Another dot in the blogosphere?

Overly broad strokes

Posted on: September 6, 2018

I enjoyed the National Geographic documentary special on Singapore as a possible model for future cities.


Video source

However, I watched with critical eyes and ears, particularly when “models” of education were highlighted around the half-hour mark of the documentary.

The overly broad claims made by the scriptwriters covered up fallacies and bias. For example, take the claims made after the segment on kindergarten children using “coding” blocks to learn.

The narrator claimed that approaches like these were “arming future generations of Singaporeans with the skills necessary for computer programming and literacy without exposing them to too much screen time”.

Neither a visitor to our shores nor a born-and-bred local should take this statement at face value. One fallacy is that kids exposed to such experiences will learn them meaningfully. Just ask a child what they remember from class a year ago. Heck, ask them what they learnt yesterday.

That claim was ludicrous when immediately followed up with: “This dynamic new approach to education is of critical importance for parents, helping to prepare their children for the workplaces of the future.”

Now I am not claiming that repeated and purposeful integration of lessons on computational thinking are not effective. I am pointing out that a) such lessons are not necessarily the norm, and b) there are far too many things that contribute to — and get in the way of — a child’s development.

A good start in early childhood education is important, but it is a stretch to claim that something a child experienced that early has a direct impact on future work.

A child’s education is long-term and multi-faceted while the future is murky. At best something learnt now might prepare a student for the next stage of schooling.

Revisit the last part of the quote: “…without exposing them to too much screen time”. The inherent bias is that screen time is bad.

But consider how students will need that screen time to experience and learn more deeply. Heck, I learnt of the documentary thanks to screen time on Twitter and then relied on screen time to watch it on YouTube.

It is what you do with screen time that matters. I wish people who have reach — like the groups that National Geographic partnered with — would stop harping on old and uncritical messages that avoid nuance. There is no point selling a city of the future if the messaging is from an irrelevant past.

Tomorrow's educational progress cannot be determined by yesterday's successful performance.

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