Somewhere among all the #WCY2014 preparations, there is a whole running series of workshops, sessions, lectures, call them what you will – with the Sri Lanka delegates getting together to discuss critical issues.
I somehow conveniently missed out on almost all of them by dint of being a social media fellow rather than a delegate, but one rainy day found me parked in a workshop by Mohan Lal Grero, the Deputy Minister of Education and educator of note.
Now I disagree with most of our education system (as you’ll have known from my previous posts). In fact, I generally find exams horribly incomplete, because they judge such a limited amount of skills. Most written tests, and even most IQ tests, judge memory (sheer cramming power), linguistic skill, logical and mathematical skills, pattern recognition and not much else.
That’s fact: we’ve yet to come up with a decent system for testing the whole plethora of a human being’s skills. The problem is when the judging is done and the grades are delivered, the student is ejected out of school, marked by his superiority or mediocrity in a very limited amount of skills that barely scratch the surface of what society needs. Society from then on judges people based on that score.
What about drive, for instance? What about athletic ability? What about leadership? What about social skills? None of these are ascertained, and they’re just as important in society as knowing your math – probably a damn sight more useful than being able to calculate Cot1+ Tan1. You look at a guy’s resume and know what he can do, but not if he will do it, or if he can do it well, or if he can work with others in a team to do it. Whether he’ll be good at a party. Whether he can pitch an idea to someone.
I experienced this firsthand at school, where I was first in the class ten years in a row (yes), but at the same time, an absolute asshole. Then, when I switched schools, the language barrier held me at the middle of the class for a term or two, and I had a chance to look upon my doppelganger at the front of the pack: a guy everyone called the “A-9 maargaya” – the A9 road – a sort of slang for the fact that he was expected to get 9As, a perfect score, in his exams.
True to form, he did get 9As, and then we forgot about him. None of us can even remember his name.
Yes. You see, so intent was this guy on beating the system that he had no skills at all in anything else. He had no friends. He couldn’t play sport or music, nor did hang out with those who did. He never asked questions. He never raised his voice. He never voiced an opinion. He never did anything to stand out except those 9As. As far as I’m aware, he got a job in the government after his degree and just vanished off the map. He had nothing whatsoever to show for himself. I’m sure his parents must be proud of his paper record, but what good is a system hellbent on crowning outcasts with no mark on society?
//endrant. Now back to this WCY2014 discussion. Me being me, I brought up this question: why the heck do we still hang onto such an outdated system? Grero responded with something I never expected to hear from a government official: he agreed.
In fact, he did a whole breakdown, using Howard Gardner’s nine types of intelligence. For those not aware of it, Gardner, in 1983, came up with the Theory of Multiple Intelligences. Intelligence, according to Gardner, is three things:
1) The ability to create an effective product or offer a service that is valued in a culture
2) a set of skills that make it possible for a person to solve problems in life, and
3) the potential for finding or creating solutions for problems, which involves gathering new knowledge.
Based on this criteria, he argues that intelligence was not one single unit determinable by an IQ score, but rather of nine different types:
1) Musical–rhythmic and harmonic
Wikipedia does a great job of explaining this, so I won’t waste space explaining each one. Consider our education system -not just of Sri Lanka, but ye average education system anywhere in the world.
We actually touch on all of these intelligences early on. We do PE, dictation, dance, religion, music all the way through a student’s childhood. Unfortunately, as the syllabuses expand, the subjects shift from being true thought-based, exploratory learning to mere cramming.
Buddhism as taught for the local O/Ls, for example, becomes not about putting oneself on the eightfold path, but on memorizing all of the prayers and the “terms and conditions” so we can get through the exam. Music? Be serious. Asking students to identify notes and making them cram on the history of the piano is a far cry from what’s needed – a focus on composing, on creating new music.
Likewise, everything becomes about cramming so you can sit for a written paper somewhere down the line. Linguistic and logical intelligence soon becomes the only things worth possessing. Everybody else just ends up feeling stupid. Why are most athletes, for example, thought of as blockheads (this view seems prevalent especially for football players / ruggerites). They’ve already established that they have a very high degree of kinesthetic intelligence: why then are they judged by other standards and found wanting?
It can’t be that our world, the social and economic structures that we work in, are geared to need verbal and logical skills over all others. Not so. We live in a world where sports players make more than scientists and singers, actors and actresses are the news gods.
Heck, even our movie directors are famous. How would Eminem, Beethoven, Amaradeva, Jackie Chan or the author of One Piece done a standard O/L exam? Would that in any way have judged how much they would have affected the world? Would they have actually been earmarked as geniuses or as rubbish? Would the system have accounted for their own personal growth, that would have helped them develop their talents?
In fact, let’s hear it for Mozart:
“I saw and heard how, when he was made to listen in another room, they would give him notes, now high, now low, not only on the pianoforte but on every other imaginable instrument as well, and he came out with the letter of the name of the note in an instant. Indeed, on hearing a bell toll, or a clock or even a pocket watch strike, he was able at the same moment to name the note of the bell or time piece.” – Anonymous, after hearing the seven-year-old Mozart perform.
Can an A in music every represent this talent?
Perhaps the problem is not with the education system, but the exams, which influence the years leading up to them. It’s a vicious cycle. Exams are seen as important for society (cue local A/Ls here, where they actually might get you a state-funded degree). The education system soon finds itself adapting to the exam rather than the other way around. The root cause of the whole mess is that exams, in the eyes of society, need to be passed and passed well.
So if we’re stuck with such a system, the only logical thing to do would be to improve the exams. What we need is a truly human exam. IQ Tests based on the nine intelligences would be a very good place to start. Ideas, anyone?
The second stage would be to make this exam reflect a person as they change over the course of their lifetime.
We need to have have people re-take the exam at different stages in life. Their education record should be reflection of their rate of change rather than middling scores. Show how far they’ve come in society – and perhaps employers can mentally map out how far they can go.
There’s plenty of agreement from the top levels that something needs to change. It’s the question of how. This isn’t by any means a local problem – it’s a global one – we should solve this with a global platform. Here’s hoping some of this will rear its head at WCY2014.