Prior to the pandemic, it seemed that the epitome of a good education was only found in elite schools, augmented by endless after-school enrichment, tuition and supplementary classes. Many parents believed that the more their children left their homes for academic pursuits, the better their chances of doing well in school.
Then Covid-19 hit, and everybody had to stay home. Most schools deployed off-the-shelf learning management systems that dispensed homework as a stop-gap measure.
Under pressure, teachers were forced to slap together Zoom and video classes quickly, delivered in formats they were neither familiar nor comfortable with. Commercial entities took the opportunity to launch sometimes half-baked online learning platforms, mostly in the form of video conferencing. There were also horror stories of hackers entering kids’ classrooms to wreak havoc. Parents started to question if this was the kind of education that would help their children ace the school system.
Outdated School Systems
But even before 2020, there were already rumblings that school systems were no longer relevant. Many of us know that the current K to 12 (kindergarten to Grade 12) compulsory education system is outdated. It started in Prussia in 1800, borne out of the need to have a large workforce during the industrialisation age. While mass education has reduced illiteracy and benefited billions of people, it is still a 200-year-old system that has failed to keep up with the times.
The traditional school system, where the teacher acted as the sage on stage dispensing knowledge worked wonders for my generation, but why should it be effective for digital natives born after 1999? They found their own alternatives to the 45-minute-lecture – a two-minute-Youtube video made by a world-class instructor, played at 1.8xnormal speed.
Alternative Paths and Individualised Education
Technology and alternative ideas have been seeping into our mass education system, along with the recognition that the era of mass education is over. Covid-19 signals it is time to embark on individualised education.
As a mother of five, I’ve learnt education is not what our children can get out of schools; rather, education is what I can put into a child. To put the right education into my child, I need to first spend time to understand his or her passions, gifts and learning styles. Most people like to work on what they are good at, so I spend time to observe what my kids want to work on, and then find resources to bring them up to their fullest potential, while levelling them up in areas they are weak in. The main objective is to build up their self-esteem and confidence by allowing them to excel at things they love.
I loved teaching my own children. From learning how to model math questions to taking courses to update my computer programming skills, I found myself constantly upgrading just to participate in my kids’ education actively. No matter which stage of their education, our home has been the most important learning venue for my family.
Not everybody agrees with my approach. But it has always puzzled me. Why spend time trying to ace a system when I can use that time to give my children a great education?
The Changing Playing Field
Covid-19 has started us off with the great home-based learning experiment. However, to fully harness the strength of home-based learning, instructional design must not only leverage technology to fully integrate with school-based learning, it must also fully involve parents, educators and peers.
For starters, parents must get involved. First, with kids studying at home, we can observe their learning styles and provide valuable insights to their teachers. Second, we can acquire free and paid resources to activate better learning. Students can now work on the topics in which they are most passionate, at the level they are most comfortable. Don’t be afraid to go for materials that are beyond your child’s level according to the school curriculum.
Besides instructor-led activities, I like to provide opportunities for students to do research and self-study at their own pace, as well as engage their peers to learn how to negotiate, follow and lead. I also give them time and space to reflect on lessons.
All of my children earned their bachelor degrees before they turned 18. More interestingly, at the online international school, which I started in 2015, I have managed to radically accelerate about 300 students from Singapore, Malaysia, Australia, Indonesia, Hong Kong and China with different capabilities, from those with learning disabilities or who were streamed into Normal Tech at PSLE, to those who are exceptionally gifted.
As always for me, it is not about how much students achieve academically, but how happy they are in the process that counts.