Another dot in the blogosphere?

Headlines and red lines

Posted on: September 30, 2020

 
I have learnt not to place too much hope in hopeful headlines. Headlines like Universities, polytechnics, ITEs reviewing curriculum for a ‘new way’ of teaching, learning: Lawrence Wong.

I will say this first: Journalists parse what they read and/or hear from sources (in this case, the new Education Minister, Mr Lawrence Wong) and in doing so simplify in an attempt to connect to the reader. However, this not always a wise move because nuance can get lost.

I react to the article paragraph by paragraph.

Delivered
Consider a claim in the first paragraph that the authorities will “rethink how education can be better delivered”. A person’s education is not something you can package and pay for like a Grab Food order. It is certainly not something that can be delivered.

To be educated is to be challenged with meaningful problems, subject to failure, and be empowered to find solutions. It is not just about consuming new content or having new experiences from textbooks, courseware, or professors. The latter are somewhat packable and therefore deliverable, but the former are not.

Interdisciplinary and multidisciplinary
The article also uses the terms interdisciplinary and multidisciplinary interchangeably. A byline uses interdisciplinary while a quote from the minister uses multidisciplinary. They are not the same thing.

Most current degrees require students to take many subjects to get a diploma. Their courses are multidisciplinary. But their implementation is unlikely to be interdisciplinary, i.e., integration of subjects that is a result of combined planning, implementation, and assessment from faculty in different silos.

Disrupt
Then there is the uncritical use of “disrupt”: “…the closure of schools during the circuit breaker in April and May to restrict activities and curb the spread of Covid-19 may have disrupted learning”. University teaching might have been interrupted, stopped, or shaken, but learning continues regardless.

Teaching is not learning. Teaching does not guarantee learning even though the latter is desired. Learning happens regardless of official or recognised teaching figures. You need only look back a few months to recall what and how people learnt while in lockdown.

Analytics, automation, AI
Here is a claim that worries me more than it gives me hope:

The Ministry of Education (MOE) now has a “renewed interest” in the role of technology in education, he said.

“And it goes beyond just putting some content online and having remote learning. There is a lot of potential, for example, in using data analytics and artificial intelligence to allow for automated grading.

Yes, there is a much potential… for misuse! One need only read about and learn from the IB and GCSE/GCE fiascos to see what I mean.

What also worries me is the oft cited “automated grading”. This seems to be a focus on efficiency instead of effectiveness. It is not wrong to be as efficient as possible since timely feedback to students on their performance is key to learning. But such quick grading is currently formulaic and simplistic (e.g., answers to multiple-choice questions). This is no where near the complexity of evaluating essays, projects, portfolios, or performances.

Blended learning
I did not find anything new about blended learning in the article. The article tried to make it sound new: “It also requires teachers and instructors to come alongside and be trained in this new way of teaching”.

Blended teaching and learning are not new. They are also not just about combining what happens face-to-face with online activities. Blending has far more dimensions than the mode of instruction and learning. Content, teaching strategies, resource, assessment, and other elements can be blended.

Screen time and addiction
Then there was the usual but unjustified reference to “excessive screen time, digital addiction”. The critiques against the uncritical use of screen time and addiction are numerous and elaborate, but here is a condensed version: 1) The quantity of screen time is not the issue, the quality of the activity is more important, and 2) Addiction is a very specific psychological condition and should not be bandied about to fear monger.

The private sector
The minister mentioned that the private sector could provide industry-relevant contexts and checks. I agree.

He also said that they could be training providers. University faculty can and should learn from industrial partners. But not all trainers are pedagogues. They might not have the background, experience, and research literacy to teach or offer advice on teaching in university contexts.

For goodness sake
The minister’s concluding remarks included this:

…learning can be for good. We also want to learn to be better human beings, to be better husbands and wives, to be better fathers and mothers to our children…

I say we focus primarily on that. It is the most noble, important, and complex to do. The rest are red lines we might not need to cross. But education for the sake of goodness needs to be underlined in red several times.

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