## Monday, 22 February 2016

### Are we raising one-track minded children?

Sonshine recently brought home a math worksheet. One of the question was an algebra type of a problem sum.

The student is required to solve the question by drawing out models. In this particular question, two blank equations were printed on the given space and Sonshine had to fill in the blanks with the correct workings. In order words, it has been depicted for him that he has to use a specific method to solve the question.

Sonshine solved it. BUT...

He couldn't cough out that two equations that was demanded upon him. He used another method to crack the problem which explains why he couldn't produce that particular two equations required.

In the end, I had to teach him the method that the educators WANT him to use to solve this question. And so he did. He produced the exact workings in perfect order that the markers wanted to see.

This got me asking why is our education system so fixated on using ONE set method to solve a problem. Here is a child who is able use his own creative thinking skills to solve the problem. And on the other side, we have educators who insist on the students using their one and only method to solve the questions.

I'm quite certain that if he had handed in the answer without the workings, he would have been penalised- never mind that he got the right answer. Because it was clearly stated that the student has to use that particular way (aka two step equation) to solve the question.

We should be applauding him for demonstrating creative thinking skills. But instead, we penalize him for not using THE specific method that WE want.

Why does it bother me? Because I fear over time he learns that it's not acceptable to think out of the box; that over time his thinking process gets boxed in and he may lose that ability to think beyond the textbooks.

Recently, an article tracked down the adults who were child prodigies. It wanted to see how these kids were faring as adults. Sad to say, only one percent were making breakthroughs in their line of work while the rest fell short of what they were capable to do.

And here's the quote from the article "What holds them back is that they don't learn to be original. They strive to earn the approval of their parents and the admiration of their teachers. But as they perform in Carnegie Hall and become chess champions, something unexpected happens: Practice makes perfect, but it doesn't make new.

The gifted learn to play magnificent Mozart melodies, but rarely compose original scores. They focus their energy on consuming existing scientific knowledge, not producing new insights. They conform to codified rules, rather than inventing their own. Research suggests the most creative children are the least likely to become the teacher's pet, and in response, many learn to keep their original ideas to themselves. In the language of the critic William Deresiewicz, they become the excellent sheep."

Over time, these children learn to conform their thinking process according to what the society expects them to be. They lose their own creativity and originality. And so sadly, they rarely become the best they can be.
I think our education system is heading in this direction for all our children, prodigies or not. We train the children to think in a certain manner for over ten years of their lives. We condition them to solve a problem in a specific way. We don't applaud children who are able to think differently. Instead, we reward those who can conform into the mould. We are literally raising one track minded children.

Yes I agree that sometimes guidelines are useful in helping the children think. But they are what they are- GUIDELINES. We have been too obsessed with sticking to the guidelines that we forget that there are other ideas that are equally effective or better yet, more ground breaking.

So far, I've  been pointing fingers at our education system. But us parents can also stifle our children's nature by setting too many boundaries to what they can do or cannot. Sometimes we push our children to change so that they can be more accepted socially. We tell them they have to be more vocal, to more participative because being introverts are mostly deemed as being 'weird', boys must be sporty else they are labelled as weak etc. We are essentially telling them to lose themselves and be that person the society wants them to be.  I am totally guilty of that.

I have written in to his teacher and unfortunately, Sonshine was being criticised for lacking in  mathematical skills for not being able to show the workings. Well, that says a lot doesn't it?