So I’ve been attending Republic Polytechnic’s Problem-Based Learning (PBL) Symposium 2017 over the last three days and there are a few things that struck me. From what many of the speakers shared, it’s evident that learning in the 21st century is moving towards students learning at their own pace, agenda and their own terms. This shift is the result of one major technological shift- the increase in ability to transmit larger amounts of data across the web at ever greater speeds.

This shouldn’t come as a surprise. After all, when I was growing up, the internet was already born. However, at that time, computer processing speeds, internet speeds, and bandwidth only allowed for text and images to be transmitted quickly via the web. These days, even video files can be streamed no, or at most, minor lags. Advances in technology have also led to a proliferation of smartphones which essentially has put a computer in everyone’s pocket.

What all this means is that students have access to all the information they need and then some more. In other words, they don’t really need teachers just for the information. Pushing content to students is something totally redundant. What role then, are we teachers supposed to play?

The answer to that question is not easy. We also have to deal with ‘The System’- a complicated mix of legacy- teaching philosophies and practices passed down through generations of teachers. On the last day of the symposium, I learned about ‘Productive Failure’, which is about getting students to work on problems that are designed to get students to think about solutions to a problem that they have no prior knowledge of the solution for. The teacher then acts a facilitator to keep teasing feasible solutions out of the student and finally, the teacher should bring all of the students’ solutions together to show how they were working towards the body of formal knowledge already known. Throughout Dr Manu Kapur’s sharing on productive failure, the one thing that was constantly emphasized was that students need to be allowed to fail in class.By failure, he didn’t mean that students should be left to get things wrong and that be the end. By failure, he meant that students need to be given the space to think of their own solutions to problems, the room to reflect and deliberate on what parts are feasible and what parts are not, and then

By failure, he didn’t mean that students should be left to get things wrong and that be the end. By failure, he meant that students need to be given the space to think of their own solutions to problems, the room to reflect and deliberate on what parts are feasible and what parts are not, and also to share and collaborate on what works and what does not before teachers lead them to the right answer. Many teachers I know go straight to the right way of doing things and leave out any exploration in between. And rightly so because the emphasis from the top seems to be on pass rates and exam scores. If exam scores are down, us teachers get asked how we can get improvement from the students. If exam scores are up, we get asked how we caused an improvement. Why do top management do this? Simply because these are visible and easily measured. These are also the things that count because students depend on their GPA for admission into universities. In short, the focus in schools is very much on the short-term outcomes.

I’m not saying that the short-term outcomes aren’t important. I’m saying that we shouldn’t solely focus on short-term outcomes in a world that is advancing and changing rapidly because teaching skills is easy and meet immediate needs. However, in a rapidly changing world, skills get obsolete very quick. It’s much better to inculcate curiosity and the ability to come up with new insights and solutions which prepare people better for the future.

In short, I thought it was going to be a pain having to dedicate three days of working time to this event but I’m glad I did because it gave me new insights. I don’t have the solutions yet but a path to action only becomes possible where one is aware that the current path needs adjustment.

 

 

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