I’ve been watching Astro Tutor TV lately (Astro, Channels 601 – 603).
It’s a program tailored for school students to help them in their revision because it features all subjects for all grades. It focuses more on how to score in your examinations because it specifically discusses on what to write as your answer to a particular question so you will get full mark.
I don’t watch the episodes on other subjects because they don’t interest me. I, of course, only focus on the English episodes of the program. Not only because I teach English, but also because I love the language so I am always interested to know the ins and outs of the language.
Well, that was my first mistake.
I watch the program with the preconceived idea that it would be taught the way, I don’t know, Frank McCourt would’ve taught his classes. But then again, maybe I was expecting too much. This was after all, Malaysia, and not Welton Academy where John Keating taught or something.
And one thing about Malaysian education (see post on Education Is The Only Guarantee and Malaysia Is Breaking Every Rule) is that, there is not much encouragement for students to think for themselves. Rather, the content of the subject is fed to the students with silver spoons. We are all about acing the examinations, getting excellent grades and collecting as many As as possible in our little basket of vanity.
Of course every student would want to get as many As as possible because let’s face it, that’s what get them into universities and all that but when that become the sole purpose of learning, it sort of deviate the beauty of education away from the students, making them more of a memory machine than an enlightened mind.
Now back to this Tutor TV thing.
The episode I was watching last night was about the book The Railway Children by E. Nesbit.
I didn’t expect the program to really discuss the book in depth because it was just a half hour program so it would be ridiculous to have a complete discussion of the book’s every element.
But what I didn’t expect is for it to rush through the book like it was just a pamphlet. It merely discussed the synopsis of the book in like, what, 3 lines. It touches on the characters’ development, barely, and it breezes through the incidents that happen in the book.
If you know me personally, then you would know what a passionate literature student I am. So when Malaysian Education Ministry decided to bring in the literature component into English syllabus when I was in school, I was truly ecstatic.
I thought, finally I was able to read and discuss about a book in school with my teacher, just like the students in Dead Poets Society. Although I wasn’t that much of a hopeless romantic to think it would be exactly like in the movie because let’s face it, (altogether now) this is after all, Malaysia, I was still excited to know that now we are doing that too.
Man, was I wrong.
First there was no a true in-depth discussion of the book. It was more like a brief introduction on who wrote the book, what the book is about, who are the characters and what are the values you can get from the book.
That is, of course, also the basis of any literature discussion on a book but it was so brief that a student might as well asked to bring a Cliffs Notes to school rather than the full unabridged copy. Heck, I think even Cliffs Notes covers more than what it is taught in Malaysian schools.
And what’s worse is that, there is no complete understanding of the book or what it stands for or the language of the book or the style of writing by the author or the symbolic meaning of certain occurrence in the book.
In some schools, the students don’t really need to read the whole book, just the chapters important enough to make it into the exam papers. It’s about knowing which excerpt to choose from the book so that you can answer the questions in the exam later.
How ridiculous is that? You tell me.
For me, that is not what literature is about.
There is no focus on the language, no emphasis on the characters’ development, no discussion on plot transition and/or any discussion on what the students think.
I was very fortunate to be able to go to a private tutor for my literature paper because my tutor, is truly a great literature teacher, other than my father, of course.
She encourages us to think, asks us what we feel about a sentence or how a sentence makes us feel, how a character can provoke or revolt us, what does it make us think about the author or the character, how does a single word makes us feel, how does a question makes us uncomfortable – everything. She talks about a paragraph, as though it’s alive.
When I saw what they did on Tutor TV was the same as how my school teachers used to teach us literature, I was absolutely crushed. Not to mention, angry, but I was more devastated, really.
They have robbed away what learning is about.
They have stolen the beauty of understanding the nuances of a language away from the students.
They have killed the joy in reading a book by segmenting it into calculative portions of scores.
I know the program’s main objective is solely for revision and focusing on examinations but it takes away the student’s interaction with a teacher and I feel that, even though a teacher may not be a good teacher, he or she is still a very important role in educating a student.
A teacher may not be a passionate teacher to truly teach but at least with interactions, he is able to encourage self-expression by the students and indirectly the students can learn how to have an educational discourse with an educator. And that is one of the most valuable education a student can get.
I am truly very sad that Malaysian education is really just about getting through your examinations.
My sister is still in high school and when I ask her if she has any discussions with her teachers about the subjects taught, she said no. It was just pretty much them sitting in class, taking notes while getting through whatever it is the teacher has plan to teach for the day, getting a list of homework before the period ends and passing them up the next day.
It’s robotic that it’s almost psychotic.
I am, too, a product of Malaysian education if you think I think I am above other Malaysians, but when I was in school, I refuse to be sucked into that rigid system.
I took my own effort to learn outside school with private tutors and express my opinions and thoughts with them instead of with the teachers at school. Because the teachers in school can’t afford to have you debating with them about a topic because they have so much to rush through to make sure they syllabus are covered by the end of the semester.
I’m pretty sure there are other students like me. Students who are hungry for a true education, who are passionate about learning for learning’s sake, who are willing to read as much as possible just so they know about something.
But what scares me is that, with the tips about the quick ways of scoring in exams provided by TV programs and cheat sheets that can be downloaded online, I’m afraid the young generation will not be able to truly know what learning is about.
They would grow up on a fast track to ace the exams because it will be instilled in them that a good education is a good grade in exams.
I am positive that Astro has a truly altruistic and noble intention when they come up with the program because I know it has helped many Malaysian students to score their examinations and that’s what keeps the Ministry Education and most parents happy.
But I am disappointed nevertheless at the lack of educational values it provides and how learning is now seen as a way to get better grades rather than understanding and embracing a subject even if you’re not sure if you’ll be using it when you’re looking for a job later in life.
I just hope there’s more for Malaysian students because truly, they are missing out so much.