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 was 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.

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