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Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Those Who Cannot Infer

All through The Daughter and Little Boy's childhood, I never gave direct answers nor explained anything in great detail. I always expected them to figure things out.

The Daughter went through a form of PSLE (the old PSLE) that was pretty much rote learning. She did not do very well with rote learning but still managed to get into the Integrated Programme. There, her ability to infer a whole from disparate pieces of evidence given to her, became a strength. It was like she was a fish suddenly placed into water of the right temperature. In Sec 1 and Sec 2, before the school pulled her out for accelerated development in the Humanities, she was 2nd in class, doing better than those with much higher PSLE t-scores. 

Little Boy went through the new Thinking PSLE. No matter how bad his grades were, I slowed down to help him infer. Again, I don't regret it. Little Boy, like his sister, is top 3 in class in secondary school.

Opportunities to Infer
Hence, the children in Dr Pet's Enrichment Centre are given opportunities to infer. Pieces of the narrative writing puzzle are provided in the form of painstakingly written and coded model compositions. Scaffolding is provided in the form of a mind map. The children only need to analyse the model compositions and infer, to build a whole.

All Children Have the Innate Ability to Infer?
I realise that many children cannot infer. I find this surprising because every single child grew from babyhood to childhood making logical inferences about the human language. That was how they first learnt their Mother Tongue, no? They listened to people speak, copied the models and inferred the Rules of Human Language. By 5 years old, they all can speak.

So why is it that some can no longer infer when they come to 11 or 12 years of age? Is it because their mental models of teaching and learning presuppose that others will tell them EXACTLY what they need to know? Is it because their parents' mental models of teaching and learning preclude that patient waiting period where even if one knows the answer, one does not explicitly say so? Is it because these children's IQ simply do not measure up?

I don't know.

There are children who just do it. Quickly and efficiently. I have many like this. You pass them a manual and then some models, ask them for a perfect mind map. Tada! Done in 2 weeks. Some are done in 9 hours.

Then, there are others who need some prodding and waiting... and finally, the fog lifts and they see more of the world in sharper detail than they ever have... because they realise they no longer need to wait for someone to lift the veil of knowledge and learning at every step. 

I feel a deep sense of personal satisfaction when I help a mainstream child breach this mental barrier. It feels good to open a world of endless opportunity to that child, revealed when he/she realises that learning is a matter of analysing the world and inferring lessons.

What About Those Who Never Learn to Infer?
Those who cannot infer are handicapped for life. Those who need to be told every detail of everything need guidance from experts all through life. 

In share investments, these are the people who rely on stock tips from gurus. They are incapable of analysing company reports and obtaining insights. Those who make money in the stock market are those who infer insights that no one else has. The others don't make money. At work, those who cannot infer, need bosses to show them the way. Clearly then, CEO is beyond them. In life, those who can infer learn faster and do better at everything they turn their hands to, because inferring and problem-solving is 2nd nature to them.

Could Education Destroy Our Ability to Infer?
Sometimes, it could be that a traditional Asian education destroys our natural ability to sense make. People who are self-taught and self-educated seem to excel at inferring. I have 3 Mommies who are not graduates, but have no problems making inferences about narrative writing and requiring their children to do the same. All 3 children excel with me. Is it because they already excel at inferring and therefore were able to transcend personal circumstances to self-teach and self-educate? Or is it because they self-taught themselves that they learnt to infer? 

I don't know.

I also have graduate Mommies whose children are encouraged to copy and follow and wait for answers. These children have high mental ability but they plod along, waiting to be explicitly guided at every step. The brain does not stay malleable forever. After a certain age, brain patterns settle. Those who don't have the opportunity to figure things out for themselves settle into an adult pattern of waiting for others to share knowledge and wisdom with them.

Give Them The Fish. No More Time To Teach How to Fish.
Unfortunately, Dr Pet cannot wait forever for these children to see the light and the patterns in the models (already coded with specific skills). At some point in the near future, these children need to face exams. Hence, at some point Dr Pet has to stop hoping that they will learn to infer. The lure of the A* is too much for me... and if telling the children everything gets us that A* then, telling will be the way to teach. Happily, most of the children have already learnt to infer.

The remaining? It's too late.