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Are schools really teaching lifelong learning?


n today’s world, knowledge is constantly being updated. Often, entire approaches and systems are replaced, so we need to create new methods and skills to deal with them. Those in higher-skilled jobs need to have a deep conceptual understanding of their specialised areas, and use that knowledge to create new ideas, apply them to new areas, developing new products. They need the critical thinking to integrate and use their new knowledge, rather than recall compartmentalised information and poorly-linked, memorised facts. Students have to take responsibility for their own continuing learning. At the same time, schools should promote such lifelong learning rather than focus on the acquisition of static knowledge — education is not completed when a student leaves university. In practice, though, few — if any — educational systems are geared towards broad success in developing students with a proclivity for lifelong learning. The Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) has

measured the outcomes of education systems every three years since 2000, involving well over a million 15-yearolds in 60 countries. The PISA results show that too many students are not well-prepared to understand concepts and solve problems.

Our goal must be to develop our students’ ability to adapt to changing requirements and circumstances, so that they can apply knowledge creatively in different circumstances. They must be willing to augment core competencies and move flexibly across areas. To achieve this goal involves learning not only in schools through formal learning processes, but also through informal methods, which occurs increasingly through social networks. In general, at least three approaches are possible. The first is to develop work at home that interfaces with and expands what students already do — that is, allow more collaborative projects to search, find and apply information. Learning from each other through face-to-face or online interactions can teach them

K Ranga Krishnan is Dean of the Duke-NUS Graduate Medical School Singapore. A clinician-scientist and psychiatrist, he chaired the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioural Sciences at Duke University Medical Centre from 1998 to 2009.

how to learn on their own and in teams. These are valuable skills often required in the real world, and they can be the basis of adult lifelong learning. The second approach is to introduce true experiential learning in real settings for short periods — maybe during off times, holidays and so on. Experiential learning in areas of interest can foster students’ motivation, one of the most important elements for self-guided lifelong learning. Such learning would have to be age- and knowledge-appropriate. For those leaning towards the health profession, for example, this type of learning and exposure to the workings of healthcare institutions can stimulate and enhance their interest. Experiential programmes are likely to be critical building blocks of education for the new generation, especially of junior college students and undergraduates. Such programmes are available in science and research — but in too few areas and too few locations for too few students.

This is part of a series on the way we learn. To read the other articles, visit tdy.sg/ comkrishnan.

A third and key element is the development of assessment systems that reflect the goals of teaching students to

ask questions, conduct their own research and follow their interests. The typical examination system is designed to assess knowledge, and a few are built to assess application of knowledge. But, at the core, it is still based on knowledge acquisition — and not on what is needed for the new century. The exams are evaluative and are given at the end of periods of study. Ultimately, they teach students to be good at taking exams (often by cramming). Rather, formative assessment tools have to be built to guide the development of lifelong learning. These are ongoing assessments to ask whether students are learning what they are supposed to; whether they are heading in the right direction, and what can be done to help them along. These methods do not replace current educational approaches but, when properly balanced, they can enhance and promote effective learning. Experiential learning becomes a vehicle for differentiating interest and competency, and thus promotes personalisation in education. All these are critical to the development of lifelong learning. In turn, they lead to a more productive knowledge economy. could examine why that is so. Or, is this a situation in which survey respondents from these groups tended to give the politically correct answers (that is, this is how we ought to conduct ourselves), rather than answers that are closer to their true feelings. In short, is there a gap between belief and action? Knowing the “right”answers must be accompanied by doing the right thing.

Sleepwalking to disharmony?


The survey consistently found that minority respondents, compared to Chinese respondents, held more positive attitudes towards embracing diversity, colour-blindness, inter-cultural understanding, social acceptance and cross-racial friendships. While minorities are more likely to be sensitive to issues surrounding diversity, relations can take on a new level if the majority ethnic Chinese community takes the lead in improving inter-ethnic understanding. Much less is at stake, and it’s always easier for the majority to reach out, as their actions are less likely to be seen as threatening or undermining the status quo. Given that three-quarters of the population are ethnic Chinese, it is crucial for Chinese-Singaporeans to appreciate that they may, unwittingly, be less sensitive of the interests, concerns, and fears of the minorities. Certain groups generally outperform others on the various measures in the survey. Attributes include being young, better educated, living in better housing types. If so, is there an age and class dimension to the ethnic state of play? Are some groups more predisposed to the desired behaviour for harmony? I am not so sure, and we

The survey makes it quite clear that, for most Singaporeans, race and religion still matters. But let us not be fixated by them. We all have multiple identities, with context determining when one identity is more relevant at any given time. Let us see, rather, how we can further strengthen our civic identity as Singaporeans — this must be the over-arching identity that takes precedence. Let us endeavour to appreciate and celebrate our commonalities, even as we manage the differences. The management of markers of race, language and religion in Singapore has been characterised by top-down, coercive control and preemptive strikes against threats to harmony. This control by the State should not result in our not taking personal responsibility for ensuring that diversity works for us. Let us strive to entrench equality, inclusiveness, non-discrimination and fair play as integral to what Singapore stands for.

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