Redesign Learning?

The Value of Universities

Much has been written, debated and pondered about the “head-heart-hand” approach to education, yet it has failed to change the way we manage learning. Often, we forget that the generation that we are entrusted to teach was born in another era and the way we learned in the past may not necessarily suit them anymore. Teachers must thus find ways to make technologically savvy students learn what they need to learn, explore why they need to do so and how. Students themselves do not have the luxury of stretching their studying experience beyond a prescribed curriculum—we confine them to time, content and standardised knowledge level based on their age. Their ability is determined by grades and they are stamped with a certificate that allows them to progress or fail. Many parents are eager for their children to take the shortest route to adulthood and working life. Youngsters are denied dreams and their natural inclinations are crushed if their pathways do not lead them to conventional careers. It is getting more evident that the education process has become stressful; it is robbing students of the enjoyment of learning, breeding insecurities about their abilities, and curbing creativity and innovation.

The pre-university (Pre-U) level is the shortest transformation period for students as they must transition from framed school conditions to independent learning required at tertiary level. Within 1 to 1.5 years, teachers must assume the role of a coach, mentor and facilitator who not only guide learning within and beyond the classroom, but also prepare students for prescribed examinations that will determine their entry into university. More and more parents want their children to have a university degree. We need to advocate for the “liberation” of the education process that gives teachers freedom to create, innovate and experiment with mixed abilities of students in a classroom. Is it time for multiple-learning levels within a group, developing and stretching individual learning? Today, the most influential years of students’ personal development are spent in acquiring set knowledge and preparing for examinations. Can there be a contingent framework aimed at nurturing a spirit of inquiry and creativity, and curiosity for science, mathematics and technology that would broaden the “Head” factor?

We must inculcate values and foster cultural learning and international understanding in an interdependent society. There should be specific teachings of subjects that enrich lives and living. Young people need to be critically aware of what they are learning, perceptive of the past that shaped the present, mindful of the self and the people around them, and capable of empathy and understanding. There needs to be an exposure to art, music, architecture, and literature and their changing forms. Students need to be taught to adapt to the ever-accelerating changes, and be able to find and develop creative solutions to problems. These are skills that satisfy the “Heart” factor in education.

Seeking knowledge (the “Head” factor) and understanding the world around them and their place in it (the “Heart” factor) need to work hand-in-hand with examples from the real world, with hands-on understanding of current issues, problems, natural catastrophes and their effects, new innovations and new sciences. Nowadays, many use problem-based case studies which students need to solve by applying what they have learnt from their curriculum. The learning must be meaningful to students regardless of their level.

We are living in a digital world and students are digital natives who are constantly exposed to information. In this flat world of connectivity, they are searching out solutions online—but is that the right thing to do? Do they derive at solutions through discourse and reasoning, or merely amplify somebody else’s views? Technological developments have made information immediate, and responses and opinions multiple. Students are constantly “connected” to a virtual world but unfortunately disconnected in the real world. Many are fragile and unable to face the realities of success and failures. Dr Christina Belcher from Redeemer University once said, “We are blessed with longer life spans, better health options, safer travel, instant global connection and immediate access. We are challenged with shorter attention spans, higher anxiety, less courtesy, less hospitality and more addictions”. One needs to be cautious in this “instant world”. We see a decline in the ability to write well as students are constantly texting. Rampant filter language makes them incapable of expressing thoughts. Students are dependent on their devices as security blankets. Rarely do they engage in discourses and debates as information is available online. I am not against technology but I am for monitoring that students are expressing their own views.

The Pre-U year remains a challenging year for both students and teachers. None of the above is a new issue and experiments have been conducted to determine results. The moment we do find a solution and prepare to use it, however, students’ learning pattern will have changed and teachers will once again unlearn, relearn and innovate.

Ruma Lopes
Sunway College, Velocity

Originally published in The Edge, January 2018