Another dot in the blogosphere?

Not uplifting

Posted on: June 22, 2016

I examine most things through an educator’s lens. This means that I process what I read and observe by wondering what they might have to do with schooling or education.

It is hard to ignore the spate of elevator-related news in the news.

People are understandably concerned. About 80% of our population lives in high-rise public housing and no one wants to be the next headline for what should be mundane elevator rides.

The regularity of the news reports is enough to make you wonder if such incidents are on the rise or if they were not highlighted as much in the past. Without a transparent source of data, it is hard to say for sure.

So I speculate. But first I ruminate.

Old HDB elevator buttons.

I wonder how many of us remember living in blocks of flats where lifts were not designed to stop on every floor. Depending on the height of a block, it might have lift landings only on the ground floor (first storey) and then the 5th, 9th, and 12th storeys.

There were different configurations in different block types [example], but they shared this trait: Lifts did not stop on every floor. In fact, lifts that stopped on every HDB floor were only implemented in 1989.

That is a very old design and one that is unthinkable today given how

  • we now expect elevators now stop on every floor,
  • we have an aging population that needs them, and
  • the disabled have always relied on them.

It makes you wonder why policymakers and designers allowed apartment blocks to be built like they used to. Now that is water under the bridge.

Older blocks of flats were retrofitted with every-floor lifts as were MRT stations. This helped not only the elderly, but also the infirm, families with young children, and anyone with lots to carry.

In other words, lifts help everyone. No one, short of someone with elevator phobia, complains about having one. Complaints only arise when they do not work or start to harm people. We expect lifts to work like a basic utility.

I speculate on the elevator problems with questions:

  • We have stop-on-every-floor expectations. Do we have lifts installed in every block designed to do that?
  • We likely do because the technology should get better, not worse. That said, did the lift construction, installation, and maintenance go to contractors with the lowest bids?
  • Operating by the “you get what you pay for” adage, might the breakdowns and accidents not be expected if we went with the lowest costing model?
  • The lift technology and social expectations have long changed, but have the mindsets of administrators, designers, and contractors?

With my educator lens, I ask schools and institutes that claim to “educate” our population questions that parallel the elevator issues:

  • We have a growing teach-me-where-I-am expectation. Do we have teachers prepared to do that?
  • We have educational technology that gets better and cheaper (or even free) all the time. Why do we incorporate them in the lowest possible way and with the lowest return of expectations?
  • When we do not invest in teachers by providing powerful professional development, why are we surprised that breakdowns and accidents happen?
  • Educational technology and social expectations have changed (and keep changing), but have the mindsets of policymakers, leaders, and administrators kept pace?

What frightens me is that the elevator issues are easier to spot, report, and deal with, but the educational technology ones are not. The consequences of ignoring the lift problems are immediate while the effects of schooling and education are not.

Sadly, we tend to deal with what is urgent instead of what is important. There are always urgent things to attend to in school, e.g., meetings ad hoc and planned; test setting, grading, and moderating; the latest administrative process and product.

If we call ourselves educators, I say we put on our reflection lenses every day instead of mainly during back-to-school meetings. These are lenses that help us see near, far, and right through. Let’s take ownership of our schooling-elevator design problems with vision that goes beyond the urgent to the important.

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