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STonline announced that 42 secondary schools would offer a new programme for students to learn science and technology.

One paragraph leapt at me:

Students will learn skills such as reasoning and problem-solving, scientific inquiry as well as pick up new uses of technology such as programming skills.

The programming aspect might be novel, but should reasoning and problem-solving be new?

I hope that the programming is not limited to programming languages and that it also includes computational thinking.

As for reasoning and problem-solving, what is to stop teachers from doing more of that now? Do they need permission from the top, direction from the centre, and content only from prescribed curricula? Or are they going to cite the sorry excuse of “this is not tested so what is the point”?

That was my reaction to the STonline reference.

The official MOE press release read like this:

This programme will provide learning opportunities for students to apply their knowledge and skills in science, mathematics and technology to solve real-world problems….

The skills and competencies include: Scientific inquiry and literacy; Reasoning and problem solving; Design thinking; Computational thinking; and Data analysis and the use of technology

This clears the air on whether it was about programming or computational thinking. But it still makes me wonder if inquiry, literacy, reasoning, problem-solving, and design thinking should be a special programme instead of an integrated one.

If schools so not pick up on this hint, then local tuition centers might just do this to give some students an edge over others.

In fact, as much as I do not like what tuition has become, I would like to see tuition centres or private education outfits picking up the slack or pushing boundaries. That might show the incumbent schooling system how to serve its stakeholders with meaningful long term skills.

Food For Thought, Covent Garden, London by Kake Pugh, on Flickr
Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 2.0 Generic License  by  Kake Pugh 

Last week’s finds provided some really good food for thought.

Humanizing Our Organizations Through Social Media was a great reminder on why institutes of higher learning should leverage on Facebook and Twitter.

Higher Ed and the Monastic Space provided a perspective on how to better use the face-to-face time in classes.

Measuring what you contribute rather than what you collect, my favourite of the lot, provided some concrete examples of so-called alternative assessments. I think they should be mainstream assessments as they are relevant now.

So as not to get mentally fat, I plan on acting on what I consumed!

I am writing a short (notice) paper for upper management to consider the future of learning with respect to technology-based social networks. I’ve opted to write something on social learning systems.

As usual, I went on a search for relevant source of information. And, as usual, pertinent and realtime information dropped in my lap thanks to Twitter, social bookmarks and RSS.

Here are some gems:

[image source, used under CC licence]

Gizmodo reported that the McDonald’s group in Japan would begin training employees with the Nintendo DS. Chris Dawson at ZDnet asked: Nintendo hardware in the classroom? Why not?

Why not indeed! I see these as two emergent trends combining as one: The rise of mobile computing/learning devices and gaming as a strategy for training and learning. It is not unusual for me to read a tweet, RSS feed or Facebook wall posting on something like this every other day. I look forward to the day that this “news” becomes “olds”.

What is exciting news for now is what Nintendo’s game guru, Shigeru Miyamoto, said in an AP interview [CBS link]:

Could Nintendo’s Mario be swapping his world of magic mushrooms and ravenous dinosaurs for the staid confines of the classroom?

The man behind the massively popular video game franchise thinks so, saying he’s working hard to turn Nintendo Co.’s brand of handheld consoles into educational aids and teaching tools.

“That is maybe the area where I am devoting myself (the) most,” Japanese video game guru Shigeru Miyamoto told The Associated Press in an interview.

His ideas are set to take root in Japan, but this is one Japanese invasion I would actually look forward to!

In the meantime, I am currently reading:

Thanks to Carolyn, I have discovered the New York Times’ Room for Debate. These are editorials on topics like:

They make for thought-provoking reading!

Yesterday a writer at Ars Technica asked How wide is the world’s digital divide, anyway? More specifically, the writer was wondering about the penetration rates of broadband in various countries. In a survey of 127 countries:

only 10 countries are above 80 percent—mostly small places like Hong Kong, Singapore, Denmark, and South Korea. Together, the ten countries in this bracket account for only two percent of the world population.

Access to broadband in other countries is much, much lower. Eighty eight other countries were not included in the study because they had no home broadband penetration.

Does that make me proud to be Singaporean? No, it actually depresses me as a world citizen. It depresses me further when I think about how little we do in Singapore education with the much that we have.

The day before the Ars Technica article was published, the World Bank highlighted how broadband access and mobile technologies were key to economic growth. Their report claimed that:

for every 10 percentage-point increase in high-speed Internet connections there is an increase in economic growth of 1.3 percentage points.

Assuming that the World Bank methods for arriving at this conclusion were sound, this should make any politician or government official jump into action. At least, one would think so. After all, if you have to grab someone, you should do so where they will take notice: In the balls. Eye balls that is. Oh, and the wallet area too.

(On a side note, the second article also mentioned in passing that greater broadband access would “promote social inclusion”. I guess we might have to wait for someone to write about what Web 2.0 denizens already understand.)

What matters to me obviously is technology in education. I champion mobile and Web 2.0 technologies because I think that they are key tools for promoting more relevant forms of teaching and learning. They can shift the power of learning to students because they get information for themselves, learn from anyone from any part of the world, and ultimately learn to think for themselves. Learning takes place any place, any time and in any way.

So when opportunities arise, I urge the school personnel that I meet to set up wireless access and to buy netbooks for students instead of refreshing the computers in labs. When I meet industry representatives who tout netbooks or mobile Internet access, I try to convince them to collaborate with schools.

But I swim against the current. I see companies and schools (and, unfortunately, some of my colleagues) pushing things like Interactive White Boards (IWBs) and outdated Learning Management Systems (LMS). IWBs keep technology largely in the hands of teachers and promote teacher-centric pedagogy. LMS are more often about control than about creativity, communication, collaboration and critical thinking. Both IWBs and LMS are money spinners for the companies that sell them, but they are outdated technologies as far as progressive education is concerned.

Not only should teachers be putting relevant and relatively-cheap-yet-powerful technologies in the hands of students, they should be practising more student-centred pedagogies. They should be modelling and imparting 21st century skills and values instead of beating the 19th century education horse to death.

But if they must use IWBs, then how might they use them regularly and meaningfully so that students learn real world collaboration skills? If LMS are heavily invested in schools, then how might they be integrated into everyday curriculum so that students learn to create and critique instead of learning merely to copy, and conform?

Don’t get me wrong. There is a place and time for didactic forms of teaching. But that place should not be everywhere and all the time and it certainly should not be the pedestal where it still rests. Just because you are talking does not mean that students are listening and learning!

Teachers should stop shifting the blame on why they don’t rely more on student-centred, technology-mediated pedagogies to a lack of time or a tight curriculum or the exam system. If they keep their students’ needs and futures in mind, all these obstacles become insignificant. Schools in Singapore have the money, the motivation and the means to make this happen. Are we going to let inertia and old mindsets hold us back?

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