The education system under Education Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam seems to be going through endless change. But…

…I am not complaining.

I think the changes – such as the overhaul of Chinese language teaching and the greater choice of subjects – are necessary to meet the needs of pupils today and in the future.

As teachers play a pivotal role in ensuring the success of the changes, the Ministry of Education (MOE) committed recently to providing additional teacher resources for primary and secondary schools. It is, according to Mr Tharman, to give “the needed space for our teachers to reflect on their teaching, plan and deliver more engaging lessons”, among other things.

With more teachers, I believe the various changes to the education system will work. What’s more, I hope they introduce more new initiatives.

For example, the teaching-by-philosophy approach practised in some schools did not come from the MOE – it originated from the teachers. Nevertheless, Mr Tharman encourages it because it helps nurture a spirit of inquiry.

There is another area I wish can be taught in schools – that is, learning to learn. Many students work very hard but are not able to produce the desired results. Why? They are not able to retain vast amounts of information.

Moreover, they have problems recalling and applying the knowledge acquired effectively. Simply put, they do not know how to learn.

As they are not taught the method of learning, they learn in the way they know best – read a lot and memorise a lot. This is no longer good enough, considering the demands on students.

My teacher, Mr David Chiem, founder and principal of MindChamps, said: “We do not expect to compete in the modern world using a quill-pen or a typewriter, or even a 10-year-old DOS computer. And yet many people – and most schools – still use brain software that was operational before the time of our grandparents.”

I agree.

While their parents are giving them more worksheets and pushing them to study harder, their teachers are loading them with more information. While their intentions are noble, the students are stressed out with having to pick up so much information using obsolete “software”. No one has taught them how to learn – that is, giving them access to the latest software.

The “how to learn” software entails, among other things, listening skills, note-taking techniques and learning methods. It helps students use their time efficiently and effectively. Their capacity to retain more knowledge will increase.

This is important because the more the students know, the greater will be their ability to do well consistently. After all, examinations are number games – if they know ten things, they will have less chance of being able to answer the question than if they know a hundred things. The top scorers are usually those who know a lot more about a subject.

Albert Einstein said: “There can be no more certain sign of insanity than to do the same thing over and over and expect the result to be different.” But that is what is happening to many hardworking students who are not doing well. They “slog” using the same learning tools and expect their results to improve.

I hope that that can be changed with the provision of a new “software”, either from top-down or ground-up.

(This journal entry was published in TODAY of 2 May 2006)