Another dot in the blogosphere?

In between the lines 2

Posted on: January 14, 2021

Today I continue yesterday’s reflection with the second of two news articles on edtech initiatives in Singapore schooling in 2021.

The second article summarised the first initiative:

…all secondary and junior college students will undertake home-based learning at least two days a month from the third term of next year…

In my reflection yesterday, I surmised that this was part of a habit or mindset forming exercise. But this news article put the frequency of the so-called home-based learning (HBL) more plainly, i.e., two days a month. Is this frequent enough to form a habit or shape a mindset? Perhaps time will tell.

This second article introduced another initialism, PLDs, which is short for personal learning devices. To the uninitiated, Singapore loves initialisms and the PLDs refer to laptop computers or tablets (more accurately slate computers).

The good and bad news is:

Junior colleges (JCs) and Millennia Institute can choose to tap the Ministry of Education’s (MOE’s) bulk tender to purchase personal learning devices (PLDs) for their students…

Why good? The bulk purchase lowers the cost to the students. Why bad? Low cost does not guarantee high quality. Despite improvements to procurement procedures and the selection of providers, bulk purchases often lead to defective or lower quality devices. That is just how buying in bulk works.

If you do not believe me, take an anecdotal or even a scientifically random sample of teachers with officially provided laptops. Then find out how many have their personal laptops and why they prefer their own.

Teachers are paid well enough to buy alternatives, but students do not have that luxury. They might also have to buy what their schools choose for them. And on that there is more good and bad news:

…expected out-of-pocket expenses from students will be kept to a minimum as students may use their Edusave account to buy the devices.

Under current Edusave disbursement rates, secondary students receive $290 a year, amounting to between $1,160 and $1,450 for four to five years of education…

So the good news is that students can tap their Edusave accounts to pay for (or offset the cost of) a device.

Here is possible bad news: If students do not have enough in their account, might they be allowed to pay for the device in instalments? Given that a device might not last “four to give years” or even lose relevance before that period, will there be enough for a second or third device?

Thankfully, there are provisions:

For Singaporean students on the MOE Financial Assistance Scheme, further assistance will be provided, said MOE, in the form of a subsidy before the student’s Edusave funds are tapped.

Should the Edusave balance still fail to cover the remaining device cost, MOE said it will provide further subsidies to these students to bring their out-of-pocket expenses to zero.

Finally, here is a procedure that seems to be a norm. Apparently, students must:

…allow the school to install a device management application on their device, similar to that installed on school-selected devices.

The application allows schools and parents to monitor device usage by restricting certain applications from being accessible by students, managing screen time and allowing the teacher to monitor students’ screens during the lesson.

Such a management application is good for getting technical support, e.g., remote diagnostics and troubleshooting. But this is potentially invasive. To use the car analogy I introduced in my first reflection, this is like allowing traffic lights, CCTVs, and road barricades into your home.

As there is no description of such a management tool nor an openly shared third-party evaluation of it, I cannot say anything more that what I have said about the secondary use of TraceTogether data [1] [2]. This data was supposed to be for COVID-19 contact tracing, but now it might be used for the investigation of serious crimes.

My point? There is designed and intended use of an application. There is also emergent and unplanned use. How do we ensure that the latter is not abusive by being unreasonably limiting or invading a student’s privacy?

1 Response to "In between the lines 2"

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