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May is an important month for my immediate family. I try to reflect on this mostly with numbers.

This week in particular I think about my 20th on the 21st. The 20th is actually a 33rd because of a lucky 13. 

Nope. I am not good with just numbers.

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I loved the story of how Zillige tiles are made and how they are combined to create the art that gives the region in Fez in Morocco its distinctive look. 

This was not just a process-behind-the-product look. It was an examination of the value system. At around the 9min 40sec mark, a Zellige tile master shared his perspective. Other than the dedication needed for his craft, he said that a practitioner is “not called a teacher because he always learner throughout his life”.

This was from a man who has been practising for 54 years. It takes humility and honesty to maintain that perspective. So I wonder: How many educators will steadfastly reject the job label of teacher?

I used to call labels like “millennials” unnecessary and embarrassing. The video below of comedian, Russell Howard, ranting about the media blaming millennials reminds me that such labels are also stupid.

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Why are such labels stupid? They rely on the wilful ignorance and lazy thinking of one group to put another group down so that the first group can feel good about itself.

The video reminded me of at least Build For Tomorrow podcast episodes. One reminded me that every generation finds something negative to say about the one that comes after it. The other taught me that the cohort effect pitted us against them while the period effect was about shared experiences.

Labelling a group of people and associating negative traits ignores your own group has individuals that are just as bad or worse. It also precludes how the other group has smart, fast, or influential individuals too. Ignoring that so that you feel good about yourself is just plain stupid.

This tweeted article used basic mathematics to let us know that turning off the lights does not save us that much money.

How little might we save in Averageville, USA? About nine US cents a day or US$31 a year assuming ten lights were on continuously for eight hours a day.

That does not sound like much quantitatively, but the narrative misses out on the cost of being blasé about consuming energy. These days every cent matters, every point of use matters, and most importantly, mindset matters.

Every cent and dollar spent doing nothing useful is money wasted. Every pointless use of energy is a waste of time, effort, and resources. Every wasteful effort is indicative of self-centred thinking (what is this to me?) instead of systemic thinking (how do things connect?).

Leaving on lights might not cost much financially, but such action might indicate that the lights are not on in your head. That is a costly matter indeed.

My rant yesterday was about how the legacy system of physical business cards prevented access to a shared space for remote working. Today I explore another legacy issue — paper-based bank statements — and link such inertia to assessment. 

Every utility, insurance, and banking statement I receive is electronic except for one. The exception is Maybank Singapore.

I receive a monthly statement of the joint account I maintain with my son. We started that account when we returned to Singapore from the USA about 16 years ago. For most of that time, practically all my transactions and records were electronic. 

Several months ago, a paper Maybank statement appeared in my mailbox. Not only did I not ask for this, they kept on coming. Those same statements come with an extra page of service advertisements, tips, and advice. One tip was to “Go green! Switch to eStatements”.

The tip also stated that I could use the mobile banking app to apply for “eStatements”, so I tried. However, the app told me that my accounts (I only have one) “are not eligible for eStatement”. So why tell me to switch?

I would like the switch so that I do not get unnecessary paper in my mailbox. This is not just a “green” thing to do. Being responsible with all our resources is not a fad; it is our duty as stewards of our planet.

I provided feedback via the app because that is what I can do for now. If I need to brave a queue at a local bank branch, I will do that.

My complaint is that the legacy system of paper-based statements is enabled and entrenched by people who do not know or care about a broader mission. They might be aware of a corporate effort to “go green”, but they might not know why and how.

I am quite certain that this is a worker mindset issue because the same bank issued me a bank card with my surname as my first name and the wrong first name. Someone messed up with the database.

What does this have to do with schooling and education? People and assessment. Curriculum planners and teachers know that they need to evaluate learning more progressively. However, they remain anchored to legacy systems because it is the safe thing to do.

Take, for example, what a batch of future special needs teachers told me almost a year ago. Some of their courses were examinable and they were required to use Zoom to monitor their test-taking when all of us were learning/working from home.

The assessment did not change to suit the times. The circumstances should have dictated that since we could not meet in person, policies and procedures should change. However, one or more decision makers chose not to operate outside the box, so they forced a communication/learning tool (Zoom) to be a monitoring/proctoring one.  

On one hand, I am thankful they did not have access to cruel online proctoring tools. On the other, I am disappointed that they resorted to repurposing Zoom to do what it cannot and should not, i.e., monitor behaviour. All this stems from the inability to think and operate outside the traditional proctored examination.

As current and future practitioners, teachers should be able to work on projects, interview other teachers or school leaders, collect and analyse data, write proposals for grants, suggest curricular changes, design lessons, etc. 

None of those require Zoom-based proctoring. All of these are relevant to a teacher. None of them take the form of a traditional examination. All of them model possibilities to these teachers.

The bank statement and forced proctoring illustrate inconsistent messaging. There are the ideals of going green and progressive education. But there is the louder and opposite message of doing things the old and ineffective way.

Even worse, the user and teacher might learn to hate the technology that enabled legacy behaviour, i.e., the banking app did not allow the switch to e-statements and the Zoom-based exam was more unpleasant than a normal one.

My reflection reminds me about why change agents need to keep working. When change happens, it sometimes feels like taking three steps forward and then two steps back. At least there is progress. But what can also happen is three steps forward and four steps back — a regression. We need to keep pushing forward.

Today and tomorrow I reflect on simple legacy systems that persist but are no longer relevant now. I link these to what is happening in schooling and education.

Several months ago, I noticed an electronic flyer that promoted the use of a shared space for those who needed to work from home (WFH). This was when WFH was at 50% and the scheme was good for workers who might prefer a place that felt more like an office.

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However, the notice stipulated you needed to show your business cards to enter the shared space. This might work for those who work for companies and the civil service, but this might not be true of those who freelance.

I dispensed with business cards almost eight years ago when I went independent. I would simply share my email address or Twitter handle with those asked for a business card. The point of the card, after all, was to provide contact information.

Owning a business card does not mean that you are part of a company or gainfully employed. Anyone can make their own business cards. If a business card was proof for entry to that shared space, then I should also be able to sketch myself on notepaper when asked to verify my identity.

If we claim to live in an information age (or even post-information age), then we should act that way. Reliable, flexible, and meaningful information is electronic now. For example, CNA recently reported how birth and death certificates will be electronic from the end of May. We have been able to use electronic versions of our our NRICs (in Singpass) for most identity verifications

This is just one example of how legacy systems hold back those who operate fully in the present. There are so many legacies in schooling and education, and the worst are linked to assessment. Such assessment is so significant that it has been called the tail that wags the dog. More on this tomorrow.

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I love QR codes. I persisted with them when they were not cool [example] and now they are ubiquitous thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic.

But there is an instance when Quick Response codes can be Quite Ridiculous. This is not the fault of the codes but of its implementation.

Have you received email asking you to RSVP to an event with a QR code embedded in that email? You need two machines* to respond to this: One to display the QR code and another to read it.

*You could use one computer if you rely on web-based email, use an extension-enabled browser, and have a QR code extension [example] installed.

This indicates that the sender of the message is not thinking about what you need to do. They might only be thinking about how common or cool it is to include a QR code because they see it everywhere. But they forget that QR codes are typically printed and pasted somewhere and you need only bring one device, your phone, up to it.

This reminds me of the mindset of teachers who are new (or stubborn) about integrating technology into their lessons. They fall into the cool tool trap or assume that commonality leads to transfer. They forget about user experience, context, and empathy for the learner. Without these, lesson design that attempts to use or integrate technology is likely to be Quite Ridiculous.

Tweets like the one below accelerate my curmudgeonliness.

It reminds me of meaningless BuzzFeed quizzes. You can find out which Harry Potter character you are in a quiz or you can relate to one of the panels above. So what?

Yes, the quizzes and the tweet are for fun and entertainment. But it is not a stretch to say that such thinking transfers to schooling and education. Ask any serious educator how often they struggle to undo years of lazy thinking shaped by oversimplified categorising.

This sort of lazy thinking can be insidious. Take the MBTI instruments students take for career development, for instance. Some workplaces even use it for recruitment and promotion. 

Instruments like MBTI are based on pseudoscience and lazy thinking allows them to persist and entrench. People do not fit neatly into the MBTI categories because the categories are neither valid nor reliable. 

I am not saying that chunking and categorising are wrong. These are fundamental to human thinking because we can only process so much at one time. And yet this cognitive limit can teach us to prioritise and make good decisions.

But we do not get to that sort of thinking by being lazy. Categorising to organise is good. Categorising to oversimplify is not. The first type of chunking acknowledges nuance, incompleteness, and complexity. The second dispenses of all these.

Do actions speak louder than words? Sometimes they do, but words also matter.

If you say you believe in something, you have to prove it with clear and consistent behaviour. For example, I detest Facebook because of they way it uses and abuses our data. So I try not to help create that data by avoiding Facebook, Instagram, and WhatsApp.

BTW, here is a tweet thread by the former Chief Business Officer of WhatsApp on its sale to Facebook in 2014. He explained why he regretted negotiating the process. Here is a sample:

He used his words to counter his action and set new direction. In doing this, he wields influence because he has a relatively large audience.

Ordinary individuals should also do good work and talk about it. I am thinking of educators who reflect on and share their practice by blogging, vlogging, or tweeting. We do this not for glory or profit. We do this so that the edusphere becomes much smaller, connected, and richer. 

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