APRIL 24 — I've recently been learning how to use 3D software, Blender specifically.

While I've had Blender textbooks for decades, my attempts at learning have been mostly installing the program, clicking a few menus then going off to do something else.

It's not that there aren't enough resources online. There are plenty of free tutorials especially on YouTube to the point that getting books on Blender makes no sense as they would go obsolete quickly and are fairly expensive.


Yet like Coursera and other self-learning platforms I've tried, I've struggled to pay attention and sometimes would just set the videos at twice the speed or just read transcripts.

It wasn't much different from when I was a child. Learning in class bored me and most of the time I would be doodling, chatting with classmates or daydreaming.

What irked my teachers, however, was that my grades were still above average, which they took as a personal affront.


Back to Blender. I finally found a set of simple text-only tutorials published on Medium and for the first time I truly grasped the basics of the program.

In a few days I had modelled the basic structure of a sofa and plated objects, something I hadn't managed after attempting to follow various YouTube tutorials over a week.

What struck me wasn't that the written tutorials were better; they were just better for me.

At the same time, I'm also taking up the challenge of learning Traditional Chinese characters, something I've also started off and on over the years. It's mostly because I have a collection of books from Taiwan so the goal is to be able to read them... someday.

Language learning experts often suggest using spaced repetition flashcards to revise and I've settled on using the app Tofu Learn while also perusing a textbook.

While the flashcards help, I find it also important to reread chapters as I go along and find myself better at understanding things by going back.

It feels obvious, no? Revision being the key to retention. Yet the reality is that school students who don't “catch” something the first time or are unable to follow along with classes are thought of as slow and even punished by teachers for holding the class back.

I remember spacing out in the middle of maths class and my teacher (yes she also took my inattention personally) ordered me to leave the classroom, despite my doing little besides absentmindedly putting my textbook in and out of my bag.

It didn't bother me; instead I sat at the benches under the trees next to my classroom and read an old British math textbook and taught myself algebra.

At the year-end final exams, she refused to even look at me because I was one of only a handful of students who passed maths.

I feel no animosity towards her because, after all, the system failed her as much as it did us students. The thinking then was rigid, that to learn, students must pay attention in rapt silence and hang onto each word spoken as though they were nuggets of gold.

To add insult to injury, most of my teachers when I entered upper secondary school earned extra money from private classes and even then, would only allow the ones already having the best grades to join.

What of the so-called weaker students? They would have to figure out some other way to get their grades up or understand the subject matter.

I wonder just how many children would benefit from learning at their own pace and in ways that appeal to their own learning styles.

Instead they are told they are disruptive, badly behaved for displaying inattention or not participating in class enough.

Seeing online and in person that the loudest and most intent on engagement are not necessarily the most knowledgeable, it feels to me classrooms are really not the best at preparing kids for life besides reminding them that truly, the world is unfair.

What I wish that children, and adults too for that matter, would understand is that it's not skill that stops them from learning new things but a world that favours one kind of learning and one type of learner above all.

When I was teaching software classes I would often encounter students who didn't want to be there, and who were convinced they were “too stupid' but at the same time I met older students near retirement age who were excited about learning.

The writer wishes that children, and adults, would understand is that it's not skill that stops them from learning new things but a world that favours one kind of learning and one type of learner above all. — Picture by Yusof Mat Isa
The writer wishes that children, and adults, would understand is that it's not skill that stops them from learning new things but a world that favours one kind of learning and one type of learner above all. — Picture by Yusof Mat Isa

As my eyes and memory are beginning to fail, I'm doing my best to exercise my brain (and body) and learn skills to keep my mind sharp.

It sounds pessimistic but I don't see myself starting a second career post-retirement; I'd be lucky enough to get a job as an office cleaner post-60 years old but I'm pretty sure tech bros are already plotting to replace cleaners with murderous talking vacuum robots that will decapitate anyone who dares to spill coffee.

Learning is enjoyable for me now because I can take a break and I have more time. Unlike my teenage years, there are no siblings to babysit or tutor. Unlike my 20s and 30s, there is no mad scramble for money to pay for my sister's convocation or my mother's car breaking down.

It's just easy to learn things for fun when there isn't any pressure nor other things weighing on your mind or time.

That's why when I see people just need the willpower and grit to learn new skills I laugh. What do they know about people's circumstances or even how tricky it is to learn without the luxury of time?

Like the process of learning, life itself feels not so much like a road with no clear ending, but like a larger jigsaw puzzle which becomes clearer and clearer, as you get more pieces.

The only thing is you don't get to see the final picture until you get handed the last piece.

In the end you can only hope that the picture you leave behind is the one you hoped for, and the very best picture you could make with every word, thought and action.

* This is the personal opinion of the columnist.