Regarding my experience with education, it has become a silent arms race against each other where learning techniques are kept secret (unless one look in the right places with the right amount of money), and where common sense does not prevail.
Having been a student that has asked many students how they do it – get the high marks that they get – it tends to be the case that no one cares about your marks, although your marks, in a way, determine the value your life is valued by money, and the money being a valuation of your life. In this some human lives are valued more than others, but that is a topic for another blog. Our value of our life should not be a function of our grades, and if they are the methods to earn them should be made freely available and rigorously taught at schools.
The most prominent memory I have of going to school is the wave and strings of commands and orders my mother would tell me to do, to which I always thought that complying is the path of least resistance. And I admit, I did not lose much from this method, and perhaps gained much by keeping my relationship with my mother cordial. But especially in Hong Kong, in a society where marks are highly valued and seen as the golden standard, where tutors have become a make-believe necessity, I can’t help but imagine other kids, with no inspirations but their mother or father, making the same mistake I did of trusting in the education system. Falling into the comfortable trap of a student’s lifestyle, believing that what is being given will be of value to me in the future, in spite of many adults laughing at how what they learnt was of no use to them, and from the comfort the inability to place 1 and 1 together: if teachers and students don’t teach me how to learn, I will learn it from books and improve my vocabulary, to be the directive principle of my development as a human being, making myself of use to society.
The education system is not a valid one for the education of oneself because it is driven by money, and in observance of the current effect of money on research, where research only happens with money, and the flow of money in the financial sectors, the education system cannot be trusted for the same reason that investment bankers cannot be trusted.
But what I have realized about school – from a student’s perspective – is that it provides a relief from the peer pressure and family pressure to ‘make oneself into gold’ and ‘become successful’, because the assumption is that when one is in school, one is apparently succeeding in something. From a student’s perspective, the lifestyle and the benefits of school is comforting and reassuring: going to class to learn with friends, eating with friends, talking with friends, and the most powerful excuse to delay thinking of one’s future in concrete, practical terms: because I’m a student.
As a 21 year old with no job or education, I would be called a NEET (Not in Education, Employment, or Training), subject to my mother’s complaints about my situation, and because society does not know how to deal with my cases, I keep imagining people privately calling me a leech. But I would argue that the education system leeched me of the time to do worthwhile things like study maths properly, while I and my mother were convinced to invest money into creating for me a lifestyle that is socially acceptable, and into moulding my values to align with the status quo. Such as the value placed into marks for tests, and these tests being one of the only ways to secure a job and a lifestyle that is more comfortable. How an implicit competition is fostered into my psyche to imagine education as a race to the finish line, where I must finish but everyone else is trained to not assist or support to finish, school being a competition where only the very few at the top win everything: so I imagine people with the skills to excel in exams thinking their advantage would be lost and thus their privileges as an elite stripped of if they were to divulge their methods.
The essence of education is in words, therefore vocabulary and reading. From vocabulary and reading blossoms writing and maths. So a great privilege that was bestowed onto me was a school that valued vocabulary development, where we would hold class discussions about books like The Wind in The Willows by Kenneth Grahame when I was 8, 9, and have weekly spelling tests on new words. And I was fortunate to hear and comply with the message to read more books, whatever the books may be, and that was how to learn how to write and learn more vocabulary. Because of my good-enough vocabulary I am allowed to read maths, which I am doing to fulfill my decision to become an electrical engineer.
A person once said to me that failing out of university was good medicine; I did not believe it until I realized how so many of the situations that I have described in this blog has been drilled into me through the education system, and made real through my own acceptance and allowance. There is no one that cares what you have achieved academically except for a handful of people out of the thousands we walk past. 80% is not a good enough mark just like learning to walk 80% of the time is not good enough. We weren’t born to learn how to walk, only to be satisfied with crawling. I read that from one of Gian Robbert’s blogs.
All of the keys of a hallmark education are at everyone’s fingertips, it is not locked away in a secret place. Hidden in plain sight is the key observation. If one is determined, a simple google will provide a slew of resources to learn anything you want or need to. From Grade 5 onwards, I would have given myself a better education reading for Dummies books on everything about adult life – investment in a house, accounting, Excel, etiquette – than going to school, being all alone to make sense of the chaos surrounding marks, my life, and how to get marks to get a worthwhile dignified life. If I had known sooner about the importance of vocabulary, I would have continued to do vocabulary tests in my own time. The key of education is vocabulary and reading, and from that writing and maths. What one can viably do – because no one cares what you got in 5th grade – is provide for oneself a useful education and take the SAT to go into university. Because the way I see it, standardized tests like the SAT and GCE/A Level are only benchmarks, and do not reflect what it really takes to learn the material well. I would guess that to learn the material in the SAT well, one requires to learn many topics not covered before one cover the relevant topics. This every A student must know, but keeps silent: math is that kind of subject, it requires one to learn everything at the bottom before building a pyramid of knowledge at the top to reach the pinnacle of success.