How teaching should be about


 

This is another episode of my experiences I have been going through while leading SEALNet Medan Chapter as a president. Beginning effectively on a bright, sapphire-blue Saturday afternoon on 27th August, 2011, it turned out that the number of mentees (members of our extra-curricular activity) commenced to decrease gradually. There were almost 170 students who had registered to us, and yet in so far, only 130 of them did really ‘show up’ throughout our workshop sessions we organized every week. After further sessions, the figure had dropped sharply to 85, with some possibly would resign.

It was not uncommon that we frequently harked any confidential grumbles by some students criticizing the programs we made (and actually adapted from our seniors) as ‘flawed’ and ‘boredom-inducing’. I could even feel that quite many of them had been utilizing a popular ‘I-have-an-additional-tuition’ subterfuge in order to withhold the main reason they quitted from SEALNet Medan Chapter (as a matter of fact, this ‘quote’ had been extrovertedly popular for students expressing their tedium over the extra-curricular programs they join in our school, and perhaps, the entire schools over the planet).

When I glanced deeper at our attendance list, I saw quite many members were not that whole-heartedly joining our program; their attendance on the workshop sessions was no more than a half. Only about half of all students who did really ‘show up’ on 9 sessions we had currently administered, did really so on 6 or more sessions.

I kept on brooding over all the materials we had once taught these mentees. We had reminisced back almost every stuff our seniors once taught us, for example, leadership egg, problem-solving, listening to Steve Jobs’ video (for more information about our seniors’ previous SEALNet Project, please read ‘the days I had in SEALNet’), and the rest was stuffed with playing only-for-fun games. But then more than half of them got bored with such activities. They got bored when they listened to me explaining. They became surfeited when they knew that they would be separated from their friends into groups for 15-minute general discussion (and add some more procrastinated time), and they showed off lethargic facial expressions when time had come for them for presentation. Nevertheless, I could bet that there were still half of them who were enthusiastic on the program, though not as similar as we experienced while the seniors became our mentors. But still, I could conjecture from the others’ minds that ‘were the materials and activities still more or less the same, that involved all these boring discussion and presentation, we would have lifted our feet, and waved our hands to SEALNet’.

I analyzed about a plethora of flaws our program contains. They dislike too much discussion, they dislike too much presentation, too much brainstorming, and too much explanation. After thorough examination deep into my mind, I found out that it was partially the materials’ fault, and the other was our own fault, simon-pure. The materials tended to be too theoretical, entirely based on hypotheses and all sorts of ‘plausible possibilities’. And I myself know that the world in reality is 180-degree different from the world I explain in theory. Here lies our fundamental flaw. Second, our teaching method was pretty much stilted. Albeit we are students, we have inspirited our mentors’ duties too deep. Afterwards, I thought, why should we be too strict, too stiff, and too tense? We had difficulty in relaxing. And so did the mentees in an entirety of 90 minutes every week (we usually begin teaching supposedly from 12.30 to 14.00, but sometimes, due to prolonged Gummizeit, we often held it in between 12.40 and 12.50).

I asked some of the members about what we should do to improve our teaching quality. Some of them told me that they want to do ‘something new’ other than the perpetual cycle of listening, discussing, and presenting ideas. But quite many of them had no novel ideas on improving our program. I asked some of the mentors in our Blackberry chat group, and they put up a few references, for example, ‘organizing a Halloween session’ (that’s Adriana’s idea), ‘designing your own game’ session (Claristy’s), ‘debating class’ (Handoko), and et cetera. I also personally requested our mentors’ coach, Mr.Supian Sembiring, on ideas to make a better workshop. But, the answer still remains the same: no better idee fixe.

Not giving up, I also asked my close friends, Carin and Amelia, for some suggestions. In fact, they understand more about the real essence of leadership than I – and perhaps, we – do. Carin, who is my classmate, and with whom we share the same table altogether – even once asked me back, after I explained all the materials we had conveyed to the members: “Examine back your Oxford dictionary, and re-read what ‘leadership’ actually means.” In the long run, she lent me her own, and let me read the definition, back and forth.

I tried very hard racking my brain to discover any ‘practical stuff’we can ask the students not only to listen and discuss and do presentation, but also to really ‘do’ it. I guessed it took hours to crystallize any bright crinkum-crankum my mind yielded. And, afterwards, an instant flush of inspiration struck me. Where did that ‘meteorite of inspiration’ come from? I recalled that some of my Blackberry contacts had been harnessing the technology to market their products. The power of ‘new broadcast messages’ icon in Blackberry Messenger is the (momentarily) irreplaceable key for them to successfully promote their products other than any ilks of communication tools, like SMS or MMS.

Why don’t we give them chances to become entrepreneurs?

Why do we still restrict them from doing something ‘they do want’?

 

 

Afterwards, I asked some of my friends – particularly those who are members of SEALNet Medan Chapter – whether they would approve this method or not. The response was overwhelmingly positive; almost all of them no longer showed lethargic expression when I gave them opportunities to do whatever businesses they like to do. But still, most of the third-graders did not give consent upon my proposed plan, as they had to prepare for university enrollment, and all sorts of TOEFL, IELTS, SAT  tuitions facing them as a prerequisite to apply in foreign institutions (Claristy will arrange the alternative task aside of ‘entrepreneurship program’. No matter how, more than 60 students from Senior High School First Grade, Second Grade, and only a handful from Third Grade (countable by everyone’s fingers) did really participate in our business project. What’s more, I also granted them multitudinous sorts of freedom, ranging from choosing which group they would like to be in (unlike the conventional system, in which we, as the mentors, determined to which group they should be admitted in, not the mentees themselves) recruiting non-SEALNet members (even if they want their parents, or servants, to get engaged in, I’m still okay with that), rewarding them vast membership quota on every group to 20 members, and lastly, doing whatever businesses they like within one month, commencing from 5th November, 2011 until 3rd December, 2011.

Some of the students from Accelerated Class First Grade co-operate altogether with some from 10-2 in baking, promoting, and selling cupcakes. They even asked me to have a shot at it. It was pretty tasty, but I was not oblivious to inform them that they should not put too much sugar in the cupcakes. I also witnessed myself how they compactedly ventured from one class to another, asking the students one by one to purchase their cupcakes. In less than 2 days, they had earned more than 500 thousand rupiah (similar to approximately 55 US$; well, fortune has blessed them, I guess).

 

What’s more, I even grant them freedom to use our bulletin board to post their colorful, neatly-written advertising poster.

 

My close friend, Evando, did something really different. In informal Indonesian, you could call it mengamen, but in order to be more formal and – specifically – courteous, I just called it ‘singing service’. Evando, and another close friend of ours, Felly Gibran (a non-SEALNet member), played on the guitars and sang songs from one class to another during recess period, and within 2 days, they had been singing in 3 classes, and earned almost 300 thousand rupiah (app. 33 US$). In this task, Steven (again, our intimate friend), acted as the MC who guided these guitarists from classes to classes.

More good news came soon as the mentors began reporting to me that some of them are selling books, bookmarks, Danbo, and chocolate corn flakes. In this day’s workshop session, all of them discussed further about what other products they would like to make, promote, and sell. Some of them are considering to sell movie discs, to produce street snacks, and if I’m not mistaken, producing albums with remix music. And dozens of ideas currently on their lists, in so far.

The gusto was again restored. I have learnt something priceless, at least, after losing so many valuable SEALNet members within these 3 months: grant them freedom, and let them grow and learn by themselves. Don’t stick too much on theory and explanation. Don’t simply teach, but educate. Make something practical. I myself don’t see ‘entrepreneurship’ as the only means of sharpening leadership skills. Almost everything needs these stuff. That’s what I have never truly learnt on the previous SEALNet project, seriously. And that’s why I never say that the SEALNet Medan Chapter we made has really succeeded. We still have a lot of things to learn and do. Yet, it’s just 3 months old, anyway.

Lastly, I hope that our education system is no longer stiff and theory-based. Let us see how teaching should be about in the future.

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