Forum: Teaching kids concepts is different from getting them to ace exams

Looking at Mr Yap Chee Wee's letter, Revamp Maths Textbook, Improve Syllabus (Feb 10),

I think he is saying that the mathematics textbook and how the subject is taught in school do not adequately prepare his child to do well in exams.

He says it is the tuition centres which excel in this aspect.

I can understand where he is coming from. But that is where we can do more harm than good to the child.

Generally, tuition centres are good at getting pupils to practise. They summarise a topic in a few pertinent steps, and drill the children in them.

In this way, one can achieve results quickly, even if one doesn't fully understand the underlying concepts.

This is not helped by parents who want to see results quickly. At the end of each major school exam, dissatisfied parents will look for another tuition centre.

Children pass their exams but forget what has been drilled into them. Worse still, it takes away the joy of learning and the spirit of inquiry.

The mathematics textbook and classroom lessons, on the other hand, are geared towards teaching for understanding. In school, teachers often use counting beans, fraction bars, clocks and other creative ways to teach concepts, which can be time-consuming.

Only when children have an understanding of concepts should they go on to solve mechanical sums. Otherwise, the teacher is short-changing the student; he may know how to solve the sum, but he will not be able to apply the concept.

With a good foundation, the student can challenge himself with more complicated sums and, with more practice, ace the exam.

Tuition centres build on the foundation laid in schools. However, despite the efforts of schoolteachers, many students still do not understand basic concepts.

If the child does not have a good understanding of concepts, hot-housing him for quick results is harmful. Conversely, a child who has grasped the concepts can excel with more practice, and tuition centres can thus be beneficial.

I have been teaching mathematics in primary school for more than a decade, and I know that all the topics stated in the contents page of approved textbooks from Primary 1 to Primary 6 can be tested.

As a society, we put a lot of emphasis on school grades, sometimes to the detriment of our children. I look forward to the day when emphasis shifts to learning, rather than just mere grades.

Foong Swee Fong

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