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Learning The Fun Way

May 16, 2010

Growing up in “kiasu” Singapore, ironically, I never had to struggle or burn midnight oil to compete academically.  I was brought up by a family where majority has education less than that Pre-Us or Polytechnics.  And since my grandma (main guidance) is illiterate, I signed my own report card.  Also the people I mixed with from Primary school to Army Days,  were mainly Ah Bengs and Ah Lians.  So everytime during exams and finals, my attitude is the same of that of my friends.

“Fail, fail lah.  What the heck!  Just go find a job!”

And with this attitude, it’s almost the similar to “losing” a son.  But on the other hand, there is no “kiasu” academic pressure within the family.  I have to admit the pressure from the peers (classmates, not friends) was very intense.  The teachers were no less pressurising.  Most Singaporeans can relate to Ee Lin See’s book:

Everywhere I go, I see Ten-Year series.  In my secondary school, some students started their ‘O’ level 10-year series as early as Sec 3.  In any book store I browse, there is a section devoted to 10-year series (especially my neighbourhood Popular Book Store, 1970s and 1980s).  I dreaded this a lot.  I even asked the best student in Gan Eng Seng, “Why do we have to memorise all these verses on Shakespeare for Literature?”  His answer was simple but I forgot exactly what he said.  It’s something like “Bo Bian” 无便? (we have to do it, what options do we have).  Naturally, I failed literature in Sec 3 and Sec 4 (although later during my Army days, I loved the subject a lot and spent hours discussing the characters in Tempest, Julius Caesar, and even “To Kill a Mocking Bird” with my friend Eng Kiat ).  I especially disliked the expatriate teachers who taught this class.  In ‘O’ level, I got a D7 or something lower.  Every exam, I will escape from the “scenario” and sun-tan by the beach or gate crash people’s birthday parties.  Of course, people I hangout with were not my classmates.

And so, I grew up in a pressure cooker without having to burn a single day of midnight oil.  It’s almost like I fell through the cracks in the Singapore school system.  The only time I DID NOT sleep a full eight hours, was because I engaged myself in a game of “Tong Siao” 通宵 Mahjong.

But I have to say my learning never stops.  Thanks to the good (and free) education I received, my curious mind never stopped asking questions.  I was especially interested in Physics.  The one that “haunted” me most was “Michael Faraday’s Experiment” in secondary school, the one that you have to move a magnet and an electric current was observed in a wire.  It’s like the magnet was a ghost.  I was so fascinated by it, I never quit asking myself why the magnet cause a current and why the current followed the right-hand screw rule.  I also went on to resolve the complicated Mathematics behind it which is not covered until the university (because it involved partial differential equations).  The very famous Maxwell’s equations says it all (E is electric vector and B is magnetic field vector. The equations on the left column is the same as that on the right, only in different form):

\displaystyle\oint{\vec{E}\cdot d\vec{s}} =-\frac{d \phi_B}{dt} \qquad \oint{\vec{B}\cdot d\vec{s}}=\mu_0 i_{enc}

Last week, my daughter asked me why electricity and magnets are related.  She is never allowed to touch an electrical socket at home.  But because she can read like a Primary 3 or 6 kid, she learnt all these by reading her “Magic School Bus”.  She even used the word “electro-magnetism”.  I almost wanted to bring out an ammeter or a multi-meter and  use the fridge magnet and showed her the Faraday’s experiment that once inspired me.  Then something held me back.  She’s only five (Did I actually think she can learn the differential operator “∇” and the closed line integral “∫”?  I must be out of my mind!).  She just sounded like she’s thirteen, but her mind still enjoys Elmo and cookie monster.  I wish she could be free from any academic pressure until she is nine or ten.  And I wish her learning never stops.

In Singapore, even at the age of three, friends and family members frowned at why we never send her to school and kept asking “Why you never send her to school yet, ah?  You must send her to school to learn something”  I think in my next trip, for that similar question, I’m going to just say, “No need lah, next year she will officially start kindergarten, already.”

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