Time to revamp learning in S’pore schools?

Singapore students in a language arts class in Nanyang Girls' High School in 2011. (AFP photo)Singapore students in a language arts class in Nanyang Girls' High School in 2011. (AFP photo)

Ever wonder what the world would be like without the Internet?

A world without smartphones, Yahoo!, Facebook or Wikipedia seems almost unimaginable.

Most of the time, we're so immersed in all of this digital connectedness that we take it for granted.

Easier doesn't mean better

The Digital Age has arrived, and it's here to stay.

Despite the fact that the world has undergone tremendous change over the past 15 years, the education system hasn't changed nearly as much.

This means that education is at risk of getting completely left behind.

Many education policies are in place to make it easier to administer and manage the system.

But easier isn't always better.

Standardized testing, nation-wide examinations, multiple-choice questions—these make it easier for teachers and schools, but they aren't necessarily better for students' development.

When it comes to the education system, we have a problem. And unfortunately there aren't any simple solutions.

In this article, I'm going to suggest two broad ways in which education needs to change, given the Digital Revolution that the world is going through.

1. Schools need to make it clear to students that you don't go to school to get an education. School is just part of your education.

Before the Digital Age, just about the only way you could get an education was to go to school.

Today, however, you can access high-quality, university-level content for free at websites like Coursera and Udacity.

Even if you're interested in learning something less academic—say you want to pick up a new skill or hobby—there's bound to be a YouTube video that will meet your needs.

Moreover, you can read what experts in almost any field have to say just by reading their blogs.

We've never before in history been able to tap into such a wealth of information so conveniently!

This means that the knowledge that schools are able to feed students with is only a fraction of what students can access just by sitting at a computer with Internet access.

Schools should no longer focus purely on teaching students mathematics, science, history, geography and literature.

Instead, schools should also teach students to harness the power of the World Wide Web, and to take full responsibility for their education.

When students take full responsibility for their own education, they won't just learn for the sake of passing tests and exams.

Rather, they'll learn—both inside and outside the classroom—because they understand that education is a lifelong journey.

2. Students should stop being tested on information that can be easily found on the Internet.

What is the typical wavelength of a gamma ray?

What do you get when you differentiate arcsin(x)?

What are some examples of trees that you might find in a temperate coniferous forest?

(If you don't know the answers, I guarantee that you'll be able to find them on Wikipedia.)

These are the kinds of facts that students are often required to memorize for tests and exams.

50 years ago, it made sense to force students to learn certain facts and formulas by heart, because information wasn't simply a mouse click away.

Granted, there are certain historical dates and basic equations that students should memorize, but in the context of the Digital Age we live in, I question the relevance of rote learning.

Tests should require students to look for information from a variety of sources (both online and offline), critically evaluate the reliability and validity of this information, and draw logical conclusions.

Bad exam question: "Explain the key events that occurred during the Japanese Occupation."

Better exam question: "Explain three main ways in which the Japanese Occupation has influenced life in modern day Singapore."

The second exam question would force students to make use of a much wider range of skills than the first.

Obviously, this kind of question would require a lot more time to answer, so exams would no longer be two-hour sit-down affairs like they are now. Instead, they would be open-book.

If tests and exams were restructured in the manner I suggest above, I have no doubt that teachers would need to spend more time grading papers.

Administrative changes to the education system would, no doubt, need to be made so that teachers don't become even more overworked.

But change—sometimes, painful change—is the price of progress.

Once again, easier isn't better. Only better is better.

In closing…

Revamping the education system isn't simple, but it's necessary.

The tides of change, which have come in the form of the Digital Revolution, are threatening to wash over us.

Altering our attitudes toward education completely is akin to learning how to surf.

That's the only way for us to survive these unstoppable tides of change.

Education reform—not just in Singapore, but elsewhere too—is vital, because lives are at stake. More than that, the future of our country and our world is at stake.

Let's get to work.

Other stories by Daniel Wong
Are too many S'poreans expecting 'an easy life'?
Are S'pore schools producing 'losers'?

Why Singaporeans complain so much

15 parenting mistakes you don't know you're making

Daniel Wong is a learning and personal development expert, as well as a certified youth counselor. A sought-after speaker and coach, he is also the best-selling author of "The Happy Student: 5 Steps to Academic Fulfillment and Success". He offers programmes to help students attain exam excellence while also finding happiness and fulfillment, and to empower parents to motivate their unmotivated teenagers. He writes regularly at www.daniel-wong.com. Download his FREE e-books, "The Unhappiness Manifesto: Do You Make These 150 Mistakes In The Pursuit Of Happiness?" and "Singapore Scholarship Guide: The $500,000 Decision". The views expressed are his own.

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