Friday, March 22, 2013

Learning Difficulties Faced by Students Today

Marc Prensky
Marc Prensky (Wikipedia)
by Amos Tsay

Mr. Marc Prensky once wrote a famous article titled "Digital Natives, Digital Immigrants I & II".

He states that today's students are no longer the people our educational system was designed to teach.

These students have spent their entire lives surrounded by computers, digital music players, video cameras, smart phones, and various other tools of the digital age.

Our students today are all therefore "native speakers" of the digital language of computers, video games and the Internet.

Digital native students work in a multitasking environment where they are doing homework, eating, watching television and texting simultaneously.

On the other hand, digital immigrants 'speak in different accents' where they are printing out an e-mail to read or a document to edit rather than simply editing it on the computer.

This difference leads to our first difficulty faced by students today - learners and instructors speak different 'languages'.

Most learners prefer knowing the answer immediately when solving math problems rather than waiting several weeks and even months for the instructor to correct and record the results, hand them back to the students and explain the correct answers with an answer key. Days of waiting around for results discourages the motivation of a learner.

There was once a university professor who wrote a letter three times to the principal of a junior high school to request that the math teacher return the exam paper to his daughter to review at home but was denied repeatedly.

Today's learners expect an educational program that offers instant solutions to questions, a personal learning map, digital follow-up capability and assessment to determine strengths and weaknesses which will prepare them to handle the learning process better and to be more effective while having fun.

The second difficulty students' face nowadays is the knowledge and qualifications of instructors. An article titled "Prof says teachers need better math" was published in the Maclean's magazine in September 2011.

The article mentions two university math professors spending two hours to understand the decimal division method taught by local high school teachers in order to teach their own kids who are in grade 7. They were frustrated, the article recalls. Today's learners deserve a better quality education to be well equipped to cope with the tougher competitive environment in the future.

The third difficulty is the reformed program from the Quebec Ministry of Education for high schools. The reformation requires students to learn more advanced topics in junior high compared to senior high.

For instance, a few years ago, none of the high schools taught logarithmic functions. Any science major student would know that logarithm function and exponent function are like twins. One cannot learn the exponent function without learning or knowing about the logarithm function. This partial education has frustrated many responsible math teachers.

Nowadays, math teachers teach these two topics even in secondary three. Furthermore, problem solving questions of a few lines have been replaced by two to five pages of situational problems.

There was a Montreal high school principal who told one of our advanced math students that none of teachers in the high school were capable of teaching him any longer. The student was then encouraged to form a math club for other constructivists to self-learn or to get help from other tutoring centers.

These three external factors as well as personal learning motivation, family background, and internal factors have contributed to the learning difficulties faced by today's students. Many assessment tools are available out there such as a happiness or depression index to see if one is happy or depressed.

As for math, I will develop a math-fearing index to diagnose a person's level of fear for math so that we can find solutions to deal with it. As the saying goes, "finding the reason for a problem is half way to reaching the solution."

Therefore, in order to be a good learner, a student needs a quality educational system which incorporates quality instructors, complete and interactive curriculums, and an environment promoting self-motivation in order to learn while having fun. These combined aspects are what I call the I.C.E. learning method.

"Digital Natives, Digital Immigrants I & II" can be read at

"Prof says teachers need better math" can be read at

Amos Tsay is the president and founder of Superkids e-Tutoring Center with 30 years of experience in education. He is also a publisher of many math books, the inventor of the I.C.E learning method and the founder of FQAA (Foundation of Quebec Academic Achievement) - a non-profit organization.

For more info, visit his company website at:

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