Another dot in the blogosphere?

Lessons on schools from toilets

Posted on: November 21, 2014

It might have been a slow news day for the Straits Times to feature Singapore’s public toilets as being rated six stars. According to ST, “toilets would have to attain a near-perfect score of 104 out of 108 to get six stars. Five-star toilets must achieve a score of 90”.

Our public toilets have certainly come a long way. But lest anyone be fooled, not all our public loos look like the one shown in the tweet above.

A cynic might say that a public toilet looks like that because of photo opportunity. Add real people to the toilets as well as what they do and how they behave in such restrooms and we would have a different photo altogether.

A realist might point out that it is teams of toilet cleaners or attendants that keep the loos in that state. Left to the general public for an hour, our loos might look like the scene of a zombie apocalypse.

There are lessons we can take on this.

Visitors to Singapore schools typically get shown through the doors of our select Future Schools.

There were plans for 15 of our 365 mainstream schools to be Future Schools. At last count there are eight Future Schools based on an official statement.

Like our six-star toilets, such schools get better facilities, personnel, and attention. The contexts and strategies at such schools are not necessarily representative of the rest of the system nor are they scalable.

Why? They rely on an old school strategies: Top-down, special conditions, and generous coffers. Despite the heavy investment year after year our government puts into schools here [almost S$11.5 billion in 2014], the other 357 schools cannot be similarly supported.

What are these other schools to do to shape their own futures?

I suggest innovative ground-up efforts like free and informal professional development of teachers through international Personal Learning Networks (PLNs). This sort of learning is just-in-time (JIT) and just-for-me (JFM).

I recommend they leverage more on Master Teachers and local consultants (like me!) instead of flying in experts and “experts”. Call it self-help.

I advocate BYOD (devices) and BYOC (connections) instead of waiting for centralized technology and infrastructural provisions. Even if, say, only 25% of students have devices and are allowed to use them in class, that is still more than what schools have now.

There is no need to look at glamorous toilets that other people have and wish they were our own. We can take ownership of our problems and work on local, ground-up solutions.


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