What is the purpose of going to school?

Excerpt from Sayling Wen’s 2000 book, the Future of Education. The same can be said of education throughout Asia.

Education’s greatest limitation today lies in its curriculum. Whether you like it or not you have got to study all the given subjects. Some students are forced to do what is clearly not their forte, and so they refuse to learn. Or perhaps we need not really delve so deeply into some subjects. If we can adopt the self-motivation method and give the curriculum more flexibility, we can both develop the students’ potential as well as enable him to learn what may be of practical use. We may reconcile the 2 theories (Knowledge-oriented Education & Multidirectional Balanced Development) even without the help of computer technology. But with the help of computer technology the results would be even better. For instance, a student with a great interest in vehicles could virtually handle cars on the computer, going through all the vehicle maintenance procedures.

Learning beyond textbooks.

I remember when my son was studying in a British school and I was on the school’s board of directors, a Taiwanese parent complained to me that the school had no textbooks. The child had no way of revising at home the lessons learnt in school. I talked to the school principal for a long time before he realized what I was driving at. Schools in Europe and America do not have set textbooks. Students come to school to seek knowledge. The school’s responsibility is to see that students learn rather than complete whatever that is in the textbook.

Taiwanese are greatly under the tyranny of the textbook, and place unnecessary limitations on teaching. Actually, the aim of education is not transmitting but receiving. If the student is able to accept what is taught and understands it, why care whether he gets full marks or not in the examinations?

Take myself, for instance. On the face of it, I seem to be a very good example of learning what is of practical use. I have always been a good student from junior to high school. Later, I studied electronic engineering at National Taiwan University, then did graduate work in the same subject before pursuing a career in electronic engineering all the way. I seem to putting to use all my life. But I feel what I do in my work has little connection to what I had studied in university. At first I thought it was my very own peculiar experience. But later I asked a former classmate who was the general manage of a semiconductor manufacturing company. He told me that although he had a PhD in semiconductors, what he studied in the second year of university would be quite adequate for his job. Actually the greater part of job training is really “positioning training”. Formal education does not play such a critical part.

Always 2 Steps Behind

The writer Dr. Shi-Kuo Chang once pointed us that Taiwan, has till now, only done what others have completed. It has not accomplished what others have not yet done. This shows that Taiwan’s education is short of developing creativity in children. Students only focus on the curriculum requirements and the acquisition of specialized knowledge. They are not aware that in education that one should cultivate a high capacity to learn more than to acquire specialized knowledge.

Germany’s vocational technical education has a long history. But could those who have received technical education early in life be guaranteed financial stability for life? Several years later, we see that the vocational technical schools may have produced a group of students equipped with specialized skills, but technology is always advancing. Skilled labor can be replaced by machines. Skills can be superceeded when industries that make use of them disappear. Technical students may be trained in certain skills, but they may still face unemployment. The school is not just a training ground for employment and careers. It is not meant to train doctors, lawyers, accountants, etc. It should be cultivating the students’ general abilities, including his mind, mental faculties, reflective abilities and thinking skills. Simply said, it should cultivate “the capacity to learn”.

Educating a child is basically guiding them to become a capable person. If a person has a high learning capacity, he will naturally do well in all subjects. But he can also choose not to study certain subjects. Society does not really require everyone to become a Mathematician, Physicist, Linguist or Biologist. If a child is more interested in any branch of study, he can of course delve deeper and explore further. But he should also have the right to choose not to do any of them. Give them the choice of advancing or retreating. I remember Dr.Casper Shih once told a story in the papers. A pupil obtained 80 marks for English and 50 for Mathematics. His parents then looked for a tutor to give him special tuition in Mathematics. In the end, he became a mediocre student who obtained more or less the same marks for his subjects. If you look at the situation from another point of view, his parents should have engaged an English tutor to perfect his English so he gets 100 marks. Who knows, he might have become a great English expert. But most people do not look at it this way. They only think of brushing up on what a child is not good at.

If we apply the same standard in every child instead of letting him develop his own special talents, we will end up with a society of mediocre talents. This certainly cannot be the desired result of education. Now that we have computer technology at our service we can shorten the learning period and improve learning interest and capacities. Students can learn what is of practical use, while also devoting time to developing their potential and increasing their learning capacity. With computers we will not have students who are already exhausted at the very start of building a foundation for knowledge acquisition, leaving them no energy to explore in different directions. Instead of a knowledge-oriented education we will have multidirectional talent development education.

Click on the image to learn more about Sayling Wen.



Filed under Danger School, Education 2.0 for 2020, schooling, Up the ante on teaching

3 responses to “What is the purpose of going to school?

  1. kyan1029

    i’m a degree student, and i pursuing degree of accounting and finance in Penang… i really feel not sucure at this moment, my lecturer was use a textbook which published in year 1999…the information of the textbook are outdated, the information is forever changing, the knowledge we gain from the textbook bookcan’t apply in our life or job in near future…i really wish that the education system in the world can be improve as soon as posible….

    • Shalom

      The system will face a meltdown within the next 10 years. Rebuilding it will take another few years. Can you wait until you are 30 years old to “learn”? The alternative is to forget about systems and to not ask the country/system what it can do for you but instead to ask, what can WE do for the system/country?

  2. Pingback: What is the purpose of going to school? « The Last Ship

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