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Posts Tagged ‘change

When I read the STonline headline, You don’t need much space to have sex: Josephine Teo on ‘no flat, no child’ belief, I wondered if the paper was making a mountain out of a molehill.

After I read the article, I concluded that it was, but it had a good reason to.

There is a mountain of an issue in family planning and housing, and there were reasonable sound bites from the rest of the interview. However, all that logic seemed to be negated by the juicy molehill quote: “You need a very small space to have sex.”

What was the context for the quote? Senior Minister of State, Josephine Teo, was addressing the fact that couples seemed to prioritise getting a flat before coupling and having children.

Given how long saving for an apartment, waiting in queue, waiting for a flat to be built, getting rejected, and trying again takes, a candid response might very well be a Nike-inspired, “Don’t wait. Just do it.”

There is being candid and there is being Trump-like. A comment referring to the “small space to have sex” is was a Trumpet and shortsighted.

The act of copulation is takes a relatively short time (insert snigger here) compared to the duration of rearing and nurturing children. Most people, including the Minister herself, know that.

I recall a verse that someone wrote in an autograph book (yes, those things existed) when I was in school and it went something like this:

What is love
It cannot be explained
One night’s pleasure
Nine months pain

A young teen could see the mid-term consequences albeit tongue-in-cheek. An adult with fiscal and family responsibilities looks at longer term consequences and the larger picture.

I point this out plainly not to score political points (or get demerits as the case may be) nor to poke fun at an off-the-cuff comment. As with most things, I make links to schooling and educational technology. At the moment, I have more questions than answers.

Why do many teachers still take the short term view by refusing to move away from teaching methods that do not include meaningful and powerful technology?

Why do they focus on the immediately obvious (e.g., curriculum-driven content and exams) instead of the larger picture (i.e., the holistic development of the child?

Why do we make it easy for them to operate in “a very small space” that is the schooling bubble?

While at a university campus recently, I decided to get lunch from a canteen food stall that I had not visited in about two years. The tenants were no longer there, but there was a replacement.

I decided to try their fish and chips. That is all I got: Some overcooked breaded fish and a few potato wedges. I guess I expected too much given what the previous tenant offered.

I asked if they could give me some coleslaw. The server looked offended, plonked a teaspoonful on my plate, and mumbled, “Normally we don’t give!”

Video source

This clip of Oliver asking for more came immediately came to my mind.

I quickly forgot the clip as the food not only cost more, it also tasted terrible.

It was not just me. A group of undergraduate students sat at my table and one who opted for another dish from the same stall complained about the cost, the taste, and the unpleasant service.

As I returned my plate and cutlery, I remembered what the server said: “Normally we don’t give!” Normally, I would expect better service and food.

However, what is “normal” can change. When new management takes over, they can prioritise quantity instead of quality. When they do, they go for the biggest bang for their buck. It makes the most sense on paper and it can be profitable. If the tenant gets bad reviews, they leave, and someone else runs through the revolving door to take their place.

While I ruminate on the food experience, this is really about university education. I was on campus to conduct a series of workshops to change the teaching mindsets, expectations, and behaviours of future faculty.

By sheer coincidence, one future professor/lecturer gave a blunt assessment when I asked the group what they would build on from the previous sessions:

Teaching methods at {university name removed} are TERRIBLE!! Lecturers have no interesting [sic] in eliciting an emotional response from the students.

Perhaps this was that person’s way of saying “Normally we don’t give… a damn about teaching.”

Not everyone is as candid. However, just about anyone with a current experience as a university student can probably relate.

There are a few very good university educators who stay up to date with technology and the latest developments in pedagogy. However, this is not norm.

This is why I like being part of a small group of educators that is trying to change what is normal. If we cannot change existing faculty who are too set in their ways, we will work with future faculty who are more in touch with learner expectations. When they become professors in their own right whether here or elsewhere, they might bring their new insights with them.

There is no guarantee that all will change for the better. Whatever changes that happen will also take at least a generation of instructors to turn over. However, we play the long game and we hedge our bets.

If we do nothing, nothing will happen. If we do something, something might.

I do not think that I have heard of scientific thinking and design thinking differentiated this way (emphasis mine):

They are many methodologies, frameworks and ways of problem-solving. Two of the most popular approaches that I use are “scientific thinking” and “design thinking”. The former focuses on the problem, the later on the solution. Scientific thinking proposed by Taylor is evidence-based and focuses on the problem. Design thinking is intuition-based and focuses on the solution. This isn’t simply semantics but different methods of thinking. The difficulty with focussing on the problem is that it assumes that you either already believe that you know what the problem is or you’ll data the heck out of the problem so that only one solution can exist. The flip side is that you focus on solutions, fail fast, amplify what works and drive at a far better understanding of the problem but that’s not what we teach in schools.

The article seemed to paint the scientific process and thinking as reductive and limiting, and design thinking as expansive and exploratory.

Schooling based on reductive thinking and methods might explain why we have content silos, age groupings, and the strive for uniformity. If you see nothing wrong with that, then take a leaf from that reductive book and reflect on what happens to children: They are reduced to taking tests alone and not allowed to collaborate or use current technology.

Reductive problem-solving and schooling is also formulaic as it is based largely on content consumption and recreation of said content. This makes it ripe for automation, which means we might not need teachers as we know them today. The article went on to give an example of how the Pearsons of the world want to bake a new schooling pie.

If I read the article correctly, teachers who teach the same way they were taught (reductive and content-based) are teaching themselves out of their jobs by not reinventing themselves.

The provocative piece is something every school leader and teacher should read and reflect on. If not, they should bear in mind this rebuke and call to action:

If you all you think is that school and the role of teacher is fill our children’s head full of stuff that you can test and then slap yourself on the back for all those A’s but don’t think you have for a second done your job. Your job as a teacher is to ignite curiosity and wonder and to design programmes that allow our children to use that wonder and intuition to learn how to navigate the world and to question authority and invent new solution as collaborative teams.

I am not sure why this memory from 20-plus years ago resurfaced.

I remembered a phone call with a friend who said that her grandfather was “more hip” than she was because he knew all the “nooks and crannies at Orchard Road”. Thanks to a lapse in attention, I misheard the message as he “looks for grannies at Orchard Road”. Hip indeed!

Some leaders mistake communication for dissemination of information. Simply transmitting is not enough. It is just as important to clarify the signal from the noise.

When consulted on systemic change, I focus on the need to articulate messages and stories. When you articulate, you connect, move, and get feedback. You do not stop at buy-in; you try to create ownership.

You need to be familiar with the pop-culture reference of Bart Simpson being punished by writing lines on a blackboard.

You also need to know how “interactive” white board vendors descended on classrooms to replace blackboards. Some still do now, but with glass boards instead.

When you see a tweet like the one above you might smirk or laugh.

After appreciating the joke, and if you are more critical, you realise that the rhetoric is not met by example.

The call is for teachers to move with the times. Bart was punished punitively, but he found a way to get around the work because he was more adept than the teacher or administrator. Perhaps the call should be for teachers to move with their students.

Changing the medium does not guarantee a change in the message or the method. The new and expensive boards do not move teachers away from chalk-and-talk. They leave the technology largely in the hands of teachers instead of with the learners. The creators, communicators, and correctors of content are the teachers. Neither the message nor the method has changed.

The overall message the GIF sends is this: Do the same thing differently. Being more efficient is necessarily being more effective. This is certainly not being innovative.

Ultimately, this is putting money in the pockets of vendors. There is nothing wrong if the vendor provides a worthwhile and meaningful service or product. But it is a cardinal sin if you are not getting any change in pedagogy for your dollars.

Before the new PSLE scoring system was announced two weeks ago, it was described by Acting Education Minister (Schools) Ng Chee Meng in May as “no silver bullet”.

That cliché aptly describes the changes. So do “a mixed bag” and “to have your cake and eat it too”. In my sixth and final reflection on PSLE2021, I explain why the restructuring does not go far enough.

As if to pre-empt this line of argument, Mr Ng said:

“Some things are best evolved and not revolutionalised,” he said noting that Singapore’s education system is a strong and robust one as educators have done very well over the last 50 years in building a strong system.

The PSLE2021 is an evolution, not a revolution. Again, very apt.

The most important but undersold change is the switch from norm-based testing to criterion-based testing (see Part 1 of my reflection). However, the PSLE retains its summative testing and sorting nature. These counteract the messages of the restructure being less stressful, not being a source of competition, and focusing on the learner and learning (Part 2).

Those that study change and are familiar with the literature will describe the proposed changes as piecemeal. This contrasts with systemic change.

Piecemeal change is often top-down and tacked on to an existing system. It might make incremental improvements and it does not disrupt the status quo. That is why such change is evolutionary and not revolutionary.

Systemic change is often the opposite, although its leadership and sustainability can stem from a mix of top-down, bottom-up, and middle-up-and-down. Such change takes place by first identifying key leverage points of a system.

In schooling, one critical leverage point for systemic change is assessment. Change this and everything else has to change. It is the tail that wags the dog.

If the PSLE2021 was systemic, it could start with changes in the assessment at the end of Primary 6 — if there was one at all — and cascade changes to educational policies, curriculum, teaching methods, school support, stakeholder behaviours, and more.

Piecemeal change often leads to little appreciable change or no change at all.

The changes in PSLE2021 will not include curricula (see point 10 of this article). It is also relatively easy to get used to the Achievement Levels (ALs) since we were all schooled to think that way — they are like O-Level grades!

Teachers can keep drilling in the latter stages and tutors can keep “enriching”. Enrichment tuition centres need only replace their trophy heads’ grades with AL1s instead of As or A*s. Parents can keep pushing their kids to compete and subject them to hothousing.

Consider another example. With regard to the PSLE2021 changes, a school principal said:

…this would reduce the previous “pressure points” of comparing against peers and chasing the last few marks. Instead, the focus can be on grasping and having a “mastery over content”, and striving towards one’s personal best.

The change from conventional grades to ALs will do little to stop the paper chase. The ALs are not actionable because they are products of a terminal activity (Part 2).

Trawl what leaders in education are saying online about grading and you will see something like this emerge.

Quantitative grading ends learning. Quality feedback sustains learning.

It is possible to do very well in a test or exam by drill, rote, and formulaic thinking. It matters little if you have “mastery of content” if you do not hone thinking skills.

The changes in PSLE2021 have not been accompanied by changes in curriculum to address student thinking and skills, or professional development for teachers to teach differently.

For example, the curriculum is still designed to be learning about Mathematics or Science. It is hardly about learning to be or think like a mathematician or scientist. Some teachers want critical, creative, and independent learners, but they either do not know how to model or nurture these traits, or are not willing to let go.

So I am critical of the piecemeal change. The vision for change is not met by its currently proposed implementation. Mr Ng’s vision was:

…to move this school system forward so that we reduce the competitiveness of it, and encourage creativity and collaboration of succeeding together.

How is retaining and polishing an old and increasingly outdated assessment and sorting system an attempt to “encourage creativity and collaboration of succeeding together”? Creative answers are not encouraged and not appreciated in grading rubrics. There is are names for “collaboration” and “succeeding together” in exams — they are cheating and colluding.

If we remain rooted in the domain of summative assessment, we operate by its rules and language.

Here is another cliché: Fortune favours the brave. Did Finland worry when it implemented keyboarding over handwriting? Did it wonder what others would think about:

No. It focused on what its students need today and tomorrow. It takes care of its citizens so that they take care of themselves and their country.

I am not suggesting that we adopt Finland’s strategies wholesale because our schooling contexts might be different. Our schooling system already has so-called alternatives like DSA, e-portfolios, institutional entry tests, interviews, performances, and train-through like integrated programmes. Why not empower and support these more?

I say we put our money where our collective mouth is. If we say we must value creativity, innovation, critical thinking, and collaboration, then we must implement processes that nurture and measure these things.

Today I start guiding leaders who are seeking to embrace educational technology as part of organisational change efforts.

As I dug my archives and prepared new material, I found a common meta message in three artefacts.

The first was a CC-licensed image.

Most people can rationalise why they need change, but very few will actually get involved in driving the change. This was why I wrote about the differences between buy-in and ownership yesterday.

The second was an image quote I made for a keynote in April.

The hardest part of learning something new is not embracing new ideas, but letting go of old ones.

The quote provides some insight into why there is inertia. Systems have baggage that is historical, emotional, political, etc. People also cannot be loaded with more things to do; some things have to be collectively let go. While systemic change is not a zero-sum game, there must be some balance.

The third was a serendipitous tweet.

The third artefact adds to the message of the second. We have to identify inefficient and ineffective processes, and label them as they are. This is like the preliminary process of a garage sale where you decide what to keep and what to toss. We have to be cruel in the short term in order to be kind in the long run.

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