Another dot in the blogosphere?

Lingering thoughts on the haze

Posted on: September 26, 2015

As much as I do not enjoy the haze, I half wish that the hazardous levels Singapore experienced on Thursday evening and Friday morning hung around a bit longer.

The situation was bad enough that MOE had to make an announcement on a public holiday (it was Hari Raya Haji) that some schools were closed on Friday.

I question why MOE excluded older students from this order, but I will not do so at length. There is no justifiable logic when you consider how businesses stopped delivery services and sports arenas shut down. Haze particles and other pollutants do not discriminate by age. Hiding behind “policy” or “guidelines” is not good enough. Policies and guidelines can change under the circumstances.

Back to why I think it might be good if we experienced a protracted period of hazardous levels of the haze.

We would collectively suffer economically, medically, and socially at the very least, but a prolonged situation might have galvanized action. As schooling and education respond the slowest to change, the more dire and persistent the circumstance, the more likely the change efforts might be.

For example, there might be better communication plans instead of late and unconfirmed word of mouth. There was practically a tweet race with unverified statements or “I got this WhatsApp message” about school closures.

If you lived with a teacher, you might have heard the rumours or information first. But a teacher is not an official channel. CNA was among the first to get the official word out; MOE took about an hour to release an official statement on its own after CNA said it heard from MOE.

When this information became news between 9 and 10pm on Thursday night, some families might have bedded down for the next school day. There must be a better way to communicate school closures and the answers are staring us in the face.

Schools collect parent and caregiver mobile numbers and email addresses, some use proprietary mobile apps. How about actually using them to spread accurate and timely information?

The haze-related schools closure was not quite an emergency, but it would have been an appropriate test for an actual emergency. When there is an emergency, will the communication systems be in place and the people prepared? How will you know?

Sudden announcements like these also spread like wildfire by word-of-mouth (or more accurately, text-of-phone). But anyone who has played the broken telephone game knows how information gets garbled as it is passed on. I was disappointed to see this happening on Twitter when people did not also provide verifiable or reliable sources of information.

Passing the word along that schools were closed is not good enough. Who said so? Which schools? What should parents do if they cannot make arrangements in time? These are questions that are answered by the new adage: Pics or it did not happen. In other words, show me the source and let me decide.

A prolonged exposure to the haze might also break the lazy e-learning camel’s back.

I did not know whether to laugh or cry when I read a parent’s suggestion that we rely more on school e-learning (see article in tweet below).

You would think that from the way most schools still conduct e-learning, the “e” stood for “emergency”. They are designed to be the exception rather than the rule. This form of e-learning is peripheral instead of core; it is not as “good” as attending classes.

When are we going to experience e-learning so that it is as “good” as, nay, better than attending classes?

Perhaps never because that would mean that teachers as deliverers of content, proctors of tests, and graders of exams will cease to be. That would be a disaster worse than a transboundary haze as far as schools are concerned.

However, that is the kind of change that we need. In a world that is information-rich but predictability-poor, we need teachers who are Facilitative, Adaptable, Connected, and Timely. That is a FACT. If it takes a HAZE to create this push, I say so be it.

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