Saturday, 16 May 2009

Are you smarter than a 5th grader?

There’s a US TV reality show called “Are you smarter than a 5th grader ?” In this game, adult contestants make a fool of themselves trying to answer questions from 1st to 5th grade in schools. They mostly fail and prove publicly that they are not smarter than a 5th grader.

I am concluding my current posts on education, with a non business post on something that’s intrigued me.

Two questions come to mind. First an obvious one and the second, perhaps a not so obvious one. Firstly the obvious one - Why does an adult willingly subject himself to shame by being proved on TV to be less smarter than a 5th grader ?

But the question that is more intriguing for me is – Why are 5th graders being taught stuff that honest adult Americans don’t know and  have no use for in real life .

I am amazed at the sort of stuff taught in schools. I think the educational system has completely missed the revolution in our lives that the internet has caused and is still sticking with an outdated concept of education.

In the good old days, information could never be easily found. It had to therefore be learnt and memorized. Hence learning of factual information was the most important objective of education. A student who knew his facts was much better off than one who didn’t. Therefore cram as much of information as possible into a student’s head.

Today, factual information is easily accessible. You don’t need to know it; you only need to know how to find it. One word is all you need to know. Google. Therefore the objective of education must shift to teaching morals, values, how to access information, how to use information and how to make judgments and decisions and how to communicate. For example learning languages is much more important now than it was years ago. In today’s world it’s a huge advantage if you are fluent in the three most important languages in the world – English, Spanish and Mandarin.

Sure a fair degree of factual information is required to be learnt (and crammed), but a lot less than what is currently done.

My daughter is a third grader. Here are some of the stuff she is learning

  • The difference between a farthingale and a bumroll worn in the early Tudor period (3rd grade history)
  • Explain scientifically why a chapatti puffs up (1st grade science)
  • Where is Bubastis (3rd grade geography).
  • What is a punctuation pyramid (3rd grade English)
  • Explain the difference between trapezium and rhombus (kingergarten maths believe it or not)

If you scored 0 out of 5, welcome to the club !


aparna said...

when u wrote Obsolote Manager, it sort of led on to Acadamecians and Managers and my questions were answered. Then you did teaching and now this post and again my questions there are answered here..thanks.. btw hope the great wall crumbles soon and we get too see your posts.. take care till then

le embrouille blogueur said...

Ramesh ..did you know that there is an Indian version of this show hosted by none other than SRK.How do you think that sits with the average Indian?

Preeti Shenoy said...

You have rightly said it and said it very well indeed. What they also need to be taught is to sift information. To see for themselves what is valid and what is not and that everything you read on google isn't right. There was this in teresting experiment carried out where ridiculous and completely made up facts were put on a web-site. The candidates were asked to process that information and even though their common sense told them that what they were reading wasn't possible, the majority of them opted to believe google.
Shocked at what your daughter is learning!

Ravi Rajagopalan said...

I have to disagree. In principle, we should move with the times and take note of the role technology plays in retrieving information. In practice, we have to reconcile convenience with the purpose of education. IMHO, education serves to transmit cultural information and a sense of time - that we did not always live like this, and certain semiotic markers are essential to delineate our modern universe. Without these markets, accessing Google will result in a mere stream of data that could be meaningless. Your view of education as a strictly utilitarian process does not produce rounded human beings. Given that your girl goes to a British School meant mainly for British expats explains why she is learning about farthingales - but I would hope that it teaches her (or that someone teaches her) that it is to show that we dressed differently in Britain centuries ago, and why that is the case. Perhaps it is the fault of teachers who do not bring imagination to the classroom.

Ahivas said...

Loved this post, as well!! Most of us, esp in India are lured to believe that one who scores high are intelligent. But in an educational system like ours, only a memorizing ability is sufficient. Teachers need to get creative and the syllabus must set the kid into thinking- which, does not happen, atleast for now!

Ramesh said...

@athivas - Very right. Life teaches you, isn't it. Knowledge is all fine, but judgement, values, breadth of understanding are all more important. Wish our schools just let go of stuffing so much facts into memory.

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