06 August 2012

What's Wrong with Our Education & How to Fix it?

What's wrong with our education system? Two big mistakes. Firstly, we have made learning painful instead of a joy. Passing exams becomes the main objective rather than real learning to improve one's capability. Secondly, we have made acquiring skills more important than learning how to live rightly. The end result is crimes of greater scale and immoral behavior in the Civil Service, schools and universities, religious organizations like the church and in the society in general. We have wealth and skills but not happiness and well-beings. People are quick to find faults, to complain and to blame, especially blaming the government since they are so well paid. There is an increasing sense of dissatisfaction and frustration with life. The first 6 verses of Lun Yu tell us the problems and give us the answers
In our discussion on Chinese Classics, we looked into greater details on the writings of the Confucius' School, also know as Ru Jia 儒家.  A main book is Lun Yu (论语) , Analects, which is a compilation of the saying of Confucius and his disciples. The key teachings of a book are generally covered in the first chapter and the last. So we went through carefully the first chapter of Lun Yu. You can find the Chinese verses and key points in the slide below:

I have covered the topic on the first and last chapter in Proverbs and LunYu of Confucius and Management According to Confucius 2 : 5 Good & 4 Bad.

From the verses, we can easily see the errors in our modern education system. There are two errors, namely, learning becomes painful instead of fun and technical education comes before moral education, resulting in smart people without a righteous and loving heart.

First Error: Learning is Pain versus Learning is Joy

v1. The Joy of Learning or Learning is Fun

1a“学而时习之,不亦说乎?Learning and practicing(applying it and to become a habit), is it not a joy?

1b 有朋自远方来,不亦乐乎?Having friends from far away, is it not joyful?
This tell us about group learning and relationship building is great joy too.

1c 人不知而不愠,不亦君子乎? Not feeling angry when others don't know about a subject or about you (or not respecting you), it not this a gentleman (a wise or superior man)?

It tells us to be patience when people do not understand our teaching or respect us. We must be happy to teach or impart our learning to others.

Our education system has over-emphasized examinations. We have created the misunderstanding as good education is equal to passing exams. We have produced exam-smart students but not really competent students. We have frequently heard comments that 'we have returned everything to the teachers after the exams'. We have students that scored A in Chinese Exam but cannot converse in Mandarin fluently or read any Chinese books or newspapers with ease. Some of the translations to and from Chinese that we read, even from the universities and the governmental organizations, are laughable at times. 

I am not against exams but against using exams as a sole means of assessing a student. Examination is about learning where we have done well and where we need to put in further efforts. Examination should be like a mirror telling us where else we need to go next. Examination should be part of the joy of learning and not to become a fear. (Just in case someone may think that I am sour grape I wish to clarify that I was among the top in schools and universities and examination was an opportunity for me to be popular and to gain prizes).

So we need to put the joy back to learning. 

Confucius provided us the answer as well:

1. Put into practice what we have learned. Better still, make it a habit that comes naturally and effortlessly.

Students must understand the purpose and usefulness of the subject of learning. Learning needs not be abstract academic subjects only. Learning is about attitude and the depth of knowledge. The more we learn, the more we discover that there are more to it and that motivates us to learn more. Consider the game of golf. It was such a simple game and yet so addictive. For any subject, find the purpose, find the application, monitor the progression (examination is one form to assess the progress), and give them the time and attention to progress.

2. Group Learning is Fun especially from Distant Friends that share the same interests.

Learning together with others that share the same interests, especially from those different backgrounds or ideas, will be even more interesting. With today's digital technology, it is even easier to create such learning experience.

3. Be good at teaching and sharing with others. Be patience. Give encouragement.

We are of different gifting and we learn and progress differently. We need to have more patience in today's instant mindset and greater creativity in helping others to learn. Teaching is about motivating others to learn as well. We also know that learning is a step-wise function. Once we discover our mental-block and has a break-through, we can progress very fast. During this stage of struggle, we need lot of patience, coaching and encouragement.

Second Error: Smartness before Righteousness

Consider verse 6 
『6』子曰「弟子,  Confucius said,"
入则孝,  in the home then honor (the elders) - filial piety
出则弟,  in the society then respect others (bosses, friends, colleagues...)
谨而信,  work with carefulness(excellence)  and maintain integrity (keeping promises)
凡爱众, always love everyone 
而亲仁. and be close to kindness/love
行有馀力,  则以学文. 」after doing all the above then with the remaining energy learn the other skills. 

In short, the verse teaches us that we must know how to live rightly as a good person first before we acquire other skills.

It is good to know that our Minister of Education is pushing for more moral education rather than just science and maths. But here comes the key, what should be the content of the moral education? What are the right behaviors?

The content can be found in verse 6 itself about honoring parents, respecting others, working with excellence, maintaining integrity, loving everyone and caring for our own members. This particular verse 6 becomes the foundation of a famous child teaching book called "弟子规" written by Confucius scholar of the Qing dynasty. He expanded on the six subjects. One English translation can be found here.

Verse 2-5 also tell us what are the right behavior:

2 有子曰 YouZi says:

Those that respect parents and friends, they are seldom disrespectful to their superiors. Those that are not disrespectful to their superior and at the same time create troubles, cannot be found.

Wise men (frequently translated as Superior Men) focus on the development of basics first. When the basic foundations are strong, moral virtuous character is birthed. Respecting our elders and friends is the basic of love and compassion.

3 子曰 Confucius says:“巧言令色,鲜矣仁!” "smooth, flowery and tricky speech, tempting appearances, are seldom associated with true love and compassion.

4 曾子曰:“吾日三省吾身:为人谋而不忠乎?与朋友交而不信乎?传不习乎?”
Zeng Zi says: "I examine my life daily on three things. Am I faithful in my work? Am I trustworthy with my friends? Am I doing what I am teaching?(or Do I put into practice what I have learned?)

5 子曰:“道千乘之国:敬事而信,节用而爱人,使民以时。”
Confucius says: "The ways to govern a big country are: faithful in work and be trustworthy. Controlling my spending(be not wasteful) and loving the people, using the people at the right time (i.e. use them when they are free and not to disturb their farming or other productive activities).

We can see the urgency for putting moral development back into the basic education system as we see the increasing incidents of crimes and other immorality frequenting our newspapers and social media. The bad behavior even happened in the religious circles like the church, the government, even the home affairs forces and the professional organizations with codes of ethics like medicine and laws. 

Lim Liat (C) 6 Aug 2012
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