Recently Singapore’s Ministry of Education (MOE) announced a new curriculum for Mother Tongue (Mandarin, Malay, and Tamil) languages that will take effect in 2015.
Not many bat an eyelid since wholesale curricular revisions used to happen once every twelve years and then once every six or seven. Like cookies, one batch does not get the chocolate chips while another does.
What I find unusual is how parents do not really complain if their children are excluded from a new or better curriculum. This is another example of one-size-fits-all in that something good does not benefit those outside its designated demographic.
One one hand, we can understand the implementation constraints. It takes time, effort, and money to prepare a new slew of reference material (mostly textbooks) and on-going professional development for teachers. Curricular changes may have always been implemented that way, but we should question why.
On the other, curricula should not be designed with legacy issues like electronic devices. You should not have to abandon your device for a new one unless it is truly lacking a hardware feature or if a flaw cannot be corrected with a software update. Even then people have a choice to move to a bigger or better device.
In short, curricula should not be designed with lock in or lock out clauses. That is how the cookie crumbles.
Here are a few ideas for a better cookie recipe.
Other than acceptance and mindset change, the two biggest barriers to curricular change are supporting resources and teacher preparation. Acceptance is a low bar in relatively compliant Singapore. Mindset change is a matter of time.
Traditional publishers can hold schools to ransom with production times and antiquated policies. One way to overcome this is with open textbooks and electronic publishing. These will not circumvent all publishing problems, but they will enable resources to be created more collaboratively and revised on-the-fly.
Teacher preparation is a more difficult recipe to design. That said, Singapore teachers are nothing if not adaptable. They may complain, but they get things done and eventually are bought over. I think that an open approach will go a long way in creating ownership because they can make individual changes on the ground and contribute to systemic changes as a whole.
Here is the pinch of salt that makes or breaks the recipe. The MOE press release stated:
There will also be a greater use of information and communication technology (ICT) to enhance the teaching and learning of MTL. ICT resources such as videos, animations, digital interactive games will continue to be developed to support the curriculum in engaging our students to learn MTL in a fun and purposeful way.
We all know what is likely to happen and that is the reluctant or ceremonial tacking on of ICT. I hope this will not happen, but history has a way of repeating itself.
We should break out of this cycle. ICT should not just be a “fun and purposeful” tool but also a basic enabler. Make all resources electronic and make processes like production, consumption, and interaction electronic as well.
Let the production be open to keep costs down, let the consumption be across multiple platforms so kids can use what they already have (or can buy for very low cost), and let some of the interaction be where the kids are already at or need to be.
If you are going to leverage on ICT, do it to make a different and better cookie, not to make the same one that will crumble.