Students must learn to read between the lines

Senior education correspondent Sandra Davie rightly points out that our landscape is changing rapidly and traditional lines are blurring ("Education: Teaching 21st century skills"; last Sunday).

The idea of learning spaces without classrooms and unconventional yet successful business approaches are increasingly prevalent here.

The recent brouhaha about the unconventional PSLE question on the weight of $1 coins reveals how unprepared young learners may be for the road ahead ("An informed estimate is worth its weight in coins"; Oct 9).

Besides the need to work in teams and connect with people from other cultures, students need to learn to read between the lines.

Often, it is easier to take what is taught in class at face value. To raise challenges and ask to know more is seen as taboo and irrelevant. That this results in memory work and regurgitation is not a surprise, because in order to understand knowledge truly and internalise skills, students need to learn the basis and rationale behind what they are learning.

Tackling unconventional questions requires a firm grasp of the same set of foundational skills and knowledge underlying both the foreign question and familiar ones.

Students need to be encouraged to be "cheeky" learners, ready to question and challenge, eager to understand the basis behind what is taught. This will inevitably lead to a teacher levelling up to ensure that he "knows his stuff". Essentially, both teacher and student will level up together as co-learners.

The Ministry of Education has emphasised that for young people to go further in their chosen careers, "this must be combined with deep skills and on-the-job experience".

One of these deep skills is socio-emotional processing, which empowers students to understand and manage their emotions, show empathy for others and solve problems constructively. This is lacking in our education system.

Making out the meaning of circumstances is not just a cognitive process. It requires an awareness of one's own attitudes and conviction, and also how others are feeling. Students are writing essays lacking conviction, and penning narratives lacking emotion. Our education system needs to put emphasis on helping students find conviction and understand emotions.

Essentially, learning to read between the lines is not just about success; it is about finding greater meaning and purpose in life, especially in a world where lines are blurring and clear directions are lacking.

Darrell Tan Yong Harn

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on November 01, 2015, with the headline 'Students must learn to read between the lines'. Print Edition | Subscribe