by Khairy Farhan

To them, there is no purpose – and we’re to blame. 

In my experience and after much conflict in my own reflection to better the effectiveness of my teaching, I have found that one of the root causes of the lack of motivation in students to be self-directed and independent learners is the lack or absence of an authentic purpose in learners.

In other words, they do not understand, do not know or were not told about the reason why they are studying. In cases where they are provided with a reason, the reasons are very typical and, in my opinion, do not belong in the 21st century. These reasons given to students from both teachers and parents tend to be very shallow, superficial and does not provide the student with sufficient authenticity in order for them to feel engaged.

Some of the reasons given include:

1) “Study hard so that you can go to the best class/school”
My reply to this is very simple: the best classes or schools have both failures and top students. The class nor the school play almost no factor in your success or failure. Statistically speaking, there is a chance of 1 failure in Hwa Chong/Raffles Institution and a chance of 1 top student in Si Ling Secondary.

One may argue that the social environment is in itself a factor, but I am presenting a possibility because there exists an exception. Ironically, this is what most parents will say to their children: “You say that girl/boy get top student. You must study hard to become top student!”

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2) “Study hard so you can secure a degree/secure a good future”
This message to students must be stopped and changed. One should secure a degree for the depth of knowledge that will help shape one’s perspective and wisdom of the world around them as well as hone one’s skills in that particular field of study.

A good future may not be determined through a degree since there are many graduates without jobs, and even ministers have mentioned  how just having a degree may not help you get a job. This shows that there is something more important than just the “piece of paper”.

In fact, I tell my students to go for a polytechnic education first and specialise in skills that they are curious and passionate about. Then, if they feel like pursuing more knowledge in that field, they should go on to take a degree so that they have more in depth knowledge about the industry/subject.

Making the Change

I think parents and teachers have a large role to play in shaping the perspective of our children and students. We can start by thinking of ways of cultivating authentic and meaningful purposes for studying. Some ideas that I can offer include:


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1) “I know studying is difficult. But if you can overcome this, then you can overcome other difficult things you will face in life.”

2) “Find ways to make your own studying enjoyable. If it works for you, then you can share it with other friends and help them understand it better. Having more knowledge means having to help others.”

3) “There are many things that you can learn and find out about the world because of the Internet. But without the basics, I’m worried that you won’t be able to do that.”

What are other reasons have you heard, received or given to your children or students?

Do you have other ideas on how to create or cultivate authentic purpose in your learners?

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