Simple Made Difficult

Yep, the kids are going back to school tomorrow and there’s plenty of homework to complete.

My son received this question for his CNY homework. And like all other “well-trained” students, he started drawing models and was instantly stumped. He came to me and seeing all those cute little boxes, I decided to try my hand at them, only to be stumped as well. Having taken my PSLE in 1976, I’m no expert with models.

What to do? It’s simple. The first thing you do is to wipe that model thingy out of your mind. Yes, throw it out of the window. Shut your window and don’t let it come back in. Forget it.

After I’ve cleared the model out of mind my completely, the answer came to me quite quickly. What did I do? Well, I just drew a very simple pie chart.

22×4=88. Answer=88.

As someone not trained to solve problems using models, there is one thing that won’t fail me – logical thinking. But stripped of any secret formula, these are tough IQ questions that can take me quite a while to solve. Models are purported to teach our kids better thinking skills, but at the end of the day, it’s just a tool. How well it works depends on how familiar you are with it. Ironically, being over-dependent on it will blunt rather than sharpen your thinking skills. Students who do well are either great thinkers or those very familiar with the model method, more likely the latter.

So why on earth are the schools giving our kids this sort of problem sums? To give an illusion that our primary school students are the smartest in the world? If you want to test the candidates’ strength in chopping wood with their bare hands, would you give them axes and see who the best “sharpener” is? I personally will find such exercises pointless. If they really want to test thinking skills and reasoning capability, then they should not teach any “method”. If I really want to test IQ, I would not allow the candidate to practice on the numerous quiz books available on the market. It’s difficult to call it cheating, but I won’t be getting an honest result.

Sure, without the “axe” or the method, most students (like their parents) will not be able solve these problems. So why bother? Why can’t they just scrap this sort of questions? It’s as if the model method has been implemented at great cost and can’t be “wasted”.

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© Chan Joon Yee


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