Learning the brain game

Learning the brain game

Students and teachers both need a hand to improve their critical thinking skills

Last year, chief executive hopeful Henry Tang Ying-yen's comment on student protests exacerbating conflicts in society and resulting in situations like "a fatal car crash" stirred up heated discussion among Hongkongers.

Earlier this month, the same remark again caused debate. In one question, Diploma of Secondary Education students taking the new liberal studies practice papers were asked whether or not they agreed with Tang.

Many students complained that they were not able to answer the question because they had not read enough about the subject.

Yet a local educator thinks the problem lies deeper, and reflects a major flaw in the education system - the lack of critical thinking skills.

"I personally think it is a great examination question, requesting students to look at the issue from various angles, look for a focus and come up with arguments that are supported by facts; in other words to think with a critical mind," said Ricky Chan, chairman of the privately-run Association of Brain-based Learning in Education.

"It would be missing the point if the question simply tested students' ability to recite all the news related to the issue. But unfortunately reciting is what most candidates are doing and failing to display any skills in critical thinking."

Chan, and partner Anson Chen, are former secondary school teachers who are also internationally certified brain-based trainers. The two founded the association in 2005 and use advances in neuroscience as a basis for training local teachers and parents to improve their abilities. They focus on how human brains react to the physical, social and emotional learning environment.

To date they have trained 8,000 teachers and 20,000 parents, and introduced brain-based learning to more than 150 schools in Hong Kong.

"In the 21st century, where there is an abundance of information on the internet, there is no need to work on the ability to remember a lot of facts," Chan said.

"The key is to help students acquire skills in recognising relationships between pieces of information and how to make the most out of them."

Chan said students were often blamed for poor performance in certain subjects because they lacked talent or were not working hard. But this was not really their fault.

"It is the nature of the human brain not to remember things that are not related to the person," he said. "Local education offers more than 10 subjects, from mathematics to music. In many cases, students are not interested in every subject and this will result in poor performance. The key to arousing a student's interest is to relate the knowledge to their life."

Chan put forward a simple example of hosting an athletics meeting. "Students can learn about mathematics and physics through calculating the speed of the runners and learn language through writing encouraging slogans," he said. "It is a theme which they find relates to what they are doing in life rather than cutting up knowledge into different subjects."

To help students, parents and teachers learn more about brain-based learning, the association will host the Brain and Mind Expo 2012 from February 2 to 5 at the Kowloon International Trade and Exhibition Centre. Go to www.brainandmindexpo.com for more information

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