If you can answer this P5 math question in less than five minutes, you probably had a good education

The above Primary 5 Math question, which was put up on Facebook by Singapore media personality Kenneth Kong, has gone viral, stirring a lot of debates since last Saturday. It took me more than 10 minutes staring at the computer screen like mad to understand the explanation so yea, I was not that smart and fortunate.

Mockingly, the fact is that I DID HAVE a good education. I went to the higher-ranked schools and was always in the top ten. I’d always gotten ”Excellent” behaviour for being decent in the class and respectful to teachers. I had always got it right, to the given educational standards at that time. I remembered my recent conversation with my mom, when I asked her why she sent me for overseas study while my sisters still stayed at home, she answered instantly: ”Cos your study results were good” Now that was the flaw, almost every Asian parents have a mindset that their kids should go for foreign study because their school results were GOOD! But I still can recall my first months in Ngee Ann Polytechnic, being drowned in the new language, new study styles, new way of teaching. I survived that three years but all I did was studying by heart lectures notes, without any critical thoughts about its application. What am I doing with it now? I have no idea. There was the huge difference between traditional and modern-days education. Traditional education focus on disciplines and subjects. But in this complex, changing and challenging world, that kind of knowledge would definitely not make a good preparation.

In 2007 at the International Conference on Thinking, Dr. Perkins asked entire audience a question: ”What do you believe are some of the most important knowledge and skills for students to learn toward our complex future?” Top theme answers were: communication, empathy, environment, ethics and self-understanding. The general notion from this is: in today complicated world, for the kinds of lives today’s learners like us are living, it’s important to develop skills and attitudes that address some very broad challenges. Dr. Perkins named those as twenty-first century skills. They are personal and interpersonal know-how of general importance to many aspects of life, helping people to better manage themselves in the workplace, parties, promotion dinners, etc. Just being a decent employee and following a routine no longer suffices to hold a good position.

Saying that does not mean the entire education system is failing, only in some places. I’m sure the math question above is a challenge for kids in Vietnam who are taught to follow rules in finding a solution, but it’s not that a big deal for kids, let’s say, in Finland, who are encouraged to use logical thinking and be creative. Kids in developed countries have the access to an adapting education system while we, from developing world do not have that privilege. Isn’t that unfair when the way your brain is shaped is very much dependent on your parents’ address? Education should be, and have to be a claim for global equality. It’s a flat world after all.