Apr 19, 2007

The Unnecessary Pains of Learning

One of my readers, Ling, asked the following question:
"... how can we overcome these feelings of unhappiness we get when we see foreigners (talented or not) flood our homeland, taking over our places in the neighbourhood, in companies, in schools... and our children having to face "global competition" at such a young age..."
This present post focuses on the kiddie aspects of Ling's question - in other words, young children, their parents, and the best ways that the parents can prepare their children for life in a competitive society.

At the primary or even secondary levels, I think that the ever-growing foreign student population in our schools does not necessarily make life any more competitive than it would otherwise be. Here's another way to put it - even if there were no foreign students, life in our schools would be highly competitive anyway.

The stressful nature of our education system stems mainly from (a) streaming, (b) the over-emphasis on grades, and (c) the systemic failure to encourage the notion that learning can be, and should be, fun. Not so much from the presence of foreign students.

The good news is that things are probably getting better. Education Minister Tharman does not like streaming. For one thing, he scrapped the
EM3 stream and he scrapped the Gifted Education Programme. These two moves eliminate the anxiety of parents and children who would otherwise be struggling to stay out of the "worst" stream, or to get into the "best" one.

The next big possible improvement depends on the parents themselves. It's about adjusting their mindset. Somehow we have this mentality that we've got to strive for success, and that striving for success would involve stress and suffering.

I know that this is commonly the case. I don't think it necessarily has to be the case. In fact, these days most kindergartens and playschools have already caught on to the Montessori idea that
young children learn best through play and discovery. If a young child doesn't have fun while he's learning, he's probably not learning.

So if you visit any good kindergarten these days, you'll see that much thought has been put into the curriculum to make the lessons as fun as possible. The learning is done through song, dance, drama, games, art and craft, poster colours, fairy tales, crayons, bricks and toy trains. The classroom walls are brightly decorated with art projects and other attractive materials. Teachers use hand puppets of funny furry animals that wiggle their ears and noses as they utter Mandarin phrases. Kids don't have to sit on a chair and keep quiet anymore - talking and laughing is encouraged, and rolling around on the floormat is okay.

The thing is - I don't see why learning has to stop being fun after kindergarten. I believe that it doesn't have to be this way. I think that it must be possible to keep the learning process enjoyable at all stages (using age-appropriate methods, of course - the hand puppets stop working beyond a certain age). Teachers would play a big part in making the classroom or lecture theatre an enjoyable place. But I believe that parents too, can try to inculcate the attitude in their children that learning is fun.

And if the parents succeed, well, then it will no longer matter that their kids may have to face "global competition" at a young age. Because that will just be so much more fun.

Come to think of it, while writing this post, I just realised that I have a habit of asking my son, when he's back from kindergarten, this question - "Did you have fun today?". I hope I keep this up. I think that over time, it will create the subconscious belief in my son that school is supposed to be enjoyable, and learning is supposed to be fun.


Rush said...

May I suggest that you may want to ask your child if he has asked a good question today?

I know I spent too much of my childhood taking things as fact, fun or not... For example, it kinda sucks that santa ain't real. I mean, a dude with presents that flies around the world on a reindeer powered sleigh, it doesn't get any better, does it!

if I had started asking questions earlier, maybe I wouldn't have turned out to be the fatal cynic I am today. ;)

jiante said...

I think the problem is different people view fun differently.
It may be fun for me to learn science through interactive games on the computer but it may be a bore and chore to others. It's really difficult to suit everyone's tastes, maybe that's why the education system is always changing.

Lacan Dropu said...

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Lacan Dropu
From Argentina

yanjie said...

if teachers didn't have so much syllabus to rush,
or so much work to clear,
probably it would be easier to have more fun in the classroom.

It isn't exactly morale-boosting if the kids are bored as well.

Anonymous said...

hi Mr. Wang, sorry for hijacking your article but i need your advice regarding career options. i believe i am at a cross-road that you have been before. and i need your views on certain matters. pls, if you could contact me at bionicboy2man@yahoo.com.sg, it would be much appreciated. thank you

Anonymous said...

I think if Mr TS is doing such a good job at MOE, then I fear that when he leaves MOE, the next person n MOE themselves may decide 'accidentally or not' to change course to 'normal' mode :(

On the other hand, parents and teachers themselves need to have a sense of release from the 'excellence-driven' mode. To get a freedom so to speak to look at life differently and enjoy. The Greek root of school is 'scholas', I think, and that is supposed to mean to enjoy.

Anonymous said...

Easier said than done. Revisit this blog 4-5 years later and see if you see things in the same light.

Gilbert Koh aka Mr Wang said...

The question is whether you really believe, as modern psychologists do, that fun is important for learning. Something to do with engaging the higher cognitive centres of the brain, while fear / stress / anxiety triggers off the reptilian cortex in the brain and is NOT the desired effect when your purpose is to encourage intellectual development.

Now, if parents caught on to the idea that learning is most effective than fun, you may find them getting very focused on fun, when it comes to their children's education. In other words, it's not fun for fun's sake, even though fun for fun's sake does sound very fun.

You have to see that the context of how a lesson is presented matters a lot in whether the students find it fun or not. If kids can want to do Sudoku for fun, why is it not possible that they want to do maths for fun? If kids can want to read Harry Potter for fun, why is it not possible that they want to read literature books for fun? Young kids in the preschool years love to draw and paint and play with colours - how is it that art becomes a hated subject when they reach primary school?

Anonymous said...

Mr Wang,

You failed to mention the stress of having to take exams (O Level) according to certain specified 'subject combinations'. This requirement prevents students from pursuing subjects of greatest interest to them.

I am aware of the basic 3Rs of education. These can be accomplish without going into the more esoteric/demanding aspects of maths, for example, which have little practical application for the majority of people.

My idea of education is to develop a student in all/any subject of his greatest strength, as far as possible.

Gilbert Koh aka Mr Wang said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Gilbert Koh aka Mr Wang said...

But don't you think that whatever subject you are taking, it is possible for it to become enjoyable? Given a certain set of circumstances. Such as a teacher who deliberately set out to make it fun.

Anonymous said...

i think it is a mistake to orchestrate fun. u just can't do it. what u can do is to remove the inhibitors of fun. for instance, fun takes time so don't rush a lesson. also, fun normally involve doing things differently. so start dropping those rules. yeah, without rules control will be difficult. nobody said that this is going to be easy.

the idea that learning quickly is a good thing also needs to be dispelled. i believe that everyone has a certain inherent potential. for most people this is reached at quite an early age. sure, u can continue to take in information but the great insights (true wisdom) stop developing sooner than we realise. so, after sometime we all reach our potential whether we went about it quick or slow. my opinion is that slow is better!

slow allows us to see more. it opens up oppourtunities to explore the little alleyways. where the fun and insights lurk.

Topspin Thamby said...

Hi MW,

I recently went back home for the summer vacations and while I was there I was relief teaching GP in one of the colleges. It was distressing to discover that most of the kids didnt even know what a logical argument looked like. I mean they'd start a page and a half essay saying one thing and then directly contradict themselves by the conclusion.

And when I tried to teach them how to construct logical arguments by bringing outside elements like the Greeks, Plato and so on, most of them got annoyed that I'd strayed from the syllabus. They'd have been perfectly happy not knowing something worth knowing so long as the syllabus was fulfilled.

I think this syllabus anxiety is ultimately getting in the way of teaching and learning. Bcos of constraints of time, pple are learning things in such a way that they ultimately don't know what it is that they are learning - they simply memorize model answers and regurgitate these in the exams.

In Singapore, we've become so obsessed with the instrumental purposes of education that we've forgotten its critical functions. Immanuel Kant once wrote that Enlightenment is the capacity to exercise reason and form our own opinions.

There shouldnt be limitations of time placed on learning, thinking and discovery. And someone should do something abt 10 yr series...I wont speak for other subjects, but it defeats the purpose of doing GP.

Jimmy Mun said...

It's every modern parent's worst nightmare—a school where kids can play all day. But no one takes the easy way out, and graduates seem to have a head start on the information age. Welcome to Sudbury Valley.

Topspin Thamby said...

On another note; I read MWSS and other blogs like Yawning Bread on a more or less daily basis and I always see pple asking these bloggers why they bother writing abt the things they write abt. Apparently its a waste of time and nothing ever changes. The pple who express these sentiments are the ones who don't think that politics matters. But in fact, this very thread we're on now is proof that politics does matter. Because for 40 yrs we've all had to undergo an educational experience that somebody thought was best and there was nobody to qn it.

It is only when we participate in public sphere, talking and debating abt things like educational policies or even ministerial salaries that we are able to form public opinions which can then translate into public action by putting pressure on our elected representatives.

It is only when pple do not "express themselves politically in public" that their "interest(s) in political matters naturally dwindles and independent political thought, in so far as it exists at all, is seen by the majority as unrealistic, far-fetched, a kind of self-indulgent game, hopelessly distant from their everyday concerns; something admirable, perhaps, but quite pointless..." (Havel, 1979).

Nobody's expecting anybody to take to the streets and protest; indeed that may be counterproductive. But we must all start getting used to having opinions of our own and expressing these in any forum that's available - whether its in blogs such as these or the newspapers (as far as they'll allow). It's only when we become accustomed to talking to each other in a reasonable manner that we can begin to change mindsets - even that of our politicians, through a mixture of persuasion and habituation. This is what de Tocqueville referred to as the "slow and quiet action of society upon itself".

Ultimately you can participate or not; but if you don't, you don't get to complain.

Anonymous said...

a chinese man visits an indian sheep farming community. he sees some white sheep and some black sheep.

chinese man:
so which is better? the white sheep or the black sheep?

what do u mean?

chinese man:
is the milk from the white sheep any good?

ya, milk is good.

chinese man:
what about the black sheep?

milk is good too.

chinese man:
and the meat from the white sheep?

meat from white sheep is delicious.

chinese man:
and the meat from the black sheep?

black meat makes excellent curry.

chinese man:
and wool?

wool is good.

chinese man:
so the white sheep or the black sheep better?

the white sheep.

chinese man:

the white sheep is mine.

chinese man:
and the black sheep?

the black sheep is mine too.

chinese man:


as you can see, there are so many questions and no easy answers.

we simply try our best.
and get by.

Anonymous said...

RH: Just 1 comment to your good and informative post. I believe that the real reasons why the Gifted Education Programme was scrapped is because the Ministers' children and most of their Elites' children COULD NOT GET IN THROUGH FAIR TESTS.

When my son got into the GEP, he was only part of 0.7% of 45,000 children cohort. Most Ministers' and Elites' children couldn't get in so they become un-enamoured of the GEP.

So they replaced it with the Special Stream [I believe that's the term] WHICH TAKES IN THE TOP 10%, HENCE EASIER FOR THE MINISTERS' AND ELITES' CHILDREN TO GET IN.

Thus, the GEP did not disappear, just bastardised so more Elites children can get in due to their monetary and network advantages -- money makes it far easier to get into the 10%.

Robert HO

Val said...

Were the teachers instructed/trained to make every lessons enjoyable and fun? From what i observed, most will just focus on rushing through the syllabus.
On Art, Mr Wang, not everybody is gift in this area ,hence it's easier to study alphabets and numbers for this group of kids. Anyway, mummies and daddies just wanna see 101/100 not A in your drawings. Are you good in art Mr Wang?

Anonymous said...

I feel that there is an unhealthy over-emphasis on teachers to make learning fun. First and foremost, learning should be the responsibility of the learner. I will noy enjoy learning a subject I have no interest in no matter how hard the teacher tries to make it fun. Sometimes it get worse when the potential to learn in-depth is trivialised by superficial games that are supposedly fun.

Making the classroom fun also does nothing much in preparing students for real life, where most people work to survive and do not necessarily enjoy what they are doing. Having been spoon-fed and cajoled with fun things, students are not able to handle the challenges that are often stressful and far from fun.

I agree with one of the anons above that the key is to remove obstacles for students to take up what they are interested in. Yes, one big culprit is streaming (opps, they have rebranded it as banding) in our schools.

Naturally, if they choose to do something, they will enjoy and embark on self-directed learning, that not only makes school life engaging but also prepares students for what lies ahead in the adult world.

Anonymous said...

Mr Wang, thank you for this post. I agree that kids should study for learning / fun, but with PSLE / O levels etc, the pressure on a parent to make a child perform is always there, and of course our govt's elitist / meritocracy system does make all these exams a 'make a break' system. I thank you for putting up this post to remind me that heh - there is more to life than grades. Eg my son loves to play in the sec school band, and I am so thankful he looks forward to school ! But hell, I do wish he could buck up and have the option to try to get Science stream in Sec 3 sigh....


Anonymous said...

I would like to add that parents are also very often another source of obstacles because they put pressure on their kids, consciously or not, to pursue paths which they want, instead of what the kids want. Some go further by comparing their kids incessantly with those of their social circle to such extent that nothing is acceptable except 100/100 scorecards.

Gilbert Koh aka Mr Wang said...

I will noy enjoy learning a subject I have no interest in no matter how hard the teacher tries to make it fun. Sometimes it get worse when the potential to learn in-depth is trivialised by superficial games that are supposedly fun.

Making the classroom fun also does nothing much in preparing students for real life, where most people work to survive and do not necessarily enjoy what they are doing.

This is an example of a self-perpetuating mindset. I know that you are merely honest in the way you describe your reality. What you don't see is that your reality is shaped by your own beliefs.

There are lots of inbuilt assumptions in your line of thinking, which don't necessarily hold true for everyone. For example, you say:

"I will not enjoy learning a subject I have no interest in no matter how hard the teacher tries to make it fun."

This assumes that you have insufficient freedom to choose subjects that you have an interest in. That isn't necessarily so.

It also assumes that if you start off not liking a subject, there's no way you will ever like it. This again isn't necessarily so.

"Sometimes it get worse when the potential to learn in-depth is trivialised by superficial games that are supposedly fun."

This assumes that in-depth learning can't possibly be fun. A terrible assumption. Your mindset is what I described in my post as follows: " [we assume that] ... striving for success would involve stress and suffering ..."

Your further assumption is that fun must take the form of "superficial games". This again is quite dubious. "Fun" could take any number of different forms, eg projects; group discussions; self-directed research; self-designed experiments; field trips; field interviews; the freedom to explore non-prescribed texts.

"Making the classroom fun also does nothing much in preparing students for real life, where most people work to survive and do not necessarily enjoy what they are doing."

You may be right. The question is whether you intend to be like "most people". And whether "most people" really have to live and work that way. Food for thought:

"I never worked a day in my life. It was all fun." - Thomas Edison

"You've got to find what you love. And that is as true for your work as it is for your lovers. Your work is going to fill a large part of your life, and the only way to be truly satisfied is to do what you believe is great work. And the only way to do great work is to love what you do." - Steve Jobs

It's really up to you to start living life your own way. It's always your own choice. If you simply do and think what "most people" do and think, then of course you'll just end up where "most people" end up.

Gilbert Koh aka Mr Wang said...

"study for learning / fun, but with PSLE / O levels etc, the pressure on a parent to make a child perform is always there"

Stretch your imagination ... Think of the things that YOU do best .... Is pressure really a necessary element for you to do well?

Can we conceive of a situation where PSLE/O-levels etc are perceived as enjoyable? Fun? Does this sound bizarre? Perhaps ... but surely there are many stranger things which are true.

Topspin Thamby said...

Most people are other people. Their thoughts are someone else's opinions, their lives a mimicry, their passions a quotation.
~ Oscar Wilde

This is precisely what we need to overcome.

Gilbert Koh aka Mr Wang said...

The reason why we think that stress and pressure is necessary, is because we believe that otherwise, the student won't study.

The reason why we believe that in the absence of stress and pressure, the student won't study, is because we believ that studying is not fun.

Now if we could make studying fun ....

you see how the entire equation collapses.

Gilbert Koh aka Mr Wang said...

Which subject did you do best in, when you were in school?

The one that you liked best, and enjoyed, and had fun with ...

Or the one that you hated most, and found most stressful?

Jimmy Mun said...

I like to expand Mr Wang's argument by pointing out that the ONLY reason why we enjoy doing anything is because we think we are good at it. And the more you practice, the better you get at it, the more you will love it. Before you know it, you are a passionate expert.

(The magic sauce all teachers must possess, is to convince the student they are teaching are all above average in the subject they are teaching. You be amazed how measured bluffing, erm I meant encouragement, can boost the confidence of students and change their opinion of a subject.)

The key is to find the stuff that you have marginal advantage over other people, like being 10cm taller than average guarantees that you will enjoy basketball that little bit more than a "shorty". If you continue to "indulge" in the fun of being marginally better player, it is only a matter of time you become superbly skilled.

As Mr Wang had pointed out before, our educational system focuses on our weaknesses rather than our strengths. The slamdunk king who fails his maths will be made to play less basketball and do more maths. In the end, we just end up with a nation of mediocrity.

The only standardised exams Singapore should have, should be college admissions. PSLE and O levels are just useless distractions. The first ten years of education should emphasize on identifying the strengths of our young people, not correcting their weaknesses. Only then can we find our Bill Gates, Nobel Laureates and Olympians.

Well developed talents in any field is in high demand all the time, and whatever manpower supply shortfall in any sector can, and already is being supplied by foreign talents.

Anonymous said...

Mr Wang,

You will need to visit the classrooms in our schools to witness the kind of "fun" the teachers are dishing out. More often than not, it is not the kind of serious fun you are referring to.

For instance, using games like Monopoly or Scrabble or simulations (and are by the more adventurous and "creative" teachers) will not spark any interest in me if I am not at all interest in English or Math but into performing arts perhaps.

You have actually highlighted the problem I have tried to describe - the lack of choice is the root of the problem, not the lack of fun.

Thomas Edison enjoyed his work because it was what he chose, something of interest to him. Do you think he would enjoy it as much if he was forced to be a circus clown instead?

Ok, my example is a little drastic, but you get the drift.

Topspin Thamby said...

Anon @ April 20, 2007 12:21 PM

"For instance, using games like Monopoly or Scrabble or simulations (and are by the more adventurous and "creative" teachers) will not spark any interest in me if I am not at all interest in English or Math but into performing arts perhaps"

I think when you are in primary skool its safe to assume that you probably would not have made up your mind to such a degree of specificity.

As such, the manner in which a subject is presented to you at that early age will form your 1st impressions of it and determine your future dispositions towards it.

Gilbert Koh aka Mr Wang said...

It may sound a little ridiculous, but I actually enjoy watching many of the educational VCDs that I've bought for my kids.

This is one of my favourites - Between the Lions. Among other things, the programme has this trio of black female gospel singers who use music to teach phonics. They have really great voices - if you like gospel music, you'll really like this part of the children's show.

There's also a regular parody of Dr Ruth Weisheimer on the show. The real Dr Ruth Weisheimer is a famous American sex counsellor - on the show, however, the doctor provides counselling to her "patients", who are actually letters of the alphabet having relationship problems with other letters (thereby finding it hard to combine into proper words).

"Between the Lions", as you may guess, focuses on literacy skills for preschoolers.

VCD set is sold at Popular, I highly recommend it for kids between 2 and 4 years of age.

simplesandra said...

Mr Wang Says So wrote: "It also assumes that if you start off not liking a subject, there's no way you will ever like it. This again isn't necessarily so."

Just to add to Mr Wang's point: you might not like a tedious subject like computer programming, but if you like games and are encouraged enough to apply computing skills into game creation, you could gradually come to like it, even if it's still a love-hate relationship (as some of my programming friends would confess).

Teachers can only do so much to make their lessons interesting--and what they introduce to their classes might be fun for some but boring for others. Eventually, a lot still depends on the individual, with teachers helping him along, I guess.

You've got to find what you love. And that is as true for your work as it is for your lovers.

Question though is, is our education producing enough top management people who understand that?

"praveen wrote: "As such, the manner in which a subject is presented to you at that early age will form your 1st impressions of it and determine your future dispositions towards it."

Well, our impression of things change as we get older. So too our dispositions towards them. One example: someone I know happens to hate physics throughout his school years, but has now acquired an interest in (and understanding of) the subject that surprises even some of us, after he began dabbling in electronic music and sound production. :-)

Anonymous said...

i think stress and pressure should be associated with the challenge in moving up to a higher plane of achievement within a subject.

coz last time i did art, and it was very stressful. but it was always fun, like, it just felt like playing a game.

Anonymous said...


but why can't santa be real?

ok, im weird.

Anonymous said...

btw, there's also the Steiners besides the Montessori

Anonymous said...

"Making the classroom fun also does nothing much in preparing students for real life, where most people work to survive and do not necessarily enjoy what they are doing."

Yes, but if you learn to work ONLY to survive... I doubt you'd hardly be good at learning all other humane values, which, will allow you to earn more with less and then, survive better.

In other words, you won't know how to motivate people because people just seem figures to push around to get something done.

And not, 'let's get this done and with the moolah taken from it, I can have the resources to do what i love or contribute towards allowing others to do what i could not have'.

Like the Cottleson Pie.

Anonymous said...

Couldn't agree more. But i don't see why it should only stop in education.

Mr Wang, your previous article leads me to the book "Now, discover your strength". Its introduction quoted Warren Buffet describing he is not different from anyman. He revealed that the secret of his success is because he love what he is doing. He might be a bit 'humble' for i believe he is a brilliant man. But there is definitely some truth about having fun in our work will bring much productivity. Imagine if Warren Buffet lacks that fun, i guess most probably he will not be as successful.

Sadly, that is not the 'luxury' most of us have here.

Anonymous said...

Q: "... how can we overcome these feelings of unhappiness we get when we see foreigners (talented or not) flood our homeland..."

A: Just remember that almost all the forefathers of "we the citizens of Singapore" were once foreigners in this homeland...

Anonymous said...

There is a distinction between having fun/ enjoying something and being passionate about something. The former is superficial, the latter enables us to excel. Playing badminton is fun. Some may even like it very much, but yet, not everyone dreams of being a professional badminton player (even if there is no pressure to keep up with grades). Similarly, a Literature lesson can be made fun and easier to tackle through dramas, songs etc. But will it ignite the flames of passion? Only in those who already have an interest or discovered they have an interest in the subject.

There is also a difference between having an interest in something, and being made aware on one's interest in something. For instance, Scrabble makes it fun to learn English, but will that kind of fun prompt us to pursue a course in EL or Lit? Personally, I think only those who already have interest in EL/Lit or those who discovered they liked EL/Lit will take it further. As for the rest, it's just fun.

In short, interest has to be there before learning can go deeper. Interest can make the dullest lesson fun because the learner is motivated to explore and know more. This is where he proceeds to having serious fun. The desire to learn comes from within. A boring lesson will not douse the flame of enthusiasm within. The student will find other ways of indulging himself in the subject outside the classroom even if he can't help dosing off in class.

Of course, a fun lesson will enhance the learning process, but it is not essential for those who already have an interest in a subject.

That is where Gardner's theory of multiple intelligences come in. Everyone is endowed with varying degrees in different areas. A predominantly spatial/ visual/aesthetically but not numerically inclined person may enjoy solving mathematical problems because it is (has been made) fun, but he is most likely to maintain a superficial involvement in the subject compared to Art or Architecture, where his abilities and interests are. So if he is forced to major in Math instead, I believe he would not excel in a system where creativity and innovation matters more than rote learning.

Liquidfuel said...

Hey, exact same question I've asked for daughter of 4 years. Now that I've migrated to AU, I'm truly amazed at how the teachers teach at kinders - all puppets, art & craft, playing, interacting, etc.

And no ABCs, 123s!

My daughter enjoys her school even more.

The sad thing is perhaps your daughter don't have a comparison between 2 different kinders. I'm blessed mine had. I don't think she wants to go back to SG.

Anonymous said...

Sure, working life can be and should be fun and we should chose to do what we like. But in reality, how many of us have a choice? In the absence of choice, who will be able to survive better? Those who a brought up with truckloads of fun or those who have been trained to slog through boring stuff and accept them as a way of life?

In an ideal world, all of us should have fun all the way from school to retirement. But is it possible? If not, isn't it dangerous to spoil our kids and lead them to expect everything to be fun in order to embark on it?

That kind of attitude is already observable in our schools. If they don't enjoy or do well in a subject, students will blame the teachers for being boring and therefore causing them to lose interest. Should that be the case? Whatever happened to ownership of one's learning journey? Instead of waiting to be motivated, perhaps our students should be trained and allowed to discover their interests and create their own fun.

My apologies for hogging comment space, but I seriously think our older students are too reliant on teachers to make learning fun instead of proactively taking charge of their own learning journeys.

Anonymous said...

Mr Wang,

Only Gifted Education Programme for Secondary Schools are scrapped because too many of the GEP kids opted to go to the Integrated programme, skipping O levels.

Gifted Education programme for primary 4 to 6 stays.

Anonymous said...

That kind of attitude is already observable in our schools. If they don't enjoy or do well in a subject, students will blame the teachers for being boring and therefore causing them to lose interest. Should that be the case? Whatever happened to ownership of one's learning journey? Instead of waiting to be motivated, perhaps our students should be trained and allowed to discover their interests and create their own fun.

Erm, I got take charge of my own learning journey.

But I always got marked down for being creative with my assignments.

I agree with you to some extent. But cannot be everytime is the youth's fault one wat.

Gilbert Koh aka Mr Wang said...

Anon April 20, 2007 5:34 PM:

I hope you enjoyed the book. When you're done, you may be interested to read a follow-up book - "Now Go Put Your Strengths To Work" by Marcus Buckingham.

nonameclown said...

Just remember that almost all the forefathers of "we the citizens of Singapore" were once foreigners in this homeland... back in the days when Singapore was not a country yet.

Gilbert Koh aka Mr Wang said...

"Sure, working life can be and should be fun and we should chose to do what we like. But in reality, how many of us have a choice?"

As I said, it's up to you whether you want to be like "most people".

On a personal note, I kinda feel that it is often more tiring trying to be like "most people" than just being yourself and doing your own thing.

Very often, I think that the barriers are really in one's own brain. Personally, I'm constantly choosing my career directions. Every time I get bored, I just move to something new & fun - and every time I move, I earn even more money.

I've worked in in the public sector; in the private sector; in private practice; as inhouse legal counsel; litigation; corporate work - now I've quit law altogether and gone into investment banking,

and when I get bored with doing what I'm doing now, maybe this is what I'll do to keep my life fun & interesting.

Anonymous said...

I agree with your post. Learning should be fun. There is a saying in Apple Computers where I used to work. It's 'The journey is the reward'. I seriously don't really think that pushing kids through University is the way to go. We should be naturing their talents and even if it means making one buck less, so be it. It's hard to find a starving man in Singapore. Whatever makes living worthwhile and meaningful to all mankind. Cheers.

Anonymous said...

Maybe 'interesting' may be a better word than 'fun'.

I never liked Mathematics much except in high school. And the teachers did really make it very fun: they taught calculus from first principles and made it a lot more interesting than just memorising formulas.

Anonymous said...

Anon @ April 20, 2007 12:21 PM

loving gertrude,

Good for you that you are proactive. It is not a matter of whose fault but students are the ones who will suffer if they expect lessons to be interesting or else they just switch off. Learning should ideally be fun but there is too much emphasis on it. How are we to learn about the value of perseverance and determination during difficult times when we expect life to be fun and rosy all the time?

Singapore will have a brighter future with more proactive students like you. We need more toughness in our young people.

Mr Wang,

Agree that it is ultimately our choice. But not many are as talented as you or we will not have to worry about FTs and the growing income gap. Beggars can't be choosers.

It's a brand new day. Enjoy!

Anonymous said...

Teo Chee Hean caused a lot of pain when he introduced the IP, and never really explained the reasons except that he visited some school in the US. Schools like RI, SJI, ACS had to choose to jump on the IP route or continue with GEP, and constaint of resources forced them to choose one and abandon the other. Parents whose kids are in the IP worry about going through 6 years and end up with nothing if their kids flunk the final exams. As a result, many enroll their kids to sit for the GCE O Levels as private candidates, so they can have a piece of paper to show for the 4 years' work. No more streaming? They simply introduced another set of streaming criteria, and new material for another Jack Neo movie.

Slawek Rogulski said...

At that rate why stop at school? Couldn't work be more fun also? Or is it that when money is involved it's a serious business and fun goes out the window? Or maybe its another factor? Regardless of what it is, when it comes to our livelyhoods it's as if it's a matter of life and death. Serious staff! Thank goodness for comedians! And the arts!

As for global competition ... well the key word to me is global, which means that as much as there are foreigners here, in foreign lands there are also foreigners (to those lands). So our mindset has to become more global than it is now. We have to expand our thinking beyond the borders of our countries or city states. After all isn't it that if you help your neighbour the whole neighbourhood benefits?

Anonymous said...

anon @ april 20, 2007 12:21 pm:

The toughness should be learnt in real life; in conditions out of school, outside the classroom.

Wisdom gained from experience is not transferable through verbal instruction nor books or any medium of communication.

You have to roll in the mud yourself.

Toughness in education ought only involve persisting in reaching a higher level of understanding.

'Making the world interesting' and thus worthy of contemplation and of living in, is what education is about.

Have you ever wondered 'wisdom statements' are always paradoxical?

Anonymous said...

Perhaps I ought to warn those who are not like Mr. Wang in often asking if his son had fun at kindergarten everyday:

There are two ways to create an irresponsible individual:

1) Be too strict ('All work and no fun')
2) Pamper too much ('All fun and no work')

Anonymous said...

There are two ways to create an irresponsible individual:

1) Be too strict ('All work and no fun')
2) Pamper too much ('All fun and no work')

#1: They eventually rebel against their upbringing.
#2: They rebel against the world.

Anonymous said...

Hi Mr Wang,

Thanks for responding to two of my requests. I feel so honoured. *:D Fyi, actually I don't have any children yet. But with the recent pay hikes (not mine, of course!) and other depressing news, it does make me think twice about having children, and raising them in this land. Sometimes I find it a challenge not to follow the herd and do kiasu things most Singaporeans do.

Yes, I agree that we need to have fun in learning. The problem with most born-and-bred Singaporeans is that we underwent a very rote learning process while schooling. And now, as adults, most of us don't know how to make learning or studying fun simply because we were hardly exposed to such teaching methods ourselves! So, we supervise our children with the same kind of "disciplinarian" style that our school teachers used on us when we were young. "Garbage in, garbage out", right?

Also, this "meritocratic" education system we've grown up with instils in most of us this value that you *have* to get good grades so that you can get a good job and ultimately *high pay*. So instead of focusing on whether the student is enjoying his learning and studies, the focus is on his grades. Who cares about fun anymore? Oh, now we do, because we realise that having fun improves a child's ability to learn, and therefore his ability to get good grades -> get a good job -> get *high pay*. So $$ becomes the motivating factor for learning and studying for many Singaporeans.

Of course, there are also those who try to "manufacture" fun and fail miserably. Sometimes they try too hard, and it just backfires. It's like someone coming up with a really stupid (and boring) game and saying, "Hey, let's have FUN playing this really FUN game!" It's just too plain contrived at times.

The contestants on American Idol like to say, "I had fun when I was on the stage." That doesn't usually mean anything to me at all. Instead, I usually see that as a lame excuse for the contestants to get away with having to defend lousy singing or poor performance. Is this kind of mindset caused by my Asian upbringing? Or am I just a skeptical person and would have remained so whether I'm Asian or not? I think only God knows...

simplesandra said...

loving gertrude wrote: "In other words, you won't know how to motivate people because people just seem figures to push around to get something done.."

Actually, you can love your work, yet still push people around to make sure YOUR work gets done properly. ;-)

But on a seperate note, you can't always enjoy your work the way you can enjoy your studies. A lot depends on your employer, and bad bosses can easily deflate even the most enthusiastic worker.

For instance, I enjoyed my first few years when with an Internet startup because so long as you get the job done (and done well), you can be as creative as you want in the office without any run-ins with management (and that includes with your time). There was a kind of dynamism in the workplace I'd not seen in my previous (and subsequent) jobs. But then, the business grew and the coporate folks came in. Well, our job specs remained the same but not everything else. The corporate culture became so stifling that some of us came to hate the work we used to love.

Well, that's the cold reality of working life (well, in Singapore at least). You can make classrooms fun, but it's a different world beyond the classroom. :-)

Vladdvanio said...

Loved maths most coz i simply loved it (regardless of my teachers)
Loved bio less coz the teacher was nasty (loved the rest of the subjects)

we should have more fun in class - what kinda fun? do you pay school fee to get ur kids educated or to have fun? want them to have fun, send them to e-zone

with no serious education, how will your kids compete with foreign students in university and/or workplace (well, one way to prevent it is to make spore a contained country w no foreigners, then we all can have fun till uni and work place)

academic hours are meant for academic purposes. whether or not the teacher can deliver the stuff in a fun way, no one can control it. Come on, teachers are human (i did relief teaching before) and the students' attitude affects teachers' mood too. Dont always point the finger at teachers, and/or the system when it's all put in place to handle the situation (dont u dare to insist that ur kids are angels tt dont create trouble, angels tt gives teachers room to make full use of the hours).

no perfect solution but the system we're having now is fairly the best we can have.

take it like a sports training. u want to have fun and digress from improving your skills, you'll lose out in competition.

result = talent + effort put into it

you want more fun, dont send your kids to schools tt put emphasis in academic advancement.

send them to a school full of punks and addicts and slackers. let them have fun there


and gep was not scraped coz the minister's kids cant get into it... crooked fact whoever mentioned it.

came from school w gep and ip...am a foreigner

Anonymous said...

To mandy,

students in ip schools are NOT allowed to sit for the 'o' levels wef 2008. this is moe's "directive", i think.

can register and then go and sit for the 'o' level exams in hongkong :-(

still wondering why they disallow 'o' levels for the ip students.

Yau said...

I just hope that the younger generation will get an education better than before. The whole streaming and compulsory bi-lingual policy, coupled with atrocious Mandarin teacher wrecked a lot of kids' lives.

Jimmy Mun said...

Some of you sounds so allergic to having fun in school because you do not grasp a very simple concept: 90% of your formal education is not essential to your adult life. The knowledge may be helpful, but not essential. Force fed knowledge in particular, are quickly discarded.

How many of you found practical use for knowing about Sang Nila Utama or what Majapahit empire? And I doubt I would have remembered those stuff if I didnt find it at least somewhat interesting.

When people talk about developing talents, nurturing the next Albert Einstein is often mentioned. But did you know that he did badly in school and didnt attend college? All his earth shatttering work was done as a hobby, in isolation from academia. The guy working at the patent office having some fun stuff after work.

Professional footballers spend a lot of time training since young, but yet few would spend the remaining free time to practice free kicks. But that was what David Beckham did. I cannot imagine how he can push himself so far without loving the sport. Does it matter if David Beckham wasnt "teached" English properly in school? One should also note that in his earlier teenage years, he was actually quite mediocre as a player. He practiced, practiced, practiced till he was no longer ordinary.

The human brain is very malleable. The more you practice a skill, the more interconnections will form for the region of the brain dealing with the skill, making you more skillful, naturally. Not all of us are born bursting with talent, but if you practice, practice, practice, anybody can turn into a natural talent. And it is possible to do so only if you can convince yourself you are having fun.

Coming back to Singapore schools. Why do some kids love school so much, while some are so disruptive? It is because our schools have such narrow definition of success! Not only do we have to learn the same standardised set of of knowledge, we have to learn it at the same pace, irregardless of their background and upbringing.

The streaming process ought to be about discovering the strength of individual students, and nurturing it. Instead we have a system that seeks to find flaws in our young people and punish them.

There are many countries in the world that has a comparable population as Singapore, like New Zealand, Finland or Denmark. And yet how is it those countries can keep producing so many outstanding individuals, be it in science or in sports, compared to Singapore? Can it be due to the fact that we have a flaw-fixing talent-neutering education system, producing a nation of highly educated mediocrity?

If there is one thing Singapore is the unrivaled number one in the world, it is our myopia rate. That alone is food for thought if there is something very wrong with our classrooms.

Gilbert Koh aka Mr Wang said...

Yeah. Most terribly, there still remains this misconceived idea that if you're having fun, you can't possibly be learning anything. How mistaken.

Thought I would reproduce an excerpt from this old post of mine, from May 2006. It shows highly advanced learning, far more advanced than is usual for children of that age, happening in an extremely fun context:

"G isn't a regular "preschool" or "kindergarten". It merely offers a variety of courses, classes and playgroups and you pick the one you think best suits your kid. Many of these courses are offered on just on a once-a-week, 90-minutes-per-session basis, while others are on a three-times-a-week basis etc. Some parents pick and choose and mix and match a number of courses, so their kid end up attending G as regularly as a normal kindergarten.

The courses at G are a lot more fun, interesting and challenging than what you'd get in a normal kindergarten. Many of the lessons, I suspect, are what MOE would frown upon as being "age-inappropriate" (that is, too difficult for kids of that age). For example, in one science class, the 4-year-olds are already doing science experiments with things like batteries and lightbulbs. In another class, the 4-year-olds discuss current affairs and paint pictures depicting events like "What Would Happen If Bird Flu Spread to Singapore?". In yet another class, the children are already composing and writing their own stories, at an age when in a normal kindergarten, they might not even have mastered their ABCs.

Yet from my personal observations, the kids at G almost invariably learn a lot, have plenty of fun and enjoy themselves thoroughly. G operates on the principle that what you want to engage is the higher cognitive functions of the child's brain. Since the higher cognitive functions are impaired when the child is stressed, worried or anxious, the teachers strive for the opposite effect - they endeavour to make the lessons as fun and enjoyable as possible.

Looking at the MOE registration guidelines for kindergartens, we realise that G, despite its excellent standards, wouldn't qualify to be registered as a kindergarten. That's because a kindergarten, according to the Education Ministry, must offer:

"... a structured 3-year pre-school education programme for children aged 3 to 6. The 3-year programme consists of Nursery, Kindergarten 1 and Kindergarten 2. Kindergartens function daily, five days a week, with schooling hours ranging from 3 hours to 4 hours each day."

Furthermore, a kindergarten must have a certain kind of syllabus:

"... language and literacy skills, basic number concepts, simple science concepts, social skills, creative and problem solving skills, appreciation of music and movement and outdoor play. Children will learn in two languages, English as the first language and Chinese, Malay or Tamil as a Mother Tongue language."

G doesn't have a "nursery" or a "Kindergarten 1" or a "Kindergarten 2". It doesn't have a "3-year education programme". As I mentioned, it merely offers courses, classes and playgroups, and of course, no particular course by itself would meet the MOE's syllabus requirements.

So G simply wouldn't qualify to be a MOE-approved kindergarten.

Which kinda shows you how stupid the MOE can be. No wonder the MOE did what it did to CGL (as discussed in my previous post).

Seriously, in this school "G", many little children are already reading story books on their own, while in more-ordinary kindergartens, the average kids of that age are still struggling with ABCs.

Fun is the secret of success for G. The kids love learning, so they learn more and more and more. They easily surpass kids who are schooled in a more-traditional, more rigid, more "disciplined-based" environment.

Anonymous said...

Jimmy Mun:

Or: Given the many, many, many Angus Ross Prizes that Singaporean students have won...

How come we don't have many novelists or playwrights, etc, etc?

How come Oz, which has uni students btw, who don't know "its" from "it's", has so many excellent writers?

I asked my tutor if it was a case of demographics and he said no: Lots of Oz writers came from the country.

Vladdvanio said...

Yeah. Most terribly, there still remains this misconceived idea that if you're having fun, you can't possibly be learning anything. How mistaken.

if you're having too much fun, of course u'll be learning less. We cant have the best of both world no?

our current schooling system is fine what...

we have CCAs, we have practicals, we have learning journey etc etc...

what other "fun" are u asking for?

we're thinking bout extremes bout the present situation, but it's really not tt extreme...

ask ur son, if they give u extreme answer, ask your son's friend... or even crash their class...

teachers are human no?
of course they wanna have fun too...

syllabus-wise, singapore's system is the third best in the world (if i'm not wrong) and they do help me in excelling in uni better.

anw IP students are not 'allowed' to take O lvl, simply coz the school doesnt prepare them to handle O lvl questions i guess...

They cant represent the school taking O lvl, coz it's the same as sending a civillian into the war front carrying a machine he doesnt noe how to use.

of course, if u still wanna send ur son to that warfront, u can register as private candidate... just to see how significant is proper preparation for exam...

simplesandra said...

I suppose this is what differentiates an education system that allows creativity and a bit of "fun" from one that encourages rote learning:

Schoolgirls celebrities after exposing Ribena

Gilbert Koh aka Mr Wang said...

"if you're having too much fun, of course u'll be learning less."

Nonsense. People learn best when they're having fun.

For example, if you found physics extremely fun, you wouldn't stick to listening to the teacher and doing your 10-year series. In other words, you wouldn't be the typical Singaporean student.

If you found physics fun, what would you do?

You'd read beyond your O-level text. You'd participate more in class and ask more interesting questions. You'd join the physics club. You'd start a personal blog on physics. You'd ask your teacher whether you could borrow the school lab after school hours, to do experiments on your own. You'd surf the Internet and try to gind real-life physicists to chat with. You'd be very interested in observing and thinking about everyday events like water trickling down a longkang, or food being defrosted in your microwave oven. You'll look forward to going to school especially on days when there is a physics lesson. You'll attack your Physics exam questions with as much gusto & enthusiasm as you play an Xbox game.

That is what you would be like - if you found Physics fun.

Now tell me again - would you be learning more, or would you be learning less, if you found Physics fun?

The broader question is - how do we make learning fun in general (ie not just Physics).

Gilbert Koh aka Mr Wang said...

I encourage everyone to click on simplesandra's latest link.

It is about two 14-year-old girls who were so interested in science that they decided to do their own experiments -

testing different types of drinks and juice for their Vitamin C content. Their experimental results led to GlaxoSmithKline, the second-largest food and drug company in the world, being fined in court for US$217,500.

The girls discovered that the company was making bogus claims about the level of Vitamin C content in Ribena.

Anonymous said...


'fun' in the sense of mihaly's 'flow'.

Anonymous said...

loving gertrude,

"The toughness should be learnt in real life; in conditions out of school, outside the classroom."

The world is your classroom. But, your classroom should also be the world. If the classroom does not teach you (not necessarily through texts but also real personal experiences), the education in the classroom is pointless.

That's the reason why many say that what we learn in school is highly irrelevant in the real world. How can we make 100% of what we learn in school relevant - that should be the question.

Why are we wasting at least a good 10 years of our lives in the classroom then if it does not help us build our character and acquires life skills and learn to live in the world? What do we go to school for?

Anonymous said...

plus, teaching is also fun.

just as a conversation; an exchange of Q&A is fun: the teacher challenges his/her students, vice-versa.

basically, to me at least, if you cannot understand why leadership—something so supposedly unrelated to the topic at hand—is a dance (and likewise one's engagement with schoolwork or work or science), then there's little point in trying to explain this fun thing to you.

Anonymous said...

anon @ april 20, 2007 12:21 pm:

Why are we wasting at least a good 10 years of our lives in the classroom then if it does not help us build our character and acquires life skills and learn to live in the world? What do we go to school for?

You've answered your own question:

If the classroom does not teach you (not necessarily through texts but also real personal experiences), the education in the classroom is pointless.

Of which the hidden (and very salient) assumption is that there is insufficient emphasis that the way things are handled in the classroom are at best, a false representation of the 'real'.

And for that we can go into multiple hypotheses about why it is so. For one, just imagine the kind of social group that Wee Shu Min possibly hung out with.

Anonymous said...

the other thing about '10 years in the classroom' has of course, to do with the Enlightenment movt.

or that basically, in the end, what's in the mind and in text can represent all that there's to know about reality. and thereby having knowledge, you can go on and make the 'right' choices.

which isn't true, obviously, because reality's hardly logical.

part of the reason for school, especially primary school, is to—see john dewey—give you a slate on which you can participate in wider society.

if say the state does not take a hand in that, it's very likely that the state that you know will not be the govt but the religious institutions that your familial relations abide by, in tradition.

there are other considerations that have to be taken into acct—which is why im being sloppy in this comment because one could write a whole paper on this—like the fact that some kids are late-bloomers and so don't respond adequately to certain school material until much later.

and then you insert the consideration for diff learning styles.

that's why education is so erm, fascinating. every kid is different: you have to know how to dance.

Anonymous said...

On what I mean by 'dance', emphasis mine:

"Your arrows do not carry," observed the Master, "because they do not reach far enough spiritually. You must act as if the goal were infinitely far off. For master archers it is a fact of common experience that a good archer can shoot farther with a medium-strong bow than an unspiritual archer can with the strongest. It does not depend on the bow, but on the presence of mind, on the vitality and awareness with which you shoot. In order to unleash the full force of this spiritual awareness, you must perform the ceremony differently: rather as a good dancer dances. [...]"

—Eugen Herrigel, Zen in the Art of Archery, p. 53

Anonymous said...

loving gertrude,

We are finally getting somewhere. So, since education is such a complex affair and the people involved so diversified, is having "fun" the only way to dance? Or is it a secondary means to camourflage the fact that we have to dance differently but simply do not know how to?

simplesandra said...

Not directly related to the topic, but thought I'd post this anyway. :-P

Was reading an article by Ian Lancashire, a professor of poetry, that appeared in the Journal of Scholarly Publishing (Oct 2002, Vol.34, Number 1), and he had this to say about the way poetry gets treated these days:

"Academic editors make choices on the basis of their training, their daily work, and the people around them. They normally edit poems that must be taught to be understood. Complexity, nuance, and irony are valued; inspirational messages that once made Henry Wadsworth Longfellow and Nobel laureate Rudyard Kipling everyone’s poets are not. Most teachers do not believe in the content of the poems they teach. Any subject matter will do as long as it is non-dogmatic and helps the mind and the sensibility grow. Poetry has been institutionalized, for its own survival, for some time now. An establishment has for nearly a century decided what poems deserve and do not deserve to be remembered, independent of what ordinary people think. "

He was commenting on a poem of bereavement by Mary Elizabeth Frye, "Do not stand at my grave and weep":

Do not stand at my grave and weep
I am not there. I do not sleep.

I am a thousand winds that blow
I am the diamond glints on snow.
I am the sunlight on ripened grain
I am the gentle autumn rain.

When you awaken in the morning’s hush,
I am the swift uplifting rush
Of quiet birds in circled flight.
I am the soft stars that shine at night.

Do not stand at my grave and cry.
I am not there: I did not die.

What's interesting about the poem is that Frye, an American housewife, wrote it back in 1932 (reportedly on a piece of paper torn from a grocery bag) to console a Jewish friend of hers who'd just lost her mother in Germany but couldn't return home because of the growing anti-Semitism there.

Frye never had the sort of education kids these days have. In fact, I don't even think she had much formal education at all. Yet her simple but moving poem has been recited all over the world for decades--especially at memorial services for disaster victims (the latest being the tragedy at Virginia Tech).

As Lancashire noted, "Frye’s unattributed poem ...gave many New Yorkers during those terrible weeks [following 9/11] a consolation that CNN and anything we teach, in or out of the Norton anthologies, did not."

Sometimes I do wonder if something like this could ever come out of Singapore. Then I look at how pragmatic our education system is and I stop wondering.

Heck, even "Art" in Singapore's context is often something cerebral and pseudo-intellectual.

Again, apologies for digressing. :-)

Anonymous said...

anon @ april 20, 2007 12:21 pm:

So, since education is such a complex affair and the people involved so diversified, is having "fun" the only way to dance? Or is it a secondary means to camourflage the fact that we have to dance differently but simply do not know how to?

As a matter of fact, from my personal experience, the answer is: Yes, having 'fun' is the only way to dance.

Which is why I pity the Singapore government for not even being able to parse, "fun".

Anonymous said...

anon @ april 20, 2007 12:21 pm:

I oft wonder what they ever learnt in the Ivies.

Anonymous said...

coz those who never learnt "fun" will also never learn "dance".

Anonymous said...

loving gertrude,

Nobody said anything about not having fun at all, nor that fun is bad. But is fun the only thing we need?

Those who do not read carefully are the ones who will always dance the same dance.

Anonymous said...

anon @ april 20, 2007 12:21 pm:

But is fun the only thing we need?

The context of Mr Wang's post centres on a phase transition, does it not?

Those who don't think carefully are the ones who will always be supporting the PAP.

Anonymous said...

ie. Always don't know how to dance: cannot even dance how to 'dance the same dance'?

Anonymous said...

Sigh... Why do all the PAPanons all sound the same one?

Same language, same logic, same tone in language...

Such... *eeeww* conformity.

Anonymous said...

I won't get angry with the education system in Singapore, because I am already past the schooling era.

And I won't get angry in future, because I will not procreate. I will not let my kids (if any) suffer by bringing them to this shitty island and let them get stigmatised by having a Singapore citizenship, then getting them stressed out and become highly schooled but poorly educated lemmings for the next big thing of the economy.

Anonymous said...

Plus, there's no such thing as dancing the same dance.

It presumes that dancing has separate variations. This is incorrect thinking.

There is only ONE dance, in which all forms of dance fall within the ambit of that ONE dance.

The idea that there are many different kinds of dance, merely perpetuates the notion that Hermann Hesse's Steppenwolf is a work of despair, when it isn't so, as Hesse himself made clear.

Gilbert Koh aka Mr Wang said...

The reference to Mihaly's flow is apt.

Those who don't know what that is - basically Mihaly is a world-famous researcher on happiness.

Flow is his term for happiness as a state of mind. How is flow attained or maintained?

He cites various conditions and I am oversimplifying - but happiness arises in the situation where your skill is being tested and the challenge is sufficient to attract, hold and absorb your attention and focus your entire attention on one thing.

To achieve this state, the challenge must be at the right level. If the challenge is too little, it cannot hold your attention. If the challenge is too great, you cannot meet it and you experience fear, anxiety, worry etc. Furthermore, the state of flow is the state where you are functioning at your optimal best - your full ability is being called into play.

Mihaly's theory definitely tells you that learning can be fun, and in fact, that you learn best when:

(1) the subject matter attracts and holds your attention (eg if it is very fun)

(2) is exactly suitable for your skill level (suggesting that excessively structured lessons cannot lead to optimal learning for the individual).

Conversely, Mihaly's theory tells you that when you are stressed, anxious or fearful, you CANNOT be learning optimally. Either the challenge has become too great, or your attention has ceased to be focused on one thing (eg instead of focusing your attention fully on the maths question right before you, you have become distracted by worrisome thoughts of the maths exam you have to take next month etc).

And Mihaly's theory in fact tells you that learning, when fun, is nothing less than sheer happiness AND optimal performance.

Anonymous said...

I suggest that those who insist that learning has to be fun all the time should become teachers and show our teachers how to do it.

What do they call it? Walk the talk? It'll be more convincing than playing with semantics.

Gilbert Koh aka Mr Wang said...

I did not suggest that it is practical or feasible to make learning fun all the time.

That would be the ideal situation, but it's not achievable. It's not realistic to expect to create a situation where students learn at their optimal best all the time.

I'm sure that even Edison had his off-days, when working on his inventions wasn't as fun as usual.

Notwithstanding all that, it is desirable for students to be interested. It is desirable for lessons to engage and absorb the student's mind. It is desirable for students to be eager, enthusiastic, happy and passionate to learn more.

So yes it is desirable that learning be fun.

Furthermore note that in my post, my focus was on parents of young children, and not on teachers. I said that parents should help their children develop the attitude that learning is fun, learning is enjoyable, learning is good.

Which part of my proposition do you disagree with?

Anonymous said...

Sometimes I wonder if those who like to accuse some of 'playing with semantics' actually don't know what they're talking about, ie. cannot see things from a multitude of perspectives.

—Limited mental cognition.

Anonymous said...

After all:

I didn't tell you what to think.

I only gave you something to think about.

It's not as if we've been at it for 30 days and sitting down, collating literature on 'learning' and 'fun'.

If the system's in transition and 'new ways of thinking' are needed, the least one could do first, is to throw away old conceptions of 'learning' and 'fun'.

Instead, one chooses to take the 'Oh, you're playing with semantics!' tack.

Anonymous said...

anon @ april 20, 2007 12:21 pm:

It'll be more convincing than playing with semantics.

Maybe I ought to run you through this simple assessment of logic:

A thing can only exist if it's either A or B.

If X is A, it exists. If X is B, it exists.

If X is A-B, it cannot exist.

—What makes you think that if your terms of language are ill-defined, applying logic will help you arrive at the correct conclusion?

In other words:

"If the facts don't fit the theory, change the facts." —Albert Einstein

Or, to clarify Einstein's statement:

"If the facts don't fit the theory, change [how you view] the facts."

So, ought not semantics and the meaning of words be important?

Puh-leassee... Use your brain. It's not like I was ever in the GEP; not like I got anything else than a C in Logic at NUS.

Anonymous said...

As someone who never got to sleep before 12MN when schooling (in Singapore) since Primary 1 and never got to play with paper lanterns during Mid-Autumn from about the same time—because I had 'more important things to do' like completing Papa-designated stacks of Mathematics and English language assessment books—I happen to write and observe from personal experience.

So dear PAPanons: Don't come throw your Enlightenment-inspired theories at me.


Benjamin Hoff, "The Te of Piglet: The Eeyore Effect", The Tao of Pooh and the Te of Piglet, (Egmont, 2002), pp. 246-249

Mentally, emotionally, and physically, the human being is designed for a long childhood, followed by a short adolescence and then adulthood—the state of responsible, self-reliant wholeness. What we see children experiencing now, however, is an ever-shorter childhood, followed by a premature, prolonged adolescence from which ever fewer seem to be emerging.

Rather than help children develop the abilities needed to overcome the difficulties immediately confronting them, the Eeyore Educational System (with a good deal of help from parents and the entertainment industry) is forcing too much inappropriate information on them too soon, concerning—and causing—problems they can do nothing about. Then the children get stuck.

In response to the declining Test Scores of recent years, the educational system has brought in vastly expensive machines to do the teaching—a sign of trouble if there ever was one. Learn to write from a computer, and so on. (Of course, it could have brought in people who knew how to write, or whatever, to teach how to write, or whatever—on a volunteer basis, if necessary. But that would have been too simple, we suppose. Cheating, almost.) Now this costly Teaching Technology is bankrupting the system. So, in order to Cut Costs, the Eeyores are eliminating what they consider unnecessary classes—Art, Creative Writing, Drama, and so on—classes that help students observe, reason, and communicate, as well as keep their spirits and the right sides of their brains alive.

The Eeyore Educational System sees childhood as a waste of time, a luxury that society cannot afford. Its response to the problems of vanishing childhood is to speed up the process—give the students more information, give it to them at a faster rate, and give it to them sooner. Put children in school at the earliest age possible; load them down with homework take away their time, their creativity, their play, their power; then plug them into machines. That'll whip them into shape. Well, it'll whip them, anyway.

Over two thousand years ago, Chuang-tse described a similar situation:

The ancient emperor Shun encouraged rivalry in the minds of the people. Children were born the usual number of months after conception; but five months after that, they were being taught to converse. Soon they were calling people by their titles and personal names. Then men began to die while still young...

This governing provided order in name only. In reality, it produced chaos. It ran contrary to the light of the sun and the moon, brought harm to the mountains and the rivers, and poisoned the fruit of the four seasons. It proved more deadly than the sting of a scorpion, or the bite of a dangerous beast.

The more that children are Educated by Eeyores, the more problems they develop. And the more problems they develop, the more the Eeyores insist on Educating them, at an ever-earlier age. The Educator Eeyores' answer to the problems that the Eeyores create is: Crack Down. The children's response is: Crack Up.

Piglet had got up early that morning to pick himself a bunch of violets; and when he had picked them and put them in a pot in the middle of his house, it suddenly came over him that nobody had ever picked Eeyore a bunch of violets, and the more he thought of this, the more he thought how sad it was to be an Animal who had never had a bunch of violets picked for him. So he hurried out again, saying to himself, "Eeyore, Violets," and then "Violets, Eeyore," in case he forgot, because it was that sort of day, and he picked a large bunch and trotted along, smelling them, and feeling very happy, until he came to the place where Eeyore was.

"Oh, Eeyore," began Piglet a little nervously, because Eeyore was busy.

Eeyore put out a paw and waved him away.

"Tomorrow," said Eeyore. "Or the next day."

Anonymous said...

Hi there. A little late in tagging u but just stumbled onto your blog this morning and it makes for excellent reading. It also comforts me to know that other Singaporeans mirror feelings that I harbour about so many issues.
U are right about making learning fun. However, it is difficult for teachers in the main stream schools to make it fun, as they have to rush through the syllabus and also have to cope with the uber many admin issues that are forced on them.
Personally, I feel that many fresh grads also joined this iron rice bowl job in 97/98 when the economy was bad. People just took the easy way out and became school teachers. Many of these people have become disillusioned and disgruntled and it shows in their teaching as well. Many are also afraid to leave the industry as teaching does not make for real work experience in many other sectors.
I am one of those people who did not sign on the dotted line with the MOE and give 3 years of my life to them. I have been a private tutor for more than a decade now and have seen the various policy changes that have come along with each change of a minister at the helm of the MOE.
I will never understand why the government does not get someone from education to be the minister of education. What does an ex army officer or a money man know about education? Apart from the fact that they have kids of course.
Any parent with children in the branded schools nowadays will know the amount of stress the children go through on a daily basis. With CCA activities on up to 5 times a week, school work and project work, is it hard to imagine our kids throwing themselves off buildings?
I know some people may find it ironic that I should be talking abt this, seeing that I am in a job that contributes to the hectic schedules of students. I do feel bad for the students which is why I always try to inject some fun into lessons I conduct. Be it a joke or a story with a moral ending, I always want my students to look forward to attending the next lesson. Because that is the only way they will learn well. When they enjoy lessons.
Keep up the interesting blog Mr Wang and go to Hongkong!