How 60 million dollars will not save our Ontario pupils from academic failures?

(Ontario Education Minister)

50% of Ontario Grade 6 students failed this year’s provincial standard math qualification. It seems like a shocker in that how could the affluent and prosperous communities in Ontario failed half of its pupils at elementary school. Yet, barely understood the problem, the Ontario government impetuously decided to invest $60 millions in buying more resources and strictly reinforcing the presence of math and science teachers in the classroom, hoping this will help the students to pass. As lacking resources and teachers was ever the root cause for our failed students and in large the incompetent Canadian education system. Having problems is the norm of life, but having no solutions or worse wrong solutions is cul-de-sac of desperado. The action of the Ontario government is like a desperate zookeeper to strengthen the endangered pygmy marmoset by feeding him the elephant’s diet, you are not going to get an elephant sized monkey. Nor will we have more competent learners.

The key to understand this failure is to examine the pedagogy of our education system, instead of rummaging through what’s wrong with our students. Today, too many teachers teach students to how to pass exams, rather than mastering the materials. This strategy works only for a short term, because it is easy to duck feed students what they need to pass one test, one course, or a semester. The problem with duck feeding style teaching is that the “duck” will either puke out or poop out everything, meaning there is little or no retention in the end. Consequently, when students move onto the next subject, the next course, or the next semester, they do not feel prepared and have nothing to draw upon. The teaching for test scores focuses and cares only about the percentage gained, 60% passing, 75% B, 90% A, pays no attention to the 10%, 25%, and 40% lost or missing from our students. In essence, our students instead building the next stage of their lives on the things they know, they actually start with a foamy and bubbly foundation that is doomed to crumple.

Teaching for mastery is the norm of life. When we learn how to run, we start with crawling, then standing, and then walking, and it’s only when we master walking, we start running. In Taekwondo, you start your training with a white belt, you would remain as a white belt for as long as necessary, and only when you have mastered it you would move on to become a yellow belt and eventually to the black belt. Learning English, we begin with alphabets, and once we mastered the 26 alphabets, we move on to words, and then sentences, and it’s only when we mastered the grammars, we can attempt to write passages.

But, in education, we run to the opposite. We move students as cohorts, a pass of 60% or even worse in universities a D with 50% allows students to move onto the next course. So instead of building on what they know or retained, students in general accumulate more unknowns and misunderstandings, the result is falling behind and prematurely terminate one’s academic career. The structure of our education system resembles to terrible house building. When we build the house foundation, we rechon it to be 80% complete. Instead of perfecting it, we move on to build the first floor, and lucky us, we got 75% done. So move on again to build the second flood, and we got 65% done. So on and so forth until we reach the point of zero percent of confidence – the point of collapsing, costing time, money, or even lives. Why is this not OK in construction, but completely permissive when we are building our future selves?

My solution to this problem is to teach by mastery, not by test scores.

Students should not be moved as cohorts, they are all unique individuals. We need to provide personalized education. No horizontal comparison, but vertical comparison of past, now, and future. We ask students what they want to be in the next year, the next five years, or in the next decade. Students move on only when they completely comprehend and master the content. With mastery and continuous understanding of what they want, quickly student will develop a career perspective if not a life goal. From here, students only need to master what’s needed for her/his upcoming vocational educations and it’s only here that students can be diverted.

This practical education scheme based on mastery saves students’ time and money by eliminating the overspending on courses that they would never use nor benefit. Furthermore, this practice also breaks the trend of devaluation of education, meaning the bachelor degree will no longer be the new high school diploma. People who are earning their degrees are truly in position of needing them for their career aspiration, not just because everyone else is going to colleges.

One of the biggest critics of teaching for mastery is the complaint of lacking human resources to launch the personalized education. This is a complete lack of basic comprehension of what teaching for mastery and personalized education is. In teaching for mastery/personalized education, students needn’t to be paired with a teacher or teaching assistant in a one-on-one manner. Just like in personalized medicine, a doctor can still have many patients, but what makes it personalized is the retro fitted caring system, not the nomenclature. Thus, in personalized education, what matters is the communication between students and teachers. This communication is interpreted in two ways: one is the evidence-based learning; the other is the feedback-based teaching. In evidence-based learning, it is an opportunity for teachers to truly evaluate how well students have mastered the material. In feedback-based teaching, teachers inquire how students feel about their current learning experiences and what their next learning objectives are. The combination works as a synergism in which the evidence-based learning propels the feedback-based teaching, and in retrospect, the feedback-based teaching accentuates and focuses the evidence-based learning in the long run.

Of course, there are many other ideas and methodologies being touted with in order to fix our educational system with the $60 million. One of these is what Rob Furman referred to in Huffington Post as Service Learning. I am a true lover and believer of Service Learning, which is more commonly known as community based learning. There are many benefits of Service Learning, such as better absorption of knowledge, enhancing academic learning, reducing students’ stereotypes and preconceived notions. However, in this case where we are trying to address the poor math and science learning outcomes, fundraising, soup kitchen, and senior home visits are unlikely to do anything. In addition, one prominent danger of Service Learning is best summarized by Lori Pompa:

“If I “do for” you, “serve” you, “give to” you – that create a connection in which I have the resources, the abilities, the power, and you are on the receiving end. It can be – while benign in intent – ironically disempowering to the receiver, granting further power to the giver. Without meaning to, this process replicates the “have vs. have-not” paradigm that underlies many social problems.”

To improve the learning outcomes of our students, to nurture more competent and successful learners, and to encourage continuous learning, we need policy makers to be aware of, support, and reinforce the teaching for mastery, service learning, and many other great teaching practices, definitely NOT the teaching for test scores. Let’s make the next $ 60 millions dollars go where they belong.


5 Common Mistakes Students Make On The GRE

The Graduate Record Examination (GRE) is today arguably one of the most popular standardized globalized tests. More often than not, the applicants are tested on various vocabulary skills in analytical writing, verbal and quantitative sections. This is probably one of the main reasons why it the test is one of the most challenging today. In this regard, the slightest of mistakes can cost applicants dearly and conceivably prevent them from getting into preferred school. Five most common mistakes students make on the GRE include:

  • Not studying
  • Poor language skills
  • Poor time managing
  • Not reading the problem properly
  • Answering every question in order.

Let us discuss them more closely.

1. Mistake of not studying

One of the common mistakes made by students while preparing for the GRE is inadequate preparation. Most of the students think that working under pressure will increase their output. Nonetheless, this is just but a common fallacy. In many cases, applicants are underprepared for the examination in terms of basic reading, writing as well as analytical skills. In addition, many students fail to look for various guidebooks, multiple test preparation materials, tests online, test sample questions, and the downloads when preparing for the GRE. On the contrary, many students stick to just one type of study material, which makes their preparation less detailed and diverse. This mistake has proved costly to the vast majority of students.

2. Mistake of answering every question in order

One of the unique features of the GRE is that a student can skip some of the questions and later come back and handle them. Unfortunately, many students fail to use this to their advantage. Students try to answer each question from the sections in sequence on the first attempt. On the contrary, the students should handle the questions that they are conversant with and then come back to the particular questions they were unsure of. That way they will at least complete the section and answer all of the questions they can handle without wasting a lot of time. Similarly, confusing multiple-option and single-option questions will lower the scores that will cost students dearly.

3. Students not reading the problem properly.

Many students feel compelled to rush when under timed and strained exam conditions. They often misread words, eventually making inaccurate assumptions, and, as a result, rather straightforward mistakes. More often than not, applicants fail in their choice when selecting one – normally the incorrect one – usually the closest answer to theirs. Worse yet, in the quantitative section, students may get a correct numeric entry but blithely enter the wrong answer. This is something easily avoidable by reading the problem properly.

4. Poor language skills

Largely, failure of many applicants in the GRE hinges directly on mastery of the language. Just like many known assessment and proficiency tests, an applicant sitting for the exam should be able to write a paper, read, and listen commendably. As ETS makes emphasis on vocabulary, language skills are key in the GRE. Sadly this never the case for some students and this is where many of the mistakes made in all sections of the exam. A common mistake here is that a student brings in an outside information – things that are outside passage scope. Unknown to students, some of the language mistakes are not related to analytical skills and intelligence but rather poor prior mastery and lack of practice.

5. Mistake of not managing time

The other mistake made by many students is poor time management in each of the sections. Many fail to pace their exam time and end up not using the allocated time well. Applicants find it challenging to finish the GRE on time. Unknown to many, each section of the GRE is specifically unique and needs special preparation. Failing to practice equally for all the test sections, even if the applicants have performed remarkably well in other sections their final score will definitely suffer. Unknown to applicants, there are multiple free online resources and materials that offer practice tools for managing time during the exam. Of course, exam preparations might be stressful, but there are numerous ways to reduce the stress.

As exemplified in the article, the GRE is the most widely recognized graduate admission test. However, student’s success depends on his or her prior language command, preparation for the exam, as well as answering every question and providing solutions to all the sections of the exam.

Do YOU have a vision for what Ontario could become? Showcase YOUR abilities and ideas with the Lieutenant Governor’s Visionaries Prize!

U of T students! Do you have great opinions and ideas that would impact Canada’s future in a meaningful, significant way? The Lieutenant Governor’s Visionaries Prize is a platform for you to share your vision for Toronto, and be recognized for it!! The Lieutenant Governor’s Visionaries Prize wants you to identify the challenges that Ontario will face and the opportunities that will emerge over the next 50 years—and then share your plan of action for the province.

With just an 800-word essay or two-minute video, applicants are eligible to win $2,500 AND a meet and greet with Ontario’s Lieutenant Governor at a special reception on October 3. There are not a lot of platforms for students to have their voices heard on a governmental level, so we want to ensure that Canada’s emerging leaders and policy makers take advantage of the opportunity.

The Lieutenant Governor’s Visionaries Prize is organized into six different categories, outlined in the press release below. Short-listed candidates in each category will travel to a city in Ontario to present their idea in front of head judge Piya Chattopadhyay (host of CBC’s Out in the Open) and a guest judge.

In celebration of Ontario’s 150th anniversary, the prize offers innovative thinkers aged 18 and over a refreshingly easy chance to bring their vision for Ontario’s future to life.


For detailed information, please visit

LG Visionaries Prize

Messy Makes It Happen

What do you do when you’ve been trying to work something out for a while but your efforts don’t seem to bear any fruit? When you’ve been working on that essay for hours, and you can tell before you’re even half-way through it won’t turn out as well as you want it to? Or when you have a club that hasn’t been as active as it should be despite your best efforts?

Faced with such a scenario myself and drawing from personal experience, I’ve found, there are two options to choose from moving forward:

  1. Scrap everything you’ve got so far, and start again from scratch.
  2. Work with what you’ve got and try to improve on it.

Sometimes it’s easier to scrap what you’ve got and start on a clean slate; this way, you don’t have to work through existing problems you’ve tried solving, and can start with a fresh page, a fresh mind, a fresh start. Other times, starting from scratch means having to rebuild your foundations which takes a lot of time and effort. I’ve recently had two separate experiences, both pointing to the same conclusion: messy makes it happen. Never give up on what you’ve got going just because it’s not going your way or makes you feel uncomfortable. Push through the discomfort because, quite often, after the initial stage of difficulty, incredible things can happen. A whole new approach to the problem can emerge—a solution completely unfamiliar and unexpected.


At the construction site of Union Station.

This first experience was in one of my Architectural studio classes. I was working on a drawing for weeks before I realised that I had made a mistake and that my drawings were inaccurate. Faced with this problem, I decided to clear my slate and start from scratch because I was stuck and couldn’t make my way out out of the situation. My solution was to completely step out of the maze and start again, rather than turn around and try to find another path out of my problem. Looking back, I wish I had chosen the second option because I realised I would have figured out a solution to my problem if I had only spent more time thinking about it. I got scared. I ran into a problem and, in a state of fear, saw no way out, so I chose to run away and start again. Here’s what I learned: when curious minds are given enough time, space, and freedom, the imagination has room to roam. So give yourself enough time, space and freedom to think through a problem and follow lines of inquiry down a new path.

My second experience was completely different from this first one.  As a student minoring in Italian, I recently joined the Italian Undergraduate Students’ Cultural Association (IUSCA) as a third year undergraduate representative. Upon joining the club, I learned the organisation had previously experienced a downfall and wasn’t actively running. Years later, a zealous undergraduate student, had a vision of creating an Italian club that would serve more as a family than a formal organisation. The club would conduct events ranging from study group sessions, to a talent show based on Italian culture for students of the Italian department and beyond. This student, like me, had been faced with two options: should she try to revive the extinct IUSCA group, or establish a new organisation from scratch? This student chose to work with the existing club, making it stronger than it ever was before.

Whether consciously or unconsciously, she understood that messy does not necessarily mean bad, and that we shouldn’t give up on something just because it doesn’t initially seem to be working out. Through my experience, I came to learn this too.

messy makes it happen.


How a Second Year Political Science Student Now Approaches Essays Differently

I think most freshmen approach writing their first university research papers as a challenging experience, unless they are absolutely positive their research and writing skills are at the university level. However, over-confident students run the severe risk of underestimating expectations and doing poorly.

When the time came to write my first Political Science essay, I knew what my problem areas were: I didn’t do all the readings, didn’t have confidence in my research methods, didn’t like my research, and didn’t know how to cite in Chicago style. Not good.

Fast-forward to today. I did well on that essay; however, I could have done much better had I followed these tips I learned through my experience:

  1. Get to the point and use concise language. Nothing screams insecure writer like never getting to the point.
  2. Don’t repeat your lecture material. The point of a research paper is to do research!
  3. Ensure your citations are on point, or risk being accused of plagiarism.
  4. Don’t get tunnel vision while researching. Keep your thesis in mind by maintaining a simple outline to avoid getting overwhelmed by irrelevant research.
  5. Talk to your TA during office hours. My excuse for not going last semester was my commute, but I was really just too intimidated to go. I’ll change that this time around.

I am not naive. I’m aware I’m going through some new-semester hyper- motivation that may or may not burn out by the time midterms come around. Hopefully I can keep some of the tips I’ve given myself in mind, but sometimes Netflix gets in the way. Nonetheless, I take pride in what I’ve learned and the work I do in my program. I will always try my best to improve and do well on my papers.

A teaching class asked me to submit a letter of intent. This is what I wrote.

As an educator-to-be, I confess to Googling information more than I probably should. I use Google most during online discussions with my students. I can usually provide accurate and succinct answers on the spot- more often, student questions leave me in the dark. It’s in these instances that I resort to Googling. Initially, I felt ashamed and unqualified. How, after years of studying biochemistry, could I not answer a sophomore’s simple question?

I came to realize that today’s students are very different from the ones I knew when I was an undergraduate four years ago. Not only are their minds more open, but they’re also more engaged in their studies. They are not satisfied with being told 1+1=2. They also want to know why and how this is so. I can comfortably teach 1+1=2, but I find myself stumbling with the rest. Being challenged by my students pushes me to constantly keep learning. Now I’m able to answer the questions my students want answers to before they even ask.

I did have one question, though: If I could use Google to find these answers, why couldn’t my students do the same? The answer came from the emails they sent me. Despite many of my students being born and raised in English-speaking environments, the way they phrase their questions in emails is often vague and misleading. My students often start their queries without providing the background information I need to understand their problem and don’t check for crucial spelling mistakes, often sending me correction emails shortly after (“I mean ‘does not apply’, not than ‘does apply’!”). I don’t mean to belittle my students- I know better than most that developing critical analysis and creative thinking skills comes from asking questions and making mistakes. Rather, I mean knowing how to write an informative email is more important than knowing the difference between glucose and galactose.

I wish my students would remember everything I’ve taught them, but I know this isn’t a realistic expectation. Instead, while my students might not remember what amino acid leucine looks like I do hope they retain the soft skills (like writing legible emails) they began to develop in my class. This, more than anything, is my intent for teaching.

UTSU Spring Elections 2016


As the semester comes to an end and elections season has been intense in all of the faculties and colleges, the election that affects all students at UTSG and UTM has now begun: the UTSU Spring Elections. For the next few days, students can exercise their right to vote for a UTSU that they feel will make a difference for them and cater to the needs that they want. As the Architecture, Landscape, and Design Director running on the slate HelloUofT, I wanted to talk a bit about my experience and why I think that it is extremely important to vote in these elections.

As a first year, I did not involve myself in and around campus simply because I did not think that I had neither the personality nor the courage to speak up about the lack of representation and involvement of my faculty. It was only after my friends invited me to join their group that I took the steps to put myself out there. Working with the slate has definitely been a lot different than just listening to them talk to me at a public place on campus. I have seen the raw, intense emotions of individuals who truly want to make UofT a place where the students feel included and engaged. I have seen a group comprised of seven executives and over fifteen directors instantaneously care for each other as soon as we all met. The experiences from our leaders inspires us to push harder and fight for the things we believe in, and I can honestly say that if these group of people can care immensely for people they’ve only just met, I am confident that they can put this love and strive into a UTSU that will not only listen to their students, but give back and give more reasons as to why UofT is such a fantastic school.

I encourage everyone to vote these next few days. Online voting is open until 6:30pm on the 24th at .


Exercise your right to vote and get ready to say hello to a UofT that says hello back!