Today the 2012 PSLE results announcement day so I will show you a PSLE maths question:
It turned out this is not the answer. None of the multiple choice options gives the right answer. Why? There is no way to construct triangles SXW of area 4 cm2 and QXU of area 16 cm2 no matter where you put the point X on the diagonal. If you're interested in the more complete explanation, the full discussion of this question among a group of parents on this found here. People will answer the question even if the question is wrong.
Our education system trains people to answer questions and find solutions to problems. We forget thaty very often finding the correct questions and the problemsto solve is actually more important. Even before you rush to answer the question...do you have the right question?
A few years ago, I attended a course that ended with an exam. Nearing the exam, the Singaporean students started to get anxious and kept asking the lecturer what would be tested and what would not - but the lecturer didn't want to
say anything about the exam - he told us to just concentrate on learning. About 4 weeks before the exam he announced that he was ready to talk about the exam in the next lecture. The following lecture everyone turned up, including students who had been missing from lectures for weeks - they expected the lecturer to give exam tips, talk about the structure of the exam paper etc. What they got was a surprise.
The lecturer told the class, his idea of an exam was very different from what the students had in mind. For his exam, the students would have to set their own exam questions! He divided the students to groups of 5 and each group had to come up with 5 questions. The 10 best questions that were generated by the students would be used for the exam. To be able to set good questions, the students had to understand the subject matter much more that they if they were just trying to answer exam questions. Because it was advantageous for your own question to be chosen for the exam, the students got really enthusiastic about it....and the one thing I learned from this was you learn much more from asking questions than answering them in exams....and this is the key element of curiosity that is missing from our system that pushes everyone to focus on exams, answering questions correctly and answering more question correctly than the next person.
In an earlier posting about the PSLE, I wrote about how Israeli students rank 19 place behind Singaporeans at age 14 come roaring back to produce the best researchers and Nobel Prize winners [Link]. This is the one thing they do differently from us ...and this is the one thing we need to change in order to progress... not just for our education system but our society as a whole can benefit from asking the right questions.
Recently a survey showed that Singaporeans are the most emotionless people in the world:
“I think that in our striving for excellence such as the paper chase and career, we end up missing out on a lot of the other things in life. We end up becoming more apathetic to societal events and changes around us." - Luana Low[Link]
“If you measure Singapore by the traditional indicators, they look like one of the best-run countries in the world, But if you look at everything that makes life worth living, they’re not doing so well.” - Jon Clifton, Gallup partner in Washington, feels that Singaporeans are sacrificing economic success and stability for what truly matters.[Link].
There is a touching video of a late plastic surgeon who after making tons of money and acquired much material wealth, came down with cancer....it was only when he time on earth was running out that started asking important questions about his life ....[here is the video] ..when you chase after a dream, have you questioned if it is the right dream?
There was a time when Singapore was a developing country and most citizens were poor - so the answer was, without asking the real questions, to make more money. Today the questions and problems have changed, yet we are still feeding the old answers of money and GDP growth to our society. We are still told by leaders that so long as we keep GDP growing all our problems can be solved. But what really are the problems ...and the questions they are trying to answer? Our National Conversation started with one of our leaders saying that if we want X amount of GDP growth we need Y number new citizens every year,...and that's how things are often framed for us. But GDP growth is not the answer because we now face a new set of questions - how do we make our society just and equal? how do we become more democratic? how do we care for our old and sick? what will make Singaporeans happier...? We have to get the question right before we start giving answers...