Experiential learning may sound like a big word. In reality, most of us parents have benefited greatly from experiential learning ourselves. As kids living in a world without smartphones, PCs and other consumer electronics, we kept ourselves thoroughly entertained through a staple of games such as zero-point, five-stones, marbles, hopscotch, kuti-kuti and chapteh. They offered oodles of fun for hours and hours, and kept us out of our parents’ hair.
Exactly what did we learn from those games? Apart from improving our physical motor skills and reflexes, we gained a number of intrinsic life skills. For starters, we learned that games are more fun if more players are present. And with more players comes the need to manage, coordinate, and succeed together as teams.
We learned science through our interaction with nature. How to angle our shot to knock as many of the other guys’ marbles as possible out of the ring. How to throw the stone higher so we can pick up more stones before it lands. How to shape our kite aerodynamically so that it will fly the highest.
We learned strategy through our interaction with each other. How to work together to drive fish into our nets while fishing in longkangs. How to arrange our cards and put on a poker face to goad the other guy to pick that “Old Maid” card. How to negotiate with players to acquire that missing property card or Railway tracks in Monopoly.
Yet, learning how to learn is perhaps the most important skill we picked up unconsciously as kids. Necessity is the mother of all inventions. We invented games using nothing more than commonly available resources such as paper, cloth, rubber-bands, sticks, seeds and stones. To us, a bottle-cap is not trash, but a deadly kuti-kuti that will devour our rivals’ bottle-caps. A rubber-band is not only for tying up food, but it can be used to form ropes, work as catapults, and perform magic tricks.
These critical learning skills have somehow fell by the roadside in recent years, overshadowed by the focus on academic results. Parents tend to resort to “quick wins”, sending their children to tuition that can directly impact grades by addressing their weaknesses with methods, terms and definitions in each subject.
The question is, does the ability to do well in examinations truly reflect the understanding of the child in the subject? Or is it merely a measure of how well the child can memorise the facts and information, and apply them in the way as prescribed by teachers? And what happens when parents stop helping their children with their studies? Would the children be able to set and drive towards their own targets on their own steam?
Understanding the logic behind concepts is fundamental to the development of knowledge. After all, knowledge is “know-how”, or the application of facts to create new knowledge. And the best way to understand logic is to experience it for ourselves. For instance, we cannot learn to swim or to ride a bicycle by simply reading a book of facts. We have to actually experience the water to overcome our fear of drowning or falling. And once we have learnt these skills, they stay with us for a lifetime. We don’t forget what we learn through our own experiences.
For this reason, I am encouraged when educators go beyond simply cramming kids with facts, and attempt to get the children to understand the logic behind concepts. This can be difficult to do, since explaining the logic itself could be too complex, time-consuming, and dry. For example, how do we explain “Newton’s First Law of Motion” to a child? It will be unproductive to use words to describe momentum and direction of forces, words that are meaningless to the child. Yet every child who has played with marbles before knows that stationary marbles will richocet in a definite direction if hit by another marble thrown in a specific direction and with a specific amount of strength. It is therefore a matter of demonstrating the process and allowing the child to experiment to perfect his understanding.
Not many educators have the skills to do this kind of teaching. To address this, a local company, LogicMills, has devoted the last 7 years in developing a comprehensive programme that focuses on training children on problem-solving skills.
With over 600 unique activities specially tailored to help children understand fundamental concepts in Mathematics, Science and English, the programme goes back to the basics of teaching children to learn how to learn. Activities include a large variety of board games and fun tasks designed to engage children and allow them to have hands-on experience with concepts instead of drowning them with facts.
What impresses me most is the fact that LogicMill’s pedagogy has been tried and validated in a number of Primary schools, which reported a significant positive correlation between children that went through the programme and improved grades. The programme has been crafted by Professor Nowacki, who has published a number of books and papers on philosophy and practice of education. In my interaction with the Professor, he comes across as a most passionate educator on a mission to try to bring life skills back into focus in Singapore’s education.
To me, that is the most important change that I would like to see. Bring Singapore’s education back into equilibrium. Let our children learn to understand and create new knowledge, instead of passively acquiring knowledge.