A recent article in the New York Times bemoans test scores by American students in mathematics. One country whose students typically do a lot better in standardized math exams is Taiwan. What kind of thinking is cultivated there?
Let's take a quick look (a sample of one). I received the following email from a Taiwanese high school student earlier in the week.
I'm a student who just read the book A Whack On The Side Of The Head. I'm really impressed about book and admire the writer, so here I e-mail you!
I'm a 17-year-old-high-school-boy, who likes to think and be creative (I don't memorize then recite). I used to invent things, the most memorable one was Nano High Technology Manual Air Conditioner. I'm not the "GEEnius" you imagine. NHTMWC is nothing but a plastic paper holding on a long ruler with a long yarn. It was a hot summer, and my arm was tired of swinging plastic paper to cool me down, so there's the WHACK, after that I only have to move my finger that tie the line, and the wind was even stronger than swinging it by hand.
Sounds cool huh? Wanna buy one for your children? But here comes a BUT. BUT, I'm a 17-year-old-high-school-boy WHO LIVING IN TAIWAN. Have you heard of Taiwan? Normal students here only memorize the texts, then take the exam, and memorize texts for next exam, guess what, later my poor NHTMWC was removed by my teacher. . . . This country IS sooo serious,
That's why I e-mail you, as your book says, I am explorer, artist, judge, but no warrior (I'm not sure if it is right 'cause mine is Chinese version).
I wanna be but i CANT be! I believe I'm creative and have been given the talent to create, but I'm afraid. . . . It's big pressure because designers have hard time to live in this country, especially when they are young.
It's midnight here now, so I guess this is the end of letter, I hope I can share more next time, there might be some mistake in my letter, but....... who care? Rules are born to be break, isn't it?
I think Joey is probably experiencing what a lot of East Asian students experience: the frustration of competing for university slots that are awarded on the basis of how well they do on the standardized tests. Whatever creativity you have can be easily snuffed out if you spend most of your time memorizing facts and spitting them back out on exams.
Don't get me wrong here. I'm not advocating abandonment of basic skills; it is, after all, difficult to become an effective mechanical engineer if you don't master mathematics, physics, etc. But if you want to be innovative, it's important to cultivate a type of thinking in which you imagine unorthodox uses and applications for the facts you do know -- and then turning these into practical new ideas.
in a world that is
being creative gives one an
important competitive advantage.
My advice to Joey is:
- Do what you can to keep your imaginative side alive.
- Take on creative projects.
- Seek out the odd teacher or two at your school who can help you keep your creative fire burning.
- Contact people (as you did me) who can inspire you and give you different perspectives (you are fortunate that you have a great command of English -- you can contact many people around the world on the Internet).
- Continue to look for the second right answer.
- Keep your offbeat sense of humor
What advice would you give to Joey?
Also, I know a number of you reading this have some experience with the east Asian educational system: what comments do you have to help them generate more creative people?