Another dot in the blogosphere?

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I am so thankful that the month of incense paper burning is over.

Come August in Singapore, folks who believe in Hungry Ghosts provide food offerings and burn incense paper in metal drums scattered across the heartlands and elsewhere. Despite the efforts to manage the burning, there will always be people who do not burn the paper in the designated space, and even if they do, the ash and smell goes everywhere.

But this reflection is not about the behaviour or the ill will that might result. What we do in #edsg on a daily basis is sometimes like the burning of Hungry Ghost incense paper.

If #edsg is a communal bin or drum, I wonder how many of us just throw thoughts, ideas, and URLs in only to see them burn and disappear into the night.

#edsg should be more about having deeper and meaningful conversations about those thoughts, ideas, and URLs. It is about being able to apply critical thinking to weak, untested ideas, or to ideas that seem steadfast but must be broken down.

It is about being wrong or vulnerable, but bouncing back from that and becoming a more educated person.

Being a participant in #edsg is not about tossing ideas mindlessly or carelessly into the mix. It is about wanting to share with and develop a community of critical thinkers and active change agents.

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This tweet reminded me that there is the giving of feedback and there is the acting on it. Merely giving feedback is not going to change behaviour or cause learning.

This is similar to something I tell instructors: Teaching is not the same as learning. You may teach, but that does not mean anyone has learnt anything. You may test and there might be short term results from it, but that does not necessarily lead to meaningful learning.

This might seem obvious to most, but given the busy work of teaching, grading, and chasing the curriculum, it easy to forget that going through the motions of teaching does not guarantee learning.

I have spent most of my working life as an instructor of some sort. A significant portion of it was as a teacher educator in NIE where my colleagues and I prepared teachers. But I wonder how much we focused on teachers being learners all the time.

By this I mean understanding the learner and what they struggle with. In the context of receiving feedback, this could mean knowing how to help them take action.

That the tweet echoed like a lonely voice in the desert and that some will read the tweet and nod in agreement is recognition that most teachers still focus on their teaching and not enough on their students’ learning.

Most teachers in Singapore know the differences in behaviours that are teacher-centred and learner-centred. Being pragmatic, they also know when to toggle between the two modes.

But there should only be one mode and that is being learner-centred. All the time.

If you are learner-centred, you will realize that it is not enough to mark up an assignment with feedback. The assignment must be important to the learner, the feedback must be timely, the feedback might come from other learners as well, the learner must know what to with the feedback, and there must be evidence of learning.

If a teacher is learner-centred, then flipping is not the flipping of instruction but the flipping of roles (who the teacher is, who the content creator is). Game-based learning, project-based learning, and other x-based learning are not just pedagogical strategies but also philosophical orientations on what it means to be a learner and how we learn.

There should only be one mode and that is being learner-centred. Anything else is a compromise or an excuse. The only question left is: How learner-centred are you?

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More of us need to learn to give more than we already take.

We need not just focus on money and food, important as they are. There are so many other ways and opportunities to give.

We can can give our time, our effort, our words, our comfort. We have so much to give.

Silos for storing large amounts of grains separately are wonderful things. Operational and schooling silos are not.

During a recent National Day Rally, our Prime Minister mentioned how three agencies could ignore a common problem simply because they operated in their own silos.

Imagine if fallen debris, a misguided vehicle, or some infrastructure fell on all three areas. Which agency should respond and to what extent?

I recall situations in the past where people wanted something done with birds vulturing leftover food at hawker centre tables. Who you gonna call? You might have had better luck with the Ghostbusters because the animal control agency would aim their sights at a park or hygiene agency while the latter would wave a latexed finger right back.

Neither agency was the right choice in the example above because it started with lazy people not putting away their dishes in the first place. But that is not the point.

The point is that thinking and operating in silos is counterproductive. Our PM’s solution was a supra agency that focused on service, not separate responsibility.

That makes operational sense. Now how about we extend that idea to schooling?

Our kids are taught separate subjects partly because we are no longer Renaissance people raising Renaissance kids. There seems to be way too much information for just one person to know and then pass on to someone else.

But that premise is flawed because everyone does not NEED to know everything, no one CAN know everything, and most importantly, that model of schooling was invented for the Industrial Age. The same age where compartmentalized efficiency was king and brought prosperity, and pushed us to new heights.

While we still need some industrial processes as a foundation (and thus some basic schooling too), we live in a world where problems do not fall neatly into one silo. Practically any problem worth solving has aspects that might be social, political, ethical, economical, geographical, technological, whatever-cal.

To prepare kids for the problems that they need to solve, we should not be teaching them to solve problems in academic silos. When presented with a fallen palm tree that cuts across three jurisdictions, there is not always a clear answer provided by someone else like a supra agency.

Instead kids must construct their own solutions and they must do so by making connections. If they were taught in a siloed way, then they must learn how to cut across silos. If they already benefit from a more cross-disciplinary approach, then they must learn how to make connections with others as possible nodes to solutions.

This is just another way of saying it is not just WHAT you know, but also WHO you know.

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I recall playing a childhood game where we would cock a pretend gun to someone’s head and ask, “Your money or your life?”

That was just a game. I had to ask myself that question yesterday because I had to decide between taking a well-paying consultancy gig or taking care of my health.

As chipper as I have tried to be about the last week since being diagnosed with a kidney stone, I have been in considerable pain. While I am better now, I still cannot stand up straight or walk properly without punishing myself.

I was ready to bite the bullet and do a consulting gig today which required a quick trip overseas. Just the thought of all the months of planning, preparation, and effort was enough to push me to go. But deep down I knew that I was being stupid.


When I had an office, one of my walls was covered with a spiral of my son’s photos to remind me why I did what I did. The photo above is one that I took in 2010.

The photos reminded me to do what I can (and even push myself to do what I think I cannot) to ensure my son has the education that he deserves, not just the schooling he is provided. To do that, I must change the mindsets and behaviours of teachers and educators of all kinds and at all levels.

That mission has not changed. But now that I am at home more, I have a more immediate mission of being there for my family. So the question of money or life was easy to answer. I am glad I chose life.

There is a saying that if you do not have your health then you do not have anything. Or something to that effect.

I am finding this to be particularly true now. I am scheduled to have a consulting gig overseas next Monday and a new gig the next day. These are at the back of my mind as I rush to get better.

But all I can do is rest and take in lots of fluids. There is no point having all the world’s riches if I do not have my health.

How would you rate the pain on a scale of 1 to 10?

I was asked that question several times when I checked into the Emergency ward on Tuesday evening. I had never been asked that question before and I had no frame of reference.

I gave the pain a rating of 8 when I reasoned that 9 must be screaming in pain and 10 unconscious from it.

After some poking, prodding, scanning, and x-raying, I found out that I had a kidney stone. The doctor told me that the pain I was experiencing was second only to a gallstone. If I were female, I would probably say it was a distant third behind childbirth.

This dark cloud emerged barely two weeks after my fulltime employment medical benefits lapsed. In the eight years I worked in NIE, I did not make a major claim. The moment I left it, life decided to play a joke on me.

On the bright side, I got to experience the effects of morphine. Boy, was it effective.

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