Sun, 11 May 2003

Learning how to learn

Y.S. Lim The Star Asia News Network Kuala Lumpur

Exams are coming and the pressure is on. For many students, this is a period of anxiety, especially when nothing seems to have stuck despite hours of studying.

For education consultants Anbananthan Rathnam and Arumugam Sivaprakash of Holistic Learning Academy (HL Academy) in Kuala Lumpur, the problem lies in the student not having understood what was taught.

At HLA, students learn how to learn. It is part of the Study Technology created by American L. Ron Hubbard through Applied Scholastics International, in the United States, which has programs operating in 29 countries worldwide.

HL Academy itself is affiliated with Applied Scholastics Malaysia which has been offering Study Technology courses for the past 14 years.

"Students go through academic life without knowing the right study techniques," says Anba, a qualified engineer.

He added that these students are hindered by barriers such as difficult words or not getting the right concepts.

"There is often a blank look and a washed out feeling in these students, and quite often it is the misunderstood word in the middle of a sentence or paragraph that hinders them from understanding the rest of the text, thereby contributing to their frustration," he explains.

"In fact, the poor academic performance of drop-outs can be traced to their inability to grasp school texts; this is why we must eliminate the barriers," he says, adding that even top scorers may not be studying correctly if they merely memorize and regurgitate the facts.

"There is no room for memorization in our approach because we want learning to take place when students are keen and when understanding takes place," says Anba.

The courses offered at the HL Academy use a "holistic" technique, hence the term "Holistic Learning".

"Holistic learning can be viewed as a multi-level experiential journey of discovery, expression and mastery to meet the challenges of living as well as academics," says Sivaprakash.

Anba and Prakash decided to set up an academy as they have a passion for education.

"I have always liked teaching and told myself that one day I would get into education to help kids acquire the right kind of education, where they are taught to discover their natural abilities," says Anba.

Based on the premise that for any learning problem there is a workable solution, HL looks at solving the whole problem, rather than parts of it.

"Thousands of people trained in Hubbard's Study Technology know this is true, and feel they have found the missing tool necessary for both comprehension and the ability to apply knowledge in any chosen field," says Prakash.

"HL enables students to understand What went wrong with their understanding, Why the problem occurred and How the problem can be rectified," he adds.

Students at the academy are given a basic textbook whereby they are trained to think, use the dictionary and illustrate or depict the concepts they have read by creating clay dough models of the concepts.

"The purpose of the clay demonstration is to make the materials being studied real to the student," explains Anba, adding that anything can be demonstrated in clay if one works at it.

"When a student can represent a concept or theory in clay, he or she shows complete understanding of the concept. This technique works for all learners regardless of age. A well-done clay demonstration will produce a marvelous change in the student. And the student will retain the data by total understanding and not through memorization."

At the academy, dictionaries can be seen everywhere.

"One of the learning strategies we teach is the importance of using the dictionary, and we require students to look up a difficult word straightaway," explains Anba, adding that the student must then make a sentence using the word to show they have understood its meaning.

"This approach helps students to acquire vocabulary besides helping them understand the text further."

Another coaching strategy is the check-sheet technology, a method using a form which sets out the exact sequence of items to be studied by a student.

"Every student is given a check-sheet which helps them study at their own pace or speed," he says.

Actual learning only takes place when a student takes time to learn.

"Teachers should be aware that when their students show a 'not there' expression or exhibit a blank stare or nervous hysteria, it means that they have misunderstood words, or wrongly understood what they have read," says Anba.

Students at HL Academy range from a Year Two pupil to a 46- year old banker who is now learning English.

Two-hourly classes are held twice a week and classes are kept small with a maximum of seven students for every facilitator.

The academy also offers a range of English language courses such as English Literacy course, English Oral Fluency and Grammar, as well as a communication course aimed at helping students communicate effectively and relate to others with understanding.

Anba says that students have reported improvements in concentration and motivation as well as progress in critical thinking skills.

"Ideally, holistic learning should be taught from young, but this does not mean that adults cannot enjoy learning with the right technique," he says, adding that the center hopes to target more college students as they have huge loads of texts to cover.

He believes that holistic learning could be the wave of the future as far as education is concerned.

"We're giving students a skill not only to pass their exams with flying colors but also to learn, and in the process of teaching them we want to inculcate values such as goodness and empathy for their fellow humans," Anba says, adding that it would be useless for mankind to achieve scientific advancements while the rest of the world was starving or embroiled in war.