‘Unmotivated’ students?

Every year at the MA ELT admission interview, one of the questions I would ask the applicants is how they would describe their students, or the main challenge they are facing in teaching. Ten out of ten applicants would cite students’ ‘lack of motivation’ as their biggest difficulty. I remember at one point, I couldn’t help wondering whether there were ANY motivated students left in Hong Kong, and I started contemplating what was happening in school, the education system, the community at large, and the family, that had led to the horrendous situation.

I don’t think we’re totally ignorant of the answers. It’s just that we have all come to passively accept the status quo, just as we have come to believe that work has to be boring (so that all we can do is to retire at the first possible instance).

The other day, a former student admitted that she saw the absurdity of the current situation, and witnessed how her students were suffering. But she felt so helpless, because as a lone teacher, there was little she could do to change the situation – parents continued to make unreasonable demands; the school management continued to press teachers to increase the amount of homework and drilling ……

It is difficult to decipher this global phenomenon. We should be wiser, and better-informed, than we were 50 years ago, and yet, except for a handful of exceptions, most places in the world are going down the similar path of replacing real education (if it ever existed) with exam preparation – Hong Kong, Japan, Korea, China, … and now the USA.

Of course, I know that society is getting more and more competitive, so that exam results are of vital importance. But as I said yesterday, I have never underestimated the importance of good exam results. The question is how we achieve that. And while there are real cases showing that good exam results can be achieved through quality teaching that nurtures students as motivated and autonomous learners, why are we still falling back on mindless spoonfeeding?

I remember an S4 lesson I observed in an at-risk secondary school a few years ago. There were 25 students in the class. Throughout the whole lesson, the teacher tried very hard to teach, but only 2 students were listening. The rest of the class slept throughout the whole lesson. They simply had no motivation to learn anything. At that moment, I didn’t blame the teacher. I didn’t blame the 23 sleeping students. I blamed us.20160725_084217_001


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