make her own decisions.**

Her younger sister is the exact opposite. Didn’t care what her elder “sisters” were browsing for, saw what she wanted, queried her auntie if the price is within the range permissible and got them. A magazine and an activity book.

She five, going six, but I know the magazine will be read from cover to cover.

Critical thinking and problem solving, communicating and collaborating, eh?

I wonder now if these are skills taught…

* PS: Found a copy of Neil Gaiman and Charles VessInstructions”. So beautiful yet so expensive. Tried to be sneaky in getting the girls interested but no such luck.

Ah Well…

** PSS: Perhaps I am being too hasty in my assumptions. Could it be her cousin was the follower instead? I sure wish so...

Monday, 15 November 2010

Wordy Eloquence

The Big Bad Wolf book sale is in town again and, in what is turning out to be an annual ritual, there I was with the whole family in tow.

South City Plaza was the chosen venue this year, and unfortunately, it wasn’t as easy to find as it seemed on the internet-sourced map.

All that matters was that we managed to get there plus a few cousins of the young ones.

As usual, there were like a billion books in the somewhat claustrophobic hall. Once we have left the children in their section, my wife and I proceeded on our own search for books.

Alas, there weren’t that many which really said “Pick me up” for me. Being such an old timer, I was looking very much for the seasoned, tattered cover novels of old, and what BBW has plenty was the newer ones.

There were still plenty for those really willing to go through one title to the other.

I was practically skimming through only the hard covers, and picking out those which featured pleasantly-designed overleaf before reading the summary at the back page.

And the sum result of the long exercise – two books. A fantasy and another on the (US) comics industry.

Alas, as usual, comics remain the elusive category which BBW is lacking on. There were some Manga titles, but not that many.

I discovered some old-style, illustrated, “Tales from the Crypt” over at the children side and managed to read quite a bit whilst doing the book – search.

(Ironically, the same is also an aspect covered in the book on the comics industry I bought. Haven’t gotten round to reading it yet, though.)

A question bugged me later on: Where exactly am I as a reader? Am I someone concerned with storylines? Do I look more for wordsmith artistry? Or was I somewhere in between?

The more I thought about this, the more convinced I was of falling in the second category.

Sure enough, there are stories which I read and re-read until the pages required extensive re-glueing and patching up, but there were clear signs that there were also stories where the words attracted me more than the story.

Sure tells a whole lot about the person, doesn’t it?

I was hooked by the fantasy after reading the summary exactly because of the elegance in its prose.

Suddenly, the crowd was no longer there. There was only me and the words for the briefest of moments.

Preceding events meant that reading the whole book would have to wait.

I will discover then if the pages within fulfill the promise reflected without.

I’m hoping it’ll be a good journey but you just never know.

PS: The eldest cousin of my children bought two copies of “Tales of the Crypt.” Will wonders never cease.