Thursday, January 19, 2017

Successful Intelligence

While I think academic excellence has its place and I expect it from my children too, simply because no one rises to low expectations, there is another equally important area that I work hard not to lose sight of. 

Every now and again, I would assess my children's progress in the development of their 'successful intelligence'.  I wrote about this important aspect 6 years ago in this blog post about Beyond SAT and GPAs

Acquisition of knowledge and content is necessary to excel in school and to understand a topic, but it is important only up to an extent.

Equally important, if not more, is the acquisition of skills. It is easier said than done as I still think that our education system and culture do not provide sufficient opportunities to equip students with skills necessary to answer the following types of questions.

 A "creative" question might ask students to draw something, such as a design for a new product; to post a video on YouTube; or to imagine an alternate history (what if the Nazis had won World War II?). 

An analytical question, meanwhile, might ask a student what his favorite book is and why. 

A practical question might ask a student how he convinced a friend of an idea. 

A wisdom-oriented question might ask him how a high school passion might be turned toward the common good later in life.

My interest in my kids' development in these areas has nothing to do with obtaining admission to selected universities, but everything to do with what I think education goals should be all about.

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Breadth vs Depth of Knowledge

My eldest's Life Sciences teacher told the class recently that there is so much to learn about Cells that one could easily fill a 900-pages book on just this topic alone and yet there will still be so much more to learn and teach, as there will always be new development and discovery.

I wondered if my son truly understood what the teacher was driving at.

I am afraid not, as he could not really answer my question afterwards when I asked him what did he think his teacher was trying to tell them.

So I took that opportunity to reiterate my view on breadth vs depth of knowledge.

It is not a myth that our exam-oriented school system has trained generations of students who tend to focus too much on depth of knowledge at the expense of breadth.

Yet we need both depth and breadth of knowledge. Which is more important will depend on what we are trying to accomplish or use that knowledge for.

Having only breadth means we know a little about everything but a certain amount of depth is needed for broad knowledge to be useful.

Yet a depth of knowledge can also narrow one's focus so much that we end up with tunnel vision, which will hinder problem-solving and innovation.

Depth is more important if we want to teach or if we need specialised knowledge to accomplish something, e.g. if one is a doctor. But breadth is more important if we want to innovate and think out of the box.

So one of my goals is always to teach my kids to be curious enough to acquire the breadth of knowledge and also exam-smart enough to determine the depth required to ace exams. If we can have the cake and eat it, why not?

Needless to say, if they are interested in certain topics, they will read up and research enough on their own to satisfy their own hunger for knowledge.

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

After PSLE, What Next?

I always think the Secondary school a child goes to is more important than the Primary school.

Like it or not, how well or poorly one does at PSLE has a direct effect on where the child will spend his subsequent four years of his education life. For some, the impact is as great as the next six years and perhaps even beyond, especially if the child is enrolled into the 6-year Integrated Programme (also known as IP) which commits him to six years after PSLE.

It does not just end there! If a child failed to thrive because of a wrong fit, the negative effect can be so much more damaging, to the extent of jeopardising his chances and choices for tertiary education.

So I do think the 'where' does have a tremendous effect on how he will develop during his teenage years.

Since parents generally find it more challenging to influence their teenagers than when the kids were younger, it becomes all the more important that parents are comfortable with the school environment and culture their teenagers will be spending time in.

I began considering the various paths available to a Primary School leaver two years ago. While I know some parents would just aim for the best school that their child can get into, I care as much, if not more, about the culture and the fit with my child's personality and strengths.

In fact, I would be very hesitant to support him going to a school if I feel the school climate is a poor fit for my child's learning needs and personality and does not provide me with confidence that he will emerge with the values, skills and strengths that I consider important.

I have a clear idea of the kind of education I want for the boys, but what I was unclear of was how much the entire process of selecting Secondary Schools/Junior Colleges has evolved since the time I did my PSLE decades ago.

Hence, the need for the tedious process of researching during which I read up countless websites and forums, chatted with parents, students and educators both in person and online.

The boy was clueless. The dad did not know better.

In the end, I narrowed it all down to one school, months before the PSLE.

I visited the school during the open house alone. The son could not make it as he had to be at a competition. After spending 3 hours speaking to over 30 students whom I met that day, I was sufficiently impressed and convinced with my choice.

The rest was easy.

Since no one else in the family had any other ideas, my choice was THE choice. Though I offered a very democratic approach and allowed the boy to choose differently as long as he could convince me with reasons, he just took the path of least resistance and decided mummy-knows-best.

After one week of orientation in the new school, my boy seems happy enough.

We shall see.


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