Effective learning is not based on grades

For too long, Singapore education has been determined by one-dimensional thinking, predominantly based on the perception that examination grade achievements are the only reliable measure of future success (Be bold and take in all uni students through aptitude-based admissions; March 16).

We have erroneously assumed that what was true in a bygone era, where colonial education was geared to feed the civil service, is still valid for a diverse economy today.

We also mistakenly think that exam scores indicate one's capacity to learn.

But we see very few people go on to excel in areas that they excelled in when they were in school.

Rather, those who succeed are those who have learnt how to learn.

According to American educator Malcolm Knowles, there are several characteristics of effective learning:

  • Self-direction and autonomy. The student is actively involved in the learning process, and makes choices relevant to his learning interest and objectives.
  • Use of knowledge and life experiences. Teachers positively encourage learners to connect their past learning and experiences with current knowledge and activities, forming a more complete picture or understanding of their learning experiences.
  • Being goal-directed. Motivation is enhanced when there is a clear goal or purpose for learning.
  • Relevance to life. This enhances motivation to learn.
  • Applicable and useful. Theories become meaningful when applied to real problems.
  • Encouraging collaboration. Learning is not an isolated activity but pervasive through interactions and collaborations with others. Teaching one another becomes a great and fun way to learn, because students learn to respect one another's strengths and weaknesses.

We should emphasise and develop these characteristics in our students as we attempt to restructure the education of the young and the re-education of the not-so-young.

Thomas Lee Hock Seng (Dr)

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 21, 2017, with the headline 'Effective learning is not based on grades'. Print Edition | Subscribe