You’ll probably be aware that people in this part of the world are reputed to be incredibly intelligent. There’s no denying it, what kids from Hong Kong or Taiwan can do vs what I could do at that age can be likened to Einstein and a plank of wood. There is no way that at the age of 3 I could speak any words in a different language, some days I still struggle to speak properly in English at the age of 23. I most certainly couldn’t play the piano, nor can I now, and I most certainly didn’t spend my free time in extra curricular classes.
In many ways, I feel jealous that these kids can make themselves well understood in a second or even third language at the age of 6, whilst I still regularly get hit with questions in Taiwan where my only answer is to shake my head and say I don’t understand. What a blessing it would be to have mastered what I am trying to master 10 years ago.
Being a teacher in Asia opens your eyes to a different method of education. Here, kids spend hours reciting and rewriting until what ever needs to be remembered has been remembered, and then another ten times at least – they’re smart, they’re overall very disciplined and their formative years sees them drowned in academia. The UK, on the other hand, doesn’t boast such a rigorous discipline. Education is reserved largely for school, apart from the sports clubs etc, and outside of that, the most a child is expected to do is their homework. I’d never ever return to the UK with the hope of becoming a teacher, because kids there just don’t have the same discipline in their learning – this of course is a wicked generalisation.
But, there are benefits to both education systems. This part of Asia churns out some unbelievably intelligent people – some of the best engineers, the best linguists and the best mathematicians – all of whom endured the rigorous, mind numbing, yet very effective education methods. The UK on the other hand churns out, and has always churned out, some of the best musicians, the best writers and the best creators. Maybe the UK’s kids have a little less discipline in the classroom, but I think this leaves room for something else to grow – a little bit of creativity.
I’m only speaking from my own experiences here, and I would never suggest that no kids here are overflowing with imagination, but overall, as a teacher it makes me kind of sad that I have to put so much effort in to getting a story out of my classes. Last week, I was teaching my kids First, next, then, after that and finally, and thought that it might bring it to life if they could write a comic strip. So, I went to the trouble of writing and drawing my own, about the adventures of Magic Morris (a boy in the class) and his efforts throughout the day to save an abundance of cats who seemed to get into all sorts of trouble. My kids loved it, they found it hilarious, but when the time came for them to write their own, 17/19 of them wrote the following: ‘First, I woke up / Next, I ate breakfast. / Then I went to school. / After that, I ate lunch. / Finally, I came here.’ – grammatically sound no doubt, so at least they had listened, but no imagination at all.
As for the two that did write something vaguely imaginative, one was about two kids in the class fighting each other and eventually blowing each other up, evidently written by a kid who is permitted to play too many video games, and the other was about how much he liked to eat cockroaches, and I can only hope that this one was from the imagination.
There have been instances like this popping up very regularly in the past two years teaching in Asia. Perhaps I should take into consideration that there is a language barrier, but I gave them a comic strip this time, so there only limitations were really with their own artistic talent – anything else we could have worked out together. I feel like, if you had given that task to me at the age of 9, I would have come up with something pretty awesome. I used to spend hours writing for my own enjoyment. Even in primary school, I remember I wrote this 20 page book that I’d got the inspiration for in a Christmas cracker – it was titled Minimum and was about this small mother who had inexplicably shrunk to the size of a thumb and her hobbies included surfing on plates and scuba diving in the fish tank. I think a lot of kids I knew had some pretty vivid imaginations growing up, and I have to admit that for all is faults, the British education system does a great job in not stifling them.
Having been a literature student, I’ve asked how much focus is placed on literature in school here. And of course, it is studied, but here kids are asked to write poetry out again and again, and remember it, and be told what it means and then write that down in a test, which in my opinion takes all the fun out of it – where is the interpretation? It was in my literature classes that books came to life – I remember my teachers told me it was okay to fall in love with characters. I wasn’t told to remember the exact words Heathcliff said, but how those words made me feel, or what kind of person he was, and your answer isn’t wrong. I remember one of my English teachers had an ‘I love Atticus T-shirt’ – don’t we all.
So on the one hand, I’d love to be as intellectually talented as these kids are. I would love to be able to play classical piano or speak a second language and have rigorously trained my brain to perform complicated mathematical equations despite having a real hatred of maths, but having a long list of talents isn’t everything.