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Posts Tagged ‘break

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The central figure in the video above, Maxx, has dyslexia. According to the interview and video description he was “five weeks away from his final examinations when he experienced memory loss”.

He did not do well in the high-stakes exams and made his way into what many here would consider the lower rung of education. But you would be fooled into believing that given how articulate and confident is was.

I am confident he learnt not from schooling, but despite it. Schooling and the social pressures here typically emphasise academic excellence. Little, if anything, is said about character and mindsets. Why? Exams do not measure such things.

It should not take a learner who has dyslexia and memory loss to tell us that non-academic  processes and outcomes like perseverance are more important all the time.

Maxx also highlighted how his dyslexia did not hold him back. He considered that to be an essential part of him. He reminded me that we need to focus on enabling behaviours instead of disabling with labels.

That reminder is timely given how I will soon be facilitating modules on ICT for SPED. The next two videos give be pause for thought.

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The Lost Voice Guy has cerebral palsy which left him unable to speak. So he uses a speech synthesiser to talk. 

In his closing joke for the Britain’s Got Talent judges, he questioned the use of the “special” label, i.e., special needs, special school. I had a good laugh and it got me thinking about how use ridiculous labels.

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Francesca Martinez also has cerebral palsy and described herself as “wobbly” in this TEDx talk. In the comedy routine above, she said: “Who wants a normal life? I want an amazing life!”

The shift in SPED to focus on abilities instead of disabilities has started, but like most things in schooling and education, is moving at a glacial pace. We might learn from Maxx, the Lost Voice Guy, and Francesca how to break expectations. 

I do not expect to change everyone’s mind when I facilitate my modules. But I do expect to push and pull a few educators forward in the right direction. 

Mainstream schools in Singapore are starting their June breaks in May because the COVID-19 pandemic has given us the ability to time travel.

Actually, no. This switch was administrative juggling to reduce HBL or home-based learning (more accurately, emergency remote teaching) to just under a month. How so?

Kids have been on HBL since 8 April. If the school vacation was not brought forward, HBL would have continued till at least 29 May because the end of the lockdown was extended from 4 May to 1 June. So the school vacation covers the remainder of the extended lockdown.

One emerging problem is that some teachers are trying to keep the kids occupied with school vacation activities. Why? The teachers and parents say their kids will be bored.

On one hand, you might understand the response — some parents are bald from tearing their hair out trying to be teaching assistants, IT support, cheerleaders, etc. So any distraction sanctioned by a teacher might provide welcome relief.

On the other hand, why should teachers organise the vacation time of students? Yes, the circumstances are different in that everyone needs to stay cooped up at home. But should kids not be taught that being bored is not a bad thing?

Feeling bored can be the start of planning, creating thinking, storytelling, exploration, and experimentation. The best teachers of such thought and actions are the kids themselves. They might need some guidance or supervision, but they must learn to try and to learn from mistakes.

Kids might not be able to step out much during a lockdown, but this does not mean they cannot explore. Many of the same tools that enable HBL (e.g., video conferencing, text, shared notes, audio and video platforms, video games) might provide remedies for boredom and opportunities to learn outside the curriculum.

Our kids might already feel caged with the lockdown and school holiday projects they need to complete. They need to feel bored because this means they have the time to hear themselves breathe. This is liberating. Their teachers and parents do not have to plan everything for them and the kids learn to operate independently.

Let our kids feel bored. It is evidence of a break and an opportunity to keep themselves meaningfully occupied.

Let’s not kid ourselves — school vacations are not guaranteed breaks, particularly for teachers.

We have four breaks in the mainstream Singapore schooling system (primary, secondary, junior college): Two one-week breaks (in March and September), a roughly four-week mid-year break in June, and long-ish break in November and December. The number of weeks in the last break varies by schooling group.

But the breaks earlier in the year are easily swallowed by school activities, e.g., remedials, chaperoned visits and trips, planning for the next term, exam preparation, etc. It is all too easy for a four-week June break shrink to just two weeks.

The COVID-19 “circuit breaker” has been extended by a month and the June school break is now in May. This means that home-based learning (HBL) — our version of emergency remote teaching — ends on schedule (4 May) instead of carrying on until June.

In theory, this will give teachers time to prepare for another possible round of HBL if we do not get our COVID-19 cases down as a country. Most teachers might also welcome an earlier break given how they were thrown into the maw of HBL. But other teachers will not have it as easy.

Our education minister shared his thoughts on Facebook. He acknowledged the longer than normal school Term 3 in June and rationalised the need for an additional break. Fair enough. Then there was this:

If you are teacher in charge of a critical cohort, e.g., students taking their PSLE or GCEs, you may need to work through the brought-forward break and then continue with the extended term when it resumes in June.

If you do not think that teachers already have a lot on their plates, consider what this might do to already frayed nerves. As they support their students, who will support these teachers? An education minister sets policy and it is left to school leaders and managers to enact this. Will the latter group empathise by first remembering what it was like to be pushed around by policy?

We can rationalise our national “circuit breaker” and make sacrifices, but we also thank and take care of those in the front line. An unintended effect of the extended “circuit breaker” might short-circuit some teachers. These are the same ones who do not ask to be thanked. They just want their leaders to take care of them too.

A break from work is never really a break. This was true for me when I was a teacher and an educator. It is the default for me as a freelancing consultant.

One of the lines I include in my auto-reply now that I am on vacation is “we live in an age where you can drop me an email and be assured that it has been delivered thanks to this automatic reply.”

But that is preceded by a tongue-in-cheek subject line: “I’m not deaf; I’m ignoring you.” That is my way of saying that I take my breaks and mental health seriously.

This does not mean I do not do any work while I am on a break. I still make the effort to learn something new every day and I respond to requests when I can. But I cannot do these things if I am not of sound mind and body.

This is the last week of the mid-year break for most schools in Singapore. I do not think that it is my imagination that the breaks are broken.

A nearby library is like a second office for me. I find it harder to get a seat there with every passing break. The kids there are not reading for pleasure. They are doing school-assigned and tuition homework.

I do not have to be a child in school to feel it. While the number of days in the June break hardly varies every year, the number of disruptions to it seem to rise.

My son had two weeks of extra classes in school over the first two weeks. Each day of schooling during this break was as long as (8am to 2.30pm) or longer than (8am to 4pm) the typical school day.

You might forgive this intrusion and even admire his teachers if you consider that he is taking his PSLE this year. You would be less forgiving if you realise how much his school mismanages curriculum time. Let us not forget that teachers need a break too.

Addendum (21 Jun): I forgot to add that my son’s school also has a three-day leadership camp on the last three days of the school vacation.

The DSA processes are also in full swing during this period. This means briefings, entry tests, and interviews that took away even more time.

My wife and I did not put our son through DSA preparation that some enrichment centres offer. We did this not to save on money or to sabotage his chances. We keep believe in our son’s abilities and we hope that a few selection committee members are able to distinguish between the schooled and the educated.

My son already has his own e-portfolio. I started one for him when he was in utero and he has his own YouTube videos and pixel art galleries.

I do not think that things will get better even though the current rhetoric seems to de-emphasise academic grades. Not every school is brave enough to dump homework and re-educate parents on this matter.

Homework is an staple like rice on our table. Homework is given and it is a given. Homework can be done but not done away with. This is despite the research and critical practice that questions its value.

Like it or not, schools will resist change and turn a deaf ear to rhetoric. How slowly do schools change? Consider how lectures as a concept and practice have not changed for hundreds of years despite the evidence stacked against them.

Short of becoming an education minister who rules with an iron fist, there is little each of us can do. But the little is also what is the most empowering.

These are the little moments of time relating to our children and what they do.

It is a little movement to turn your head away from tuition ads or to throw those flyers into the nearest recycling bin.

It is an even tinier movement of the computer mouse to not click on tuition bait or kiasu parent stories in Facebook.

The little people in our lives matter and they have important things to say and do. All we need to do is set aside a little time.


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