Another dot in the blogosphere?

The problem with silos

Posted on: August 19, 2014

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.


1 Response to "The problem with silos"

[…] – S M Ong: National Day Rally 2014: Door still wrong – Another dot in the blogosphere?: The problem with silos – Signs of Struggle: What makes non-graduates valuable? – Singapore Man of Leisure: […]


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