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Two steps forward, three steps back

Posted on: June 5, 2016

Educators who see themselves as change agents might describe the slow systemic change that happens in the schooling and education spheres as three steps forward and two steps back. They mean to say that progress is slow, but there is forward motion nonetheless.

They might forget that sometimes it is three steps forward and three back, or worse, two steps forward and three steps back instead.

If you take a step back, you might realise that these missteps are linked to changes in leadership (good people leaving) and of policy (poor implementation of good policy or just bad policy to begin with).

Even though I longer consider myself tightly integrated to the schooling system (phew!) I have my fingers on that pulse. I also have my little birds and I am not blind or deaf to what is happening around me.

For much of 2016, I have noticed a more aggressive clamping down on cloud-based services like Google Edu Apps and services.

For example, I have been told that folks at MOE HQ can no longer access Google Edu Apps, not on official work systems anyway.

Recently I conducted a workshop at a polytechnic, and while getting the place ready, I discovered that Chrome was removed from institute-owned laptops.

If I was a conspiracy theorist, I might suspect that someone powerful (and ignorant) enough does not like Google very much.

All this does not stop staff from using their own mobile data plans or their own devices, of course. But there is also policy in place — fuelled more by fear than by valid and reliable information — in order to keep people in line.

One fairly common and deluded policy-driven practice is not storing files online in services like Dropbox or sharing them by email. Instead staff are told to save files to official USB thumb drives and/or use official computers linked to official printers.

If Google and other providers of online services could defend themselves, they would point out the measures they take. For example, I have noticed how Gmail now highlights email that originates from unsecured servers. The email addresses are inevitably from .edu domains.

The irony is that IT heads and departments accuse larger, external services as being insecure while maintaining smaller and even more insecure internal services of their own. What they are really insecure about is losing relevance and their jobs.

I am not making light of security. I am against using “security” as an excuse.

But I digress. Back to unquestioned policies and irrational practices.

All this reminds me of what I used to have to do when I was a teacher. Twenty years ago. When phones were dumb, Internet access was dialup, and laptops were more like barbells. So much has changed and yet so little.

Singapore schools have been steamrolled by ICT Masterplans 1 to 3. We have just embarked on Masterplan 4. If we are honest in our own assessment, there is a lot of talk and very little effective walk.

When you take into account fear-driven policies and practices, there is even moonwalking, i.e., giving the appearance of moving forward while actually moving backwards.

Video source

It might be hard to believe that such policies and practices are in place. After all, the popular media channels toot the emergence of trends like maker spaces in schools.

Adults forget that kids make naturally out of curiosity, without fear, and from a natural drive to learn. However, these traits are schooled out of them early in life so that they are more compliant.

To their credit, when presented with the opportunity to make with their hands and minds again later in schooling life, some kids revert to what comes naturally. The adults then pat themselves on the back for “innovating”.

Viewed systemically, the increasing acceptance of maker spaces here looks like progress as a result of three steps forward and two back. Given how long it has taken and how making actually happens naturally but made to fit into a schooling structure, I see this as two steps forward and three steps back.

The late Michael Jackson was a consummate entertainer and a master at moonwalking. It was enjoyable to watch. However, seeing the same thing happen in schooling and education is terrifying and irresponsible. It makes me wish that those who hold our kids back because of uninformed policies do a Benjamin Button. Then maybe they might remember what it is like to learn like a child.

The first thing an expert forgets is what it is like to struggle with learning.

2 Responses to "Two steps forward, three steps back"

Shaun Kirkwood: @ashley great post, I hope some open minds arrive to help the amazing teachers I’ve met here in SG,hope your message gets out more too. via


SzeYee: RT @ashley: How schools take two steps forward & three steps back #edsg via


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