Posted in The Lessons

Why Do The Students Know Nothing?


Recently, I have a lot in mind about my students. As I mentioned on some of my posts, I teach Mathematics, Physics, Chemistry, Science, and English for kids of all grades – from elementary to high school students. I provide private/personal classes where I meet my students one on one.

For so many years, I have been caught up in a similar situation: my students understood almost nothing from the subjects taught at school! For some kids that were naturally very bright, this situation was less likely to occur.

I have been wondering during those years, what is the cause? I made my own observation, of course, either from the story sharing from my students or from informal interviews to some of my friends which work at the same field as me or from my personal experience back in school. By doing so, I spotted some phenomenons.

Phenomenon #1: Knowledge without Foundation

Learning is like building a house. Before you go building the body of the house, till it reaches the roof, you need to dig, and plant the base, a foundation. From some of my classes, I got stuck several times when explaining a solution of easy mathematical problem, caused by this lack of basic concept.

Here is one example. In algebra, we teach the students to solve the linear equation by adding, subtracting, dividing, or multiplying both sides (left side of the equal sign and the right side). As in:

5x – 2 = 8
5x -2 + 2 = 8 + 2
5x = 10
5x : 5 = 10 : 5
x = 2

My students get used to the idea of ‘moving’ a term from one side to another, hence ‘transforming’ the negative sign into positive sign and the other way around. For dividing/multiplying, we ‘move’ the coefficient as denominator on the other side of equation (as shown below) or as numerator (when the coefficient is a fraction).

5x – 2 = 8
5x = 8 + 2
[(-2) is ‘moved’ to the right side and become (+2)]
5x = 10
x = 10 : 5
[(+5) is ‘moved’ to the right side as denominator]
x = 2

The common mistake generated by this shortage is that the students tend to forget the positive/negative sign and they are more likely having confusions when the term containing the variable is on the right side, instead of the left one (common side, if I may say).

Not only in this matter the faults are pilling up. The dividing by zero, the placement of a dot in a Cartesian coordinates, and many other matters are showing how the scarcity of mathematical concept rules the formal educational institutions nowadays. And not only mathematics, it happens also in other subject.

How to fix this? Let’s go back to elementary school, where all concepts are (supposed to be) planted. It’s important to have all students understand the meaning of each procedure, each step in problem solving, and every single thing taught at school.

Another thing which – under my assumption – affects elementary school teacher in working thoroughly which leads to the lack of conceptual understanding mentioned: the small salary. This is a case in Indonesia, so I cannot make any generalization out of this assumption. Without being hypocritical, salary is the main motivational factor for most of the workers existed. Thus, it makes sense that the lack of salary might influence the elementary school’s idealism on giving the fullest to the students.

I have another possibility in mind, there is no such quality control system at school. There are training programs, yes. But, how many teachers are going out there to improve themselves? Most of them are too lazy to go, or thinking that they are too old to join this kind of program, or believing that such a program will be no use for them.

Anyway, assuming the causes will lead us to nothing. Assumption will be an assumption, unless someone is willing to conduct a real research to find the root of the problem. And too bad, the person could not be me.

Phenomenon #2: School is Useless for Life

Almost all of my students asked me some spontaneous questions, “Why do we learn all of this, actually? When will we use them in our daily life? What is the importance of learning this crap?”

Well… Shame on me, I don’t even know how to answer those questions! I never think about it before. I just do it (learning) because I like it. I like competition. I like being evaluated. I like playing with numbers, variables, graphics, and equations. And other similar subject as well.

In such situation, I have several ‘dodging’ answers.

  • You will think that there is no point in doing this equation or learning this subject. But, years from now, you will find yourself gripping a good logical way of thinking. Learning these subject well means building up your logical thinking.
  • Do you know that your computers, laptops, phones, are build using this very basic knowledge? And all of those nuclear power plant, and other kind of technology are developed from what you learn in school?

Yeah, at least I tried. Yet, the fact that I am a failure in explaining the use of school subjects for daily life is a huge strike! It means that this phenomenon started when I was a student. I don’t know what is the actual use of those knowledge. Very sad!

There’s only one solution that comes in my mind. All teachers should give the students an understanding of how important a subject is for their lives. The concrete and real context teaching-learning process should be implemented at school, started from elementary school, junior high school, senior high school, and then university.

Phenomenon #3: The Teacher is Boring

Another cliche comment from my students: “I am too lazy to listen to the teachers at  my classes. They are so boring. They talk too much without even stop to check if the students understand what they are talking about.”

If it’s the case, then we should start changing the teaching-learning method here. Bored student is a problem. It’s like when you have a face to face conversation with your friends. What will you do when you see them getting bored? What is usually the cause? What is exactly the reason why the conversation among friends is far from boring? One clue: interactivity.

Yes! In a conversation, everyone has the same share. When there is only a single person talking, that’s dictating! No wonder if the students start yawning and chat with each other, when the teacher is the only one talking from the start till the end.

Plus, use your imagination, teachers! Be creative.

I really like my last year on senior high school. In history class, we went to the history lab and watched a colossal movie there. Each of us should write a review about it, in a historical perspective. In English class, even better. We went to the language lab once a week, mastering our listening comprehension, watching movies, etc. The other time we had a debate competition inside the classroom. Once we had a singing performance as an assignment where the teacher gave a particular topic and the students had to perform a song related to that topic. Fun!


I might not be the right person to write this topic. Yet, it affects a big part of my life. I love teaching. I like my students. I want them all to understand what they are doing. I want them to love what they are learning. And it won’t work out if the school – as a formal educational institution – ruin it. Planting the basic concept of knowledge and science, making sure that the students know how the subjects will help them go through life, and creating fun in the classroom shouldn’t be too hard if every teacher works hand in hand to make it happens.




I am a greedy person. I always want to get more, to be more, to gain more. Sometimes I feel like I can't get through my own mind. I couldn't even understand myself. That's why I create ExtraordinarNee. To see through me, and to be seen... :)

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