Monday 5 March 2018

Study for marks or for learning?

This post is self-contained, but if you interested in the backstory, you may want read Sillyinvestor's recent post and especially the comment exchanges between LP and him:

Teach the subjects or teach children?

LP is a full-time tutor while sillyinvestor is endangered species in Singapore - Singaporean teacher in Chinese language, and male somemore! 

I would like to add to their conversation by sharing from my perspective - the student who can't make it... 


I do like to read history.

I've always loved to listen and read stories as a child. And there were lots of interesting stories in history for me to discover!

I remember during Sec 1, during our first history test, I was first in my class. I guess my classmates were not familiar with the new essay format of answering? I never had problems with england compositions. Wink.

Well, once they found out the secret of doing well for history tests and exams was rote learning, I quickly fell to the bottom of the barrel. 

I don't study history for exams; I read history for enjoyment.

I got F9 in history for O' levels.

I've not stopped reading history even after leaving school.

Buddhism study

A few years back, I signed up for this 3 year Buddhism course in Mandarin at the Bright Hill Temple. 

The first year was super fun as our dharma teacher is quite a maverick!

She never stuck to the prepared notes, often veering off into storytelling about her life, her study at Sri Lanka for her degree in Buddhsim, and most interesting of all, her frequent "poking" of our class:

1.  Converting to Buddhism (皈依) is not a passport. If anything else, its more "onerous" as karma will bite even harder when you break your vows! 

2.  Learning Buddhism to cultivate yourself (学佛) is not the same as "parroting" Buddhsim (拜佛).

3.  And lots of other interesting "pokes" that flew over the heads for the majority of the class...

Unfortunately, she left abruptly during the 1st semester of year 2. Her replacement just read off the prepared powerpoints and notes.

I dropped out of the Buddhism class.

I did not end my cultivation. 

Study for who and what?

When we take up a baking class or a workshop for investing in our personal capacity and not "coerced" by anyone, are we really after that piece of paper? Do marks or grades matter? 

However, if you are now an ITE student taking up a baking class, or a business finance student in poly or uni, all of sudden, marks, grades, paper qualifications matter a lot!?

Gee. And you wonder why?

Perhaps that's why some of us find life after leaving school a lot harder and daunting... Hence we will find every "excuse" to return back to school to "escape".

Just like the many in our community who seek financial freedom to "escape".

Life is easier if we know why we want to get up in the mornings.

The alternative could be the Thomas Edison way of discovering what you really want, or what Singaporean Hokkiens would say, "Crash got sound!"



  1. Ignore key KPIs for too long as employees don't last very long unless one is lucky to have boss who is already FI.

    1. CW,

      That's why they say A students become professors, B students becomes CEOs, and C students become business owners ;)

  2. I have a similar situation. I took general studies in Chinese. It's a Chinese GP paper and is a extra subject with no tangible use.

    My grades were not good, so.many asking me why I am doing all these for. I like the tutor talking about the political and current affairs. He was a good speaker.

    There are only 5 pupils, he remind us we are 20% each. He told us if we dun even get B 3 for AO CL, we have to drop the extra subject. I got B4. Was disappointed. I ask if I could just in the class and listen but dun take exam.

    He laughed and give me a pat. Later I realise it is just a bluff and he continued to teach without saying much

    We had retake of exam, this time I got anA1 and the rest of the class still gotten B3? He is a straight heart person, he claim a loud how is it possible that I could get A1 and so so still get B3.

    But no hard feelings, I still like and respect him a lot and we still chat when we meet each other in our career

    1. Sillyinvestor,

      Focus on what you can control and influence.

      There will be some students like me in your class. Just because we don't do well in exams does not automatically mean your teaching methods or techniques have "failed" ;)

      This post is my way of cheerleading you on!

      My ex-colleague did went to one of those "hothousing" tutoring programs in Singapore during her youth.

      Ya, her grades did improve, but that experience scarred her so much that she promised herself never to do this to her own 3 children...

      She passed exams, she learnt nothing.

  3. Btw, smol

    At tender age of 12 and below, how many of them do you think have Intrinsic motivation, or burning interest?

    Yes, we could killed them with our attitude or over drill. But meeting them search got discovery is not my idea of joy of learning.

    Mine is ownership and sense of accomplishment

    1. sillyinvestor,


      What's the purpose of learning a language?

      Just look at our community. Who else writes blog posts in Chinese like you and me?

      How many have read the Chinese newspaper since leaving school?

      If you want to know the headwinds, just casually find out how many of your students speak Mandarin at home?

      That's why there are 2 perspectives like what I've shared about baking.

      If we learn baking to make bread, we just care how our bread turned out.

      But if we are studying or teaching baking because it's our "duty" as a student or teacher, then its like what CW has said - you have KPIs over your heads!

      If you were teaching in elite or top schools, you don't have to worry about motivation, sense of ownership, or anything. The students already have them in abundance!

      Joy of learning is inside out or outside in?

      You know, I know.

  4. Hi SMOL,

    Late reply, haha, don't know where I am the last week..

    I've a student who can't make it for Chinese. But he is very proficient in Japanese. Why? Need to learn on his own to understand the manga or anime better. The purpose is clear, motivation is self directed and intrinsic, hence the result is clear too. For chinese, it's not so. Other than the heritage reasons, and the reason that 'next time it'll be useful in work', it's not so clear. Definitely extrinsic, if any.

    As a tutor, while I try to make them understand that in life, they also have to do the things they don't like in order to do the things they like, I also have to reflect whether I'm making the subject interesting and relevant to them.

    So it's a 2 way fight between utility and interest. There is a small intersection where interest meets utility though haha

    1. LP,

      I founnd your conversation with sillyinvestor very interesting!

      So added my perspective from my own "can't make it" side.

      The student and teacher, once they recognise the student is a penguin, can relax and no need to stress why the penguin can't fly when he's a bird!?

      Brutal reality is that in a sea of statistics and KPIs, the individual is "lost"...

      The teacher who got an elite class full of young eagles is not differentiated with the teacher who got a class full of penguins, kiwis, ostriches; etc.

      And the poor penguin goes through life thinking he's a "failure" until he discovered water!

      Hey! He can FLY underwater!!!

    2. Hi SMOL,

      It's true... unfortunately, in our jungle of a classroom, everyone is treated as one single animal even though he/she might not be.

      I don't aim to change society, but for my son, I'll have to do it my way before he enters school haha :)

    3. LP,

      That's why I'm not a bleeding heart.

      I focus on myself. Me, me, me!

      Where got time to worry about others when it wasn't so long ago that I discovered I can FLY underwater :)

      I am lucky that I grew up in a laissez-faire upbringing (sugar coated way of saying my parents didn't cared).

      Thanks to them, I have all the room and space to discover many things for myself.

      Who am I?

      Why am I here?

      What should I do with my life?


      Yup. If the foundation at home is strong, school will do less damage to your son ;)


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