The Future of Education: but not as you know it
By: Tristan Pang, March 2014
It is a great honour to be here today. I know I am going to enjoy this opportunity to share with you my experiences and my thoughts on education which is a topic that really interests me.
But first, let me introduce myself…
I describe myself as a curious and fun loving 12-year-old. But for me, learning is an amusing game.
I attend Ficino School in Mt Eden where I’m in Year 8. I enjoy my school life and the responsibilities of being head boy. It might surprise you to know that I’m also a university maths student – but more on that shortly. At home, I work on my learning website and teach myself in multi-levels. I’m interested in pretty much everything; from the planets that make up the solar system to what makes a toilet flush!
I started reading fiction and non-fiction books independently before I was two years old. It was probably about this time, I became fascinated by patterns. I found that patterns are everywhere. Everything has their own unique pattern, even in nature, like petals on a flower. When I grew a little older, I found this type of patterning can be explained with maths – which is the Fibonacci sequence. In other words, I can see maths everywhere. It is very obvious and it makes sense to me.
I became very interested in mathematics from an early age. I kept exploring and discovering new concepts and the more I learned the more fascinated I became. Before I was five I covered all the available National Curriculum & NCEA maths books from Year 1 to Year 13.
When I was nine, I found that there was something called “private candidates” in the Cambridge International Exams. So I started sitting the exams and each year I moved up another level. I took the “IGCSE”, which is equivalent to NCEA Level 1, “AS” at age ten, which is equivalent to NCEA Level 2, and “A2” at eleven, which is equivalent to NCEA Level 3. I have earned the highest grades for all these exams.
I am now studying maths at the University of Auckland, which is actually my first time attending formal maths lessons as I’ve been teaching myself for the last eleven years. I really enjoy it. I am planning to be a full time student at the university next year. I am also self-studying some Cambridge Science and English subjects for sitting the exams later this year.
The most frequent question people ask me is: “What drives you to do this?” I think it’s my curiosity that drives me to explore knowledge, and my passion for knowledge that drives me to constantly challenge myself.
My Education Experience (self-analysis)
I would like to share my learning and thinking based on my own experience, in order to explain how my education has evolved…
1. In-depth vertical learning
As I mentioned before, I started my education pathway before I was two. I knew nothing about what year levels meant. I simply ignored them and kept exploring upwards in a very in-depth manner. When I was nearly five, I started to go through the maths topic strand by strand. The strands are: number, measurement, geometry, algebra, and statistics. When I finished the strand of “number”, from the year 1 book to the year 13 book, I then moved onto the strand of “geometry”, again, from year 1 book to year 13 book, and so on.
As a result of continually learning these topics strand by strand, it made me keen to keep moving upwards. This is just like when I read a story book, I just can’t stop reading and I’m always very keen to find out what comes next in the story. And because of this excitement, it meant I could finish all 13 books in a couple of weeks. I then had lots of time to strengthen my knowledge and skills on the harder topics.
When I self-study for an exam, I like to grasp the whole picture first. Take my Cambridge IGCSE Physics as an example. I spent one week to complete the whole year’s syllabus. In this way, I could know what was related. I then linked up the related material to form a strand. It made me do the research and target the key concepts more easily.
Likewise, this approach is also applied to all of my other subjects, including history, and geography, and other curriculum areas.
In the existing education system, the same topic is scattered over a number of years and jumps between topics. I know some of my friends find it hard to relate the topics to one another.
I found these scatterings and jumping into different topics like reading a chapter of a story book every year but you have to wait until next year to find out what happens next! As for me I like to enjoy a complete story or picture, and achieve a complete ending.
When dealing with my school level subjects, I normally spend extra hours to search more deeply and find out the reason behind the topic. For example, my school might only require us to spend one hour on a homework assignment but I normally spend an extra two hours researching the same topic for my own interest…. which is above and beyond the homework requirement. That way I feel like I have developed an in-depth understanding of the topic rather than just covering the basics.
2. Technology in Learning
When I do my self-learning, I use books but I admit I couldn’t have done as much as I have without the internet.
I believe that the 21st century is truly the digital age. It has fundamentally changed everything. Technology enables us to not only learn more, but to learn more effectively, and at our own pace.
We are so lucky that the government has prioritized schools to have UFB installed by 2016 at the latest.
If our schools embrace the e-learning global trend, I believe the education standard will be lifted significantly.
I saw this for myself when I recently visited and spoke to the students at Pt England Primary School. I was amazed to see every student eight years of age and above using netbooks even though this school is located in quite a low decile area. What they have achieved is a great example for other schools to follow.
Khan Academy, Massive Open Online Courses (or “MOOCs”) and “schools in the cloud” are attracting a growing level of support. When I got stuck with a question when I did my A-level maths, I watched Khan Academy’s video on the related topic and it was really helpful. I also enrolled into the MOOCs’ on some interesting courses. They are amazing.
I’ve just finished reading Sal Khan’s book “The One World Schoolhouse” which I really enjoyed.
It would be a great idea if more teachers adopted his “flipped classroom” model where students do the conceptual learning at home and class time is used for problem solving and discussion. We could watch our teachers’ pre-recorded videos, Khan Academy, TED ed videos, or even my own Tristan’s Learning Hub – which I’ll explain shortly. It’s fun for us to pause, rewind, mute, or fast forward our teachers as we wish. And at school, we do our homework with the teacher as the facilitator. We can find learning more interesting as we can take in a more active role.
With technology, everyone will be equal. We can choose to learn from any lecturer or teacher from any part of the world. This is the way we need to be thinking.
3. Flexibility, trust, encouragement, support
I am very lucky for I have already met many nice people who have given me flexibility, trust, encouragement, and support in my learning which has helped me a lot in pursuing my passion.
First of all, my school, Ficino, where I have been since year one. The school is deeply rooted in the values and teachings of Marsilio Ficino, a 15th century Renaissance philosopher. I enjoy philosophy and meditation and believe these are subjects that should be more widely embraced by all schools.
My headmaster, Mr. Crompton and the teachers at my school have never forced me to attend any maths classes. They trust me and let me do my self-studying during the maths lessons.
Then there’s Professor Eamonn O’Brien who heads the Maths Department at the University of Auckland. He is keen for the university to attract high-quality students and he helps me to thrive and be constantly challenged. He fully supported my enrolment in the university maths program; despite my age. Plus, I get to be his youngest student!
I like adults who are open-minded and support my passion for learning. I’m sure all kids would also like more adults to be like this too.
I feel even more excited about my future as, last year, I met my role model and mentor Andrew Patterson (RadioLive) who shares, advises, engages, and inspires me with a variety of topics.
He was my speech coach when I spoke at last year’s TEDx Youth event.
Andrew has helped me to develop a vision for my future, while offering a combination of support and challenge to help me in my quest to achieve that vision. For example, one of my goals is to help other people when I grow up. But Andrew made me realise that I don’t have to wait until I’m older. I should act now. The launching of my new website “Tristan’s Learning Hub” is a way for me to share my gift for learning with others.
Andrew shares his unique knowledge and talents in a way that I obviously cannot experience within the confines of the four walls of the classroom by bringing real-world learning to me. He opens the doors to the wider world for me.
With the help of technology, we don’t have to meet regularly. Whenever Andrew finds something useful for me, he will email me and the new piece of information or the challenge enables me to think or keep exploring for quite some time. We also Skype when coaching is needed.
He’s a bit like a help desk that I can go to when I need advice or direction.
In my opinion, mentorship is one of the best educational approaches for meeting the needs of the students, particularly gifted and talented learners.
5. Perfect school day / Self-learning Day
Of course, it can be a very long day for us from 8.30am (or some start at 9.00am) to 3.00pm. Then there’s sports practices, school homework and studies afterwards. It’s really difficult for me to find time to do some in-depth learning during the weekdays.
I always dream of a perfect school day, which is where schools would each specialise in different subjects for half a day every day. Students could attend half a day at school in the morning with their peers doing some interactive activities or lessons such as PE, drama, music etc…, then in the afternoon, students would attend academic lessons outside their own school at their own ability levels, or home-schooling. The academic lessons could be held by different schools or institutions grouped by geographic location. So for example in Mt Eden and Newmarket areas, in the afternoon, Ficino School could runs all levels maths, Mt Eden School runs English, Auckland Grammar School runs science, St Peter College runs history, The Mind Lab runs ICT…etc. Everyone can meet their own learning and social needs from the morning school and afternoon school, irrespective of their age.
In fact, I’ve never understood why students are grouped together by age. It should be based on their ability.
The schools could specialise in a specific academic subject and the in-depth learning can be applied here. Schools would work together to achieve a common goal, and children get to work at their own pace and will also have a sense of being part of a big community.
A self-learning day in a week is also an excellent alternative I would like to see implemented. At the moment, I have a self-learning day which is on Saturday or Sunday. This is an important and very enjoyable day for me allowing me to explore something deep or something new. If we were to have a self-learning day, say on Friday at school, everyone can take this day to consolidate the whole week’s learning, plus explore something of their own interest at their own pace. I believe this is the way gifted and talented children like to explore knowledge themselves.
As students, we all have something that we’re really passionate about and yet all too often those passions are not able to be properly explored within a typical classroom setting.
This idea of a self-learning day would also allow our busy teachers to have an extra day for preparing lessons and checking our homework.
5. Peer to Peer Learning
In my university maths lesson, there is a two hour lecture and a half hour student-led tutorial. We are expected to solve the problems given with a group of not more than 3 other students. All members of each group must discuss the problems vigorously. We have to help everyone in the group to have full understanding of the mathematics involved.
I think peer to peer learning is an effective way of learning. We learn from each other while interacting. Our ideas can flow freely without the fear of making mistakes. I think this is not only effective for university students but also the students at high school and primary schools. And it’s not only restricted to the classroom but also creates a virtual platform where we can generate ideas with people around the world.
I believe that in-depth vertical learning, technology learning and “Peer to Peer” learning are the effective tools that allow children to really excel. Based on this thinking, I am officially launching this weekend a website entitled Tristan’s Learning Hub (http://www.tristanslearninghub.org) for age 0-15 to coincide with this festival.
Would you like to see it?
As you can see I go through maths topics strand by strand using videos. So in the example you saw I start off with a topic such as triangles, then I progress up this strand and cap it off with trigonometry. This was the way I explored maths as I mentioned earlier. The learners will be surprised how quickly and how easily they can grasp the concept by adopting this vertical approach of learning. This is the reason why I didn’t specify the year levels in my videos to remove the learners’ psychological barriers.
My bigger goal is to help the students in the Less Economically Developed Country using this website. I want everyone in the world to be equal when it comes to education.
Finally, I like our education system. It’s very balanced in its approach: academic, sports, music, personal development are equally weighted. But I’m a bit greedy! I want to have a better NZ and a better quality of life for everyone in the future. I believe education is crucial to achieving this goal. With higher education, people can earn their own living and be more responsible citizens.
Everyone has the opportunity to contribute to this goal.
At 12, I’m already trying to make a contribution. Others may start later but perhaps in the future someone might even start earlier than me. I hope so.
What’s important is that we all have a responsibility and an obligation to support education.
There’s an old African proverb that says “it takes a village to raise a child.”
In my village I’ve been very fortunate to have lots of people support me in my education.
Today, I represent all the other children in this country who want that same opportunity for themselves.
My hope is that we can all work together to deliver that opportunity for them.
That’s the challenge I want to leave you with today….