Painting a Portrait of Education

Here, the subject is obviously neither handsome nor portraying a healthy picture by smoking a cigarette. However, we can see that the artist has articulately applied all the different techniques to depict the subject close to life with even a sparkle in the old man’s eyes! How would you rate this artist? If I could paint education the way this artist sketch this old man, I’m certain that I wouldn’t have any problems getting a good grade!

Here, the subject is obviously neither handsome nor portraying a healthy picture by smoking a cigarette. However, we can see that the artist has articulately applied all the different techniques to depict the subject close to life with even a sparkle in the old man’s eyes! How would you rate this artist? If I could paint education the way this artist sketch this old man, I’m certain that I wouldn’t have any problems getting a good grade!

Over the course of 6 weeks, I’ve been taught how to paint a portrait of education and been tasked with reflective assignments. The mind map with its spaghetti wires is akin to the hair. The abstract with its emotions and clarity is akin to the eyes and eyebrows. The two statements are akin to the mouth. Citations are akin to the ears as we harness the congruity of our thoughts and thought leaders in the field of education. But… what about the nose? Surely, Mona Lisa wouldn’t look pretty without her nose right? Not forgetting the largest organ of the human body … the skin! Oh, where can I find these two organs?

Turns out that these two organs are found in an essay. The skin is our flow of thought; the language and presentation in the essay. The nose is the central theme and/or argument that connect all the other features of the face together. In fact, there was a lecture on academic writing that teaches students how to paint the skin and nose. My confidence is regained!

Students were given the liberty to do their mock exams whenever they’re ready but must submit it by a stipulated deadline. Before opening the mock exam questions, I was wondering if it will turn out the way I anticipated. When I saw the questions, I was pretty happy as there were two portraits (i.e. questions) that I know I should have no problems painting (i.e. answering). However, painting two pretty portraits in 3 hours is a challenge! Quickly, I prepared my palette of facts, littered with different colours of views and citations; at times mixing different colours to get a whiter or darker shade.

I enjoyed painting the first portrait, putting finishing touches here and there. Someone once said: “Time flies when you’re having fun.” This is not totally true. Time also flies when you’re in an exam! Unfortunately for me, I’m a perfectionist and a poor navigator of time. I somehow lost control of its flight when time was flying at breakneck speeds. Yup, I spent too much time on the first portrait! Anxiety kicked in…

No time to waste on the first portrait anymore. I quickly prepared the palette for the next portrait. The range of colours is narrower and the shades of pale and dark are fewer too.

A sense of relieve came the moment I submitted my mock exam (via email to my personal tutor and the dropbox). Replacing the sense of relief almost immediately is the sense of anticipation as I wondered how I fared in the mock exam. Surely, I’m not such a bad painter after all? I kept reassuring myself.

Although we’re “highly encouraged” to do the mock exam, I would say that it’s a must! Make it a point to do the mock exam. If you bypass the mock exam and go directly to the final exam, you’re more likely to end up in a big bang when you fail! Here, the mock exam is akin to a pilot-run where exam conditions are simulated and your answers scrutinised by your personal tutor. Oh, scrutiny! Not only was my answer (yes, only one question will be marked by my personal tutor) scrutinised, but also suggestions for improvements given. Here, I’m allowed to ponder, ask and even argue on points that I’m not totally convinced on! Many of my colleagues feel that I’m turning round a tight corner giving counter arguments to my personal tutor. My reply to them? “Well, this is the Institute of Education! We look at education from so many different perspectives and knowledge is gained from vibrant discussions!” As a teacher myself, I love to get into vibrant discussion with students and I would always learn new things from their perspectives. Remember Rinaldi’s co-construction?

In one of the questions, I’m supposed to apply my knowledge in a context that I’m familiar with. Without hesitation, I painted the scenario of my school. It wasn’t a pretty picture as my school has so many problems – many self-inflicted ones in fact. No prizes for the right answer – it’s an ugly portrait since the subject is ugly! I quickly discovered (with lots of revelation from my personal tutor too) that I must still be meticulous in my painting even though the subject is ugly. The skin wasn’t smooth and the nose is hooked.

So, mock exams aren’t about painting pretty pictures. It is about the painter applying the right techniques; depicting the subject (my school in this case) in its lucid, unadulterated, original form unashamedly to be appreciated [by examiners].

At this juncture, I would like to wish everyone good luck in their studies. Yes, no matter how talented one can be, a little luck would bring one farther! Cheers!

Bernard is studying the MA Education by distance learning in Beijing, China.

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