In Hong Kong, there has been a lot of talk about the failure of current education reforms. Parents blame the poor quality of teachers, students blame the pressures placed on them, teachers blame incompetent administrators and overly-demanding parents. Everyone is pointing the finger at someone else. We often hear that kids aren't learning today what they need to be successful tomorrow, because the education system is broken. So parents, who feel their children aren't getting the education they need, push their children into after-school tutorial classes. At the end of the day, many Hong Kong students end up doing double desk time, while learning less.
In all this discussion, I can't help thinking that we've lost sight of what learning is all about and forgotten who teachers really are. The most important thing about learning is that it's a life-long process; it's not about how many tests a student can ace or how many degrees a person earns. We should never get to the point where we think we have all the answers. In fact, it should be the opposite -- the more one learns, the more unanswered questions we find. So the most important teachers are the ones who can encourage that thirst for knowledge and learning. This is actually not something that needs to be taught; most young children have this already. The irony is that it is often in school that this curiosity and enthusiasm for learning is sapped. Students are often labeled as "difficult" if their minds wander and start asking too many questions that are outside of the hour's lesson plan. But those are probably the students who are most actively learning, because they are trying to grapple with the subject matter in their own way. Yet we should recognize that teachers have a difficult job to do, trying to juggle a classroom-full of 40 active minds. And they often have to do it within rather restrictive parameters. So we need to accept that schoolteachers cannot teach everything a student needs to learn.
Teachers, in fact, are not just the people who stand in front of a classroom. We often think that we can only learn from people who have been to well-known schools. But knowledge is everywhere for the taking and everyone has something to teach; it is simply a matter of whether we choose to recognize this. We place too much faith and responsibility in so-called experts to give us answers when the person next door without the degree from Harvard in all likelihood has something even more relevant and enlightening to contribute to our learning. Recently, I've been reminded of this in my conversations with a shopkeeper, a barrista and a mover. Each person tipped me off to something interesting, which made me question old assumptions. This is why it's so important to be with and engage in conversations with people who are seemingly different from us. FC lamented the fact that private schools in the Vancouver area are predominantly Chinese, and he saw this as a real obstacle in these Chinese-Canadians' education. "Chinese parents think they're too good for public schools, that their children will end up learning all the wrong things from these other seemingly less-privileged children. In reality, they're depriving their children of a real education." FC said.
So I need to thank BDL, who gets the teacher-of-the day award, for sparking off this post by sending me the incredibly inspiring video that follows of Professor Randy Pausch's last public lecture at Carnegie Mellon University entitled "Really Achieving Your Childhood Dreams" (It's over an hour-long, but it's well worth the time). His lecture, full of the kind of common sense that we all know but oftentimes find much harder to live by, so neatly sums up much of what I believe to be true.