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Posts Tagged ‘change

Today I link a YouTube video and a call by one of our Deputy Prime Ministers (DPM), Tharman Shanmugaratnam: ‘If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it’ will not cut it for Singapore’s education.


Video source

We were all taught that we have five senses — sight, hearing, smell, taste, and touch. These senses are obvious and seem irrefutable, but they are oversimplifications.

We actually have a myriad of basic senses. Two of the less obvious ones include proprioreception (sense of space) and equilibrioreception (sense of balance).

It is easier to just teach everyone that we have only five senses. We are taught these in kindergarten or in primary school. However, most adults probably do not realise they have more than five senses even if they have a basic degree.

We do not seem worse for not knowing. This is an indicator of the “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” mindset. It is being satisfied with or indifferent to the status quo because we choose not to be receptive or reflective.

The only-five-senses-as-fact is broken. We had more studies discover and verify more senses, but somehow we choose not to update what we know and teach.

Arguing that teaching these extras makes things more complicated does not make sense. Teaching these “new” facts leverages on the wonders of the human body and illustrates the importance of the scientific method.
 

 
We need to be critical and humble enough to spot the cracks in WHAT we teach and HOW we teach it. We need to consciously keep breaking old mindsets and expectations like test is best.

CNA quoted DPM Tharman:

“The biggest mistake we would make is think that because we are doing well in the PISA test, or we get a good rating by the Economist Intelligence Unit or anyone else, that therefore we keep things as they are,” Mr Tharman said.

“The biggest mistake is to think if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. Because in education, more than in any other field, we will only know how well we are doing 20 or 30 years from now.

“If it ain’t broken, experiment. That’s the way we will secure our future.”

DPM Tharman was our Minister for Education from 2003 to 2008. Even though he has a new portfolio now, I am glad that he singled out changes in education as a pillar for holding Singapore up.

The PISA scores remind us that Singapore is doing well on testing stage. The type of schooling and education that helps us do this is like relying only on our five basic senses. We have so much more to discover and develop.

The CNA article and DPM’s speech highlighted more sets we need to challenge ourselves with. These included:

  • Avoiding the “lottery of birth” and ensuring social mobility
  • Reducing emphasis on academic-only measures and providing time and space for creative efforts
  • Not trapping ourselves with false multiculturalism

Like our “extra” senses, these education experiments will make us more complete.

This funny-yet-sad tweet reminded me of why I need to do what I do.

Viewed positively, you might say that the teacher was very consistent about his attire over four decades.

Viewed more critically, you might ask if his dressing was a possible reflection of his unchanging mindset.

Symbolism aside, the teacher’s attire does indicate how many teachers operate. They might get older, but they do not change how they appear to others.

Ask most lay folk what a teacher looks like and you will likely get traditional views. You will hardly, if at all, hear of distinctions between teachers and educators, or educators who reach through walls, teach over the Internet, or operate without school principals.

These are educators who are pushing the boundaries of the past so that their learners are better prepared for the present and look forward to shaping their futures. There is value in looking back, but facing backwards while trying to walk forwards is a recipe for falling and injuries.

I liking showing people how to look and walk forward, strange as that may sound. I start by pointing out that they have their feet pointed in one direction and their eyes in the other.

I read an opinion piece about how we have stumbled on our journey to go cashless.

We are still penalised when we do electronic payments of cinema tickets, cab rides, automatically topping up your travel card by GIRO or credit card, etc. These things that an ordinary resident here does.

On the flip side, we are not rewarded for going paperless with our receipts, bills, bank statements, air tickets, etc. So we help a provider save on costs, but are expected to pay for progressive changes to basic services.

The writer mentioned an oft cited example of how we have been overtaken by places in China where residents pay with their mobile phones and chat services. I visited Denmark and Sweden a few years ago and noticed how cashless those places were too. If I went cashless as much as they did, I would have been penalised with card fees and currency conversion rates.

People might point out the need for providers of services and products to recoup costs of e-payment measures. I disagree. These should be part of the service, not a good-to-have extra.

Look at it this way: Do we need to pay extra for a smile, greeting, or an otherwise better quality of basic service? By not changing outdated mindsets and old practices, the providers are impeding change.

This inertia is not to be taken lightly. The writer of the article described how the inertia can last decades:

Nets, the first cashless payment network in Singapore used by retailers, was launched in 1985 — 32 years ago. At that time, I believe Singapore was among the very early adopters of such forms of payments.

Despite the very early lead, we are nowhere close to becoming a cashless society.

I see a parallel in schooling and education. Creative and innovative educators are held back or even penalised for their efforts. They might not be recognised for their risk-taking because appraisals do not have those measures. They might be overloaded with teaching duties because they are good at what they do.

While e-payment barriers might be explained superficially by the need to make money, there are deeper reasons like underlying mindsets and behaviours. Likewise the barriers in schooling and education to progress as enabled by emerging technology is a numbers-first mindset, stubborn administrative policies, outdated or infrequently updated curricula, and cruel testing regimes.

With enough investigation and reflection, the barriers to necessary and progressive forms of change are easy enough to uncover. Sadly, the e-payment barriers are easier to address than the ones in education. Anything to do with the economy hits our individual and collective pockets, and we feel the pain and urgency.

If your plan is for one year plant rice. If your plan is for ten years plant trees. If your plan is for one hundred years educate children. -- Confucius

Schooling and education is the long tail of social endeavour. People might not pay as much attention to it if its impact is not as immediate. We need to first recognise that we are collectively myopic. Then only can we prescribe corrective lenses to examine ourselves clearly and critically.

I used to conclude two courses I taught at NIE with this: Change is not about asking for permission first. It is about asking for forgiveness later.

Change is not about asking for permission first. It is about asking for forgiveness later.

I shared this at a panel after my keynote, and before I could elaborate, the moderator reminded the audience that they should not be doing this with budgets or financial transactions. Taken out of the context, it might have seemed like I was advising people break the law. I was not.

The context of my courses was taking ownership of problems in schooling and teaching. The content of my talk was about changing mindsets on how to learn in the workplace. I was advising participants and my audience to be change agents instead of waiting for change to happen.

It might be difficult to visualise this or see the impact of such actions. Thankfully, there is a YouTube video that illustrates this nicely.


Video source

An activist wanted to send Twitter-Germany a message about dealing with hate messages. As he kept getting stonewalled, he decided to take action.

He made stencils out of 30 terrible tweets and sprayed the messages in chalk outside Twitter’s office in Hamburg. The semi-permanence of the chalked text was more impactful visually than scrolling pixels on a screen. They were tough to ignore.

The video ended with Twitter doing in real life what it seemed to be doing online. It removed what was immediately outside its building on the pavement, but left intact the majority of messages slightly further away.

I do not know if there was a longer term impact of the activist’s actions, but his message spread on Twitter, RSS feeds, and news sites.

He did not wait for permission to take action because he saw a real and urgent need to do something. If he got into the good sort of trouble, he could ask for forgiveness later.

The lesson is this: It is not about guaranteeing a change as a result of action; it is about taking action when few, if any, are ready or prepared. It is about moving in the right direction even though the destination is not clear.

It is about not asking for permission to move, and if you make reasonable mistakes, asking for forgiveness later.

Reality. Facts. Are there objective truths or are things subjectively negotiated? Most people experience the law of gravity. Others believe the Earth just sucks.

In the hard sciences, laws are like reality, facts, or truths that are not negotiable. Education, on the other hand, is a social science, and it is littered with theories. Ideas and results can change with perspective and context.

Here is a simplification of this complex phenomenon. Let’s say you wanted to record a tranquil video of a tourist hotspot. How would you do it?


Video source

One way would be to give up and say this was an impossible task. Another might be to wake up really early and try to get footage. Still another way might be to visit when the place was closed.

The maker of the video above shared several strategies for being in the crowd, but not of it. These included taking low angles, selecting areas of focus, grabbing opportunities as they emerged, and relying on good timing.

The same strategies could be translated when implementing change in schooling and educational contexts. It becomes about taking different perspectives and using novel strategies in order to redefine reality.

I shared the photo montage below previously without the quote. I made another one with the text after reading an article about oBike’s shared bicycle service extending to London.

A system that relies on people to be thoughtful, courteous and responsible is doomed to fail.

One person commented on the article: A system that relies on people to be thoughtful, courteous and responsible is doomed to fail.

I agree. From a systems perspective, you cannot expect a group of individuals to behave formulaically by assuming good behaviour will override bad behaviour for a net positive.

Groups of people become meta-organisms like a hive of bees or a colony of ants. They become a different creature, not a collection of animals.

So this got me thinking about how leaders and administrators think about implementing change in school systems.

The tongue-in-cheek and in-your-face collection above bares some truths. But reality is more nuanced than assuming all leaders are dimwits.

Some do not know they are uninformed, some do not want to know, and some acknowledge the gaps. They are the optimists, pessimists, and realists of systemic change.

The optimists have good intentions, theories, and ideals. Policies are shaped in their mould, but they fail to translate on the ground because of practical and cruel realities.

The pessimists plan and implement incremental or piecemeal change because they view their efforts as fighting the tide. Whatever they do, they go with the flow because that is what wins in the short term.

The realists rely on praxis — the combination of theories and practices, or theory-informed practices. They know that people understand the need for change, but do not necessarily want to be change agents.

Comic on change.

Realists do not just plan and act on theories. They also collect meaningful and timely data to inform policy. They do not simply work on a hunch, they work on something with punch.

Realists know they must address mindsets before they can change attitudes and behaviours. They include incentives and disincentives to shape mindsets.

Realists do not simply charge ahead and say “Follow me!” without monitoring the followers. They pull from the front, push from the back, and mess with the middle.

Realists know that they cannot lead alone. They must mentor or identify change agents and informal leaders. These are individuals that are not appointed from above, but emerge from the ground instead. They lead not because of position, but because of reputation.

A system designed for people to not have buy-in, ownership, and direction is doomed to fail.

Leaders of change do not neatly fit into the categories. They form a continuum instead. The best ones are centred in reality and learn from the successes and failures of other systems.

 
You follow. You consume. You take for your use. 

Change. 

Lead. Create. Give back. 

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