Monday, 31 December 2007

Coverage Equity - Part 1

Are teachers obliged to cover every part of a syllabus?

When I was teaching in Hong Kong, I used to tell my students that "I teach things that won't be examined and I set questions which I have not taught" (教不考,考不教.) Of course, in an examination oriented system, I got lots of protests.

BUT, I can explain. I told my students that there is no way I can predict what will be set in a public examination (even for those serving as question setters, they should not let their students know the question in advance, right?) The only way I can teach them (my students) to be well prepared is not by teaching them how to answer "a" question. The best way is to teach them how to answer "any" question. So those that I used as examples in my lessons, I promise them that they will not appear in the papers that I set for their examination. (This explains the first half.) For those questions that I set for their examination, I won't discuss in class! That's the other half.

It is better to teach how to fish rather than just give them fish!

But the same proclamation has also protected me from not covering every part of a syllabus.

I always asked my students to come to my lesson "unprepared". They need to bring no textbook (unless I explicitly asked them to do so in the next lesson). They only need to bring a working brain, a rough sketch book, pen and ruler to my class. I emphasis on a working brain, explaining that "day-dreaming" brain is NOT a working brain in my class!

I believe science is a journey, a process of exploration and discovery, a joy in discovering something new about nature and the things surrounding us. I ask questions, get them focus on the issue at hand and ask them to find the answer.

Discovery and innovation are slow and expensive (compared to duplication or copying, - just simple transfer of information). Hence it is often the case that I can only cover that much of material in the allocated time.

It was over 15 years ago. My role as a teacher was still very much an information age keeper. Obviously some students would/should hate me. But in real life, I found that I was one of the most favorite teacher. When I walked into a class empty-handed, students would love the class. When I walked into the room with a textbook, they knew that I was forced to cover material, in a quick hurry!

Today, information is widely and freely available. Many a time, students could be more knowledgeable in a special area than the teacher. Teacher no longer is the information gate-keeper. What should be our role? Should we insist on covering every aspect of a syllabus (to give the students a more "balanced" perspective on the subject area)? Should we allow students to specialise into parts of a syllabus? How should an evaluation system be designed to meet the new reality?

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