Vital to 'think outside the box'

Vital to 'think outside the box'
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Around the world, including here in Hong Kong, can too often be observed an uninspiring selection of subjects that our children are forced to study at school.

A contributing factor to this is the fact that when today's school teachers were pupils (and later college students) this was the only world many of them experienced.

This would not be a problem, were our systems of education required simply to churn out successive generations of school teachers.

However, since only a relatively small proportion of school-leavers ever want to return to the school environment for a career, later on, most of them should be - but often are not being - better prepared at school for life in the wider world, beyond the confines of the school gates.

For example, all schools instruct their students at length on how to write an essay. After leaving school or college, how many of us have again ever had to write an essay?

The development of this esoteric skill of essay writing is completely irrelevant to any writing they may later need to do in the real-world workplace after graduation. A more useful writing skill would be to teach older pupils how to compose a job application letter and a CV.

In these days when every young person has an i-Phone almost permanently in his or her hand, that little device can be used to do all sorts of mathematical calculations. So the old-fashioned study of long division, etc, becomes simply irrelevant to any later math calculations which need to be done.

True enough, certain important skills are much developed by someone gaining knowledge of the best approach through trial and error, learning from his own experience. But that is not to say that they should remain completely unaddressed in the classroom.

At least some (more) input at school level could be usefully provided, as a base upon which later life experiences will help to build up such important skills.

I am thinking of such topics as how best to select an appropriate career path; how to apply for a job (including how to do your best at an interview); how to perform your job duties in a way that helps you to retain the job, and even get promoted; how to manage your personal finances; how to manage your time effectively (vastly important in this frantically busy city of Hong Kong); how to be an effective parent yourself one day (important, as with Hong Kong's low birthrate, most parents have but one chance to develop that skill); how to get a life partner - and how to keep him or her for a lifetime; and perhaps, most important, how to be resilient to the problems which come up in anyone's lifetime; and how to be happy.

On the health front, useful topics to be covered in greater depth could include how to eat healthily; how to keep fit; how to avoid becoming dependent upon nicotine, tobacco or other mind-altering substances; how to administer first aid if you are at the scene of an accident, and much else besides.

Chinese students have a well-earned reputation for effective cramming, often doing well in passing those too-regular artificial exams so beloved by school teachers - but having so little relevance to the real world outside school.

Just because you may have a retentive memory does not mean you will automatically do well in a job later on. And, in any case, most of the materials studied for school exams are almost instantly forgotten afterwards: So what is the point?

These days, you can swiftly find out almost anything you may need to know by an internet search, making it much less important to have to remember facts (such as the details of historical events) presented at school.

What Hong Kong and other dynamic cities will need in future are young people who are innovative, resourceful, resilient and who can take forward the entrepreneurial spirit of this great city with their business acumen.

It is no coincidence that many of our current business innovators may be far from learned, in the narrow academic sense. Rather, these self-starters have motivated themselves to learn from trial and error how to succeed in business. The more a pupil is forced to cram for exams, the less original his thinking is likely to be.

Helping young people develop the power to "think outside the box" would be far more useful than having them sit for endless quizzes, school exams or to write hundreds of essays while at school.

For all these reasons, and more, the school curriculum should be broadened to make the long years spent at the school desk as relevant, productive and useful to a future lifetime's needs as possible.

The writer has worked at many universities, in Hong Kong and around the world.

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