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This CNA video featured Jonathan Tiong, a “disabled” valedictorian of NUS’s Class of 2021. He might be conventionally disabled, but I consider him “differently abled”.

He is an inspiring and timely reminder for students of the ICT for Inclusion modules I will be facilitating in December. In particular, I will highlight the every day technologies like the Internet that has enabled him to study and work. Jonathan said:

… the pandemic has brought about the benefits for people especially with physical disabilities because it takes away a lot of our limitations… just give me the laptop and Internet and I can do a lot of things.

He has a message for the rest of “abled” society: 

… society’s way of defining success should change for people with disabilities. I think the only reason why I’ve got the attention that I have… is because I’ve met the traditional markers of success. Good degree. Good job, prestigious company.

Jonathan added: 

…we need to acknowledge the fact that living with a disability is hard in itself. And every day, the people with disabilities out there are winning their own battles…

Digging deeper, his message is about how we still focus on equality — the traditional emphasis opportunities and success. We need to shift our gaze and efforts to equity, i.e., giving greater access to those need it more.

Why is there still resistance to educational technologies in SPED and inclusive classrooms? I sense that many of the pre- and in-service teachers who take my modules fear the parents who worry about the fabled “screen time” monster. They might also have bought in to the media’s narrative that mobile devices do more harm than good instead of following the research.

In this CNA article, Jonathan also provided another insight about the barriers of rules and money. Commenting on his final year of study during the pandemic and his current employment:

“A lot of the time we are told by administrators that: ‘Oh we can’t do this because – rules.’ Or ‘because we cannot lor.’

“But a lot of accommodations are actually a mindset thing,” he said. “People seem to have this concept that if you want to accommodate the disabled, we need billions of dollars. I don’t think that’s true.”

For instance, being allowed to work remotely at his present job has not cost his employer anything, he said. “It’s a matter of will and decision-making.”

My agenda is simple: To challenge them to think of every day technologies as enablers for learners in special or inclusive classrooms. These students need more and better access to these tools, not less. Enabling and educational technologies do not have to cost much or anything at all. The real barriers are stubbornness and ignorance.

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You do not have to watch this feature by CNA to point out the flaw in their premise. 

The premise: School closures caused by regional pandemic lockdowns have widened the gap between the have and have-nots.

The flaw: The pandemic has exposed the previously unseen or ignored gaps. The wide disparities have always been there. We have either been unaware or we have ignored them. When we admit that such gaps exist, a media group sensationalises them as widening.

This is not to say that the yawning gaps are not urgent or unimportant. We need to collectively bridge and fill those gaps by donating our time, effort, money, and resources. 

We also need to stop blaming online learning for exacerbating these gaps (see its lede: costs of online learning). Online learning enables continuity even though it has been largely relegated to a last resort. This shift has laid bare the poor efforts of stakeholders in not preparing infrastructural broadband, socioeconomic policies, pedagogical development, etc.

About five minutes into the video, the storyline vilifies online learning with unspecified sources on the harmfulness of screen time. The flawed research behind these claims has been exposed, so we need to be more critical about what the loose treats that media tosses about.

School and schooling are important. Among its many functions are providing basic literacy, social interaction, and childcare. Schools and schooling are not without its flaws, but place them beside something new and scary and it is the latter that seems worse.

A more balanced video feature would not just romanticise school and bash online learning. It could have highlighted the efforts of governments, corporations, and individuals to enable effective out-of-school and online learning. It could also have highlighted how the latter augments schooling and improves practices. But it did not because that would have exposed ugly priorities.

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After watching our Paralympian swimmer, Yip Pin Xiu, win her second gold medal, I wondered how much she would be financially rewarded on returning to Singapore.

Currently, our able-bodied Olympians get SGD 1 million (source: Singapore National Olympic Council). This might seem like a lot (we are first on this world list), but athletes must pay tax on this quantum (see point 4) and give at least 20% of it to their sports association (point 5).

The Singapore National Paralympic Council (SNPC) also has cash awards for athletes like Yip. It is called the Athletes’ Achievement Awards (see bottom of this page). The SNPC does not reveal how much is awarded, but emphasises: 

The cash quantum is taxable and of which 20% is retained by the Singapore Disability Sports Council (SDSC) / National Disability Sports Associations (NDSAs) to help fund future training and development.

So the conditions of the award are the same for both sets of athletes, but the awarded amounts are different. Press sources like STonline reported that the quantum is SGD 200K at of 2016.

If the information in the initial post of this Reddit thread is correct, the award was raised in 2008 from SGD 100K to 200K after this inequality was brought up in parliament.

I am not about to argue against the weak excuses the parliamentarians gave to defend the status quo. I would rather focus on who we are.

Both sets of athletes will likely tell you they are not in their sports for the money. My argument is not that we need to pay or reward them for bringing glory to their sport or country. It is about sending a message about who we are and what we value. 

We should put our money where our collective mouth is: If we claim that we want a more equal and equitable society, let us reward our Paralympians the same (if not more) than our Olympians.

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I applaud the group that is trying to connect differently-abled folk with inclusive employers.

I also wonder whether the creators of the video realise how they are excluding some viewers by blindly following a trend.

The trend is for some news organisations (like Now This News, the South China Morning Post, and even the BBC News) that place text descriptors over video. These are not subtitles. They are summaries or statements of main points in the video.

See the difference in the slideshow below — subtitles are transcriptions of speech; the other text is information not necessarily represented in video footage.

The text overlays are distinct from subtitles. Subtitles are a good thing for the hearing-impaired. The text overlays deny the visually-impaired because there is no audio equivalent. The trend of using text descriptors over video is exclusionary. This is sadly ironic given how the video highlights one example of being inclusive. 

Want a tiresome argument based on superficial evidence? Consider this headline and article.

The linked article reported: 

Eric Yuan… the founder of the video conferencing tool, admitted to experiencing Zoom fatigue. At Wall Street Journal’s CEO Council Summit, the 51-year-old said that at his peak, he once had 19 Zoom meetings in a row in a single day.

The argument: Meetings on Zoom are bad because they are exhausting. The evidence: Even the founder of Zoom says so. The argument and its evidence is tiresome and lazy.

I am not saying that Zoom fatigue does not exist. It does.

But attending 19 meetings a day, whether over Zoom, in person, or a mix, is exhausting. As a former appointment holder at a university, I had to attend an unfair share of meetings. Just one a day was enough to wear me out.

Meetings are what career administrators do in place of email or actionable work. Most are pointless and long because they mistake quantity for quality. 

Poorly designed and frequently implemented meetings tire people. They also do not guarantee productive actions. These apply to meetings both offline and online. 

So a news agency that gleefully tweets such a headline is not telling you anything new or sharing information of worth. It is merely repeating a mantra from the book of autonomous technological determinism. It reduces the underlying cause of problems (tiredness) to technology (Zoom) in order to reinforce the idea that technology is out of control.

We create our technologies. We need to manage, at the very least, two aspects of our creations: 1) how we create them, and 2) the expectations for their use. If we fail to do either, it is easier to blame the technology than to reflect on who really is responsible — us.

A news agency with a wide reach can shape expectations of use. Instead of leading with a headline that blames tiredness on the technology, it could provide insights how to have better meetings. Such meetings can include enabling technologies like Zoom, but they have to be redesigned to be meaningful and timely.

I will not tire to make arguments that have a systemic and reasoned view of technology-mediated change. Such change may be in the wider world, but I focus in the smaller one that is the edu-sphere. 

This is Singapore — if we are not eating our food, we are talking about it. This CNA Insider video, Belly of a Nation, explored the impact of the pandemic lockdown on hawkers.

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It was nicely done, but I wish that the information about the hawkers (e.g., their stall locations, social media links) were included in context. That way I could offer support by visiting a stall or three.

This is one critical difference between traditional media productions and social media efforts. The former do it for themselves. They profit from the time and effort of the hawkers, and we do not know if the hawkers are paid appearance fees.

The least CNA could do is provide the addresses of the hawker stalls as overlays or chyrons on screen. A few savvy hawkers might also be on social media or have their own websites, so including that information would also be helpful.

CNA did list the hawkers’ names in the scrolling credits at the end of the video, but that is what they already have to do in other contexts. They need to keep up with what a YouTuber would do if the video is also shared on YouTube.

A typical YouTuber does not have the clout of a media company. So they will offer to not just provide hawker stall details in the video when that hawker appears (i.e., provide contextual information) they will also list that information in the video description for the convenience of the viewer.

A YouTuber does this because they see what their collaborators and what their viewers need. They find ways to connect the two as a means of payback. Everyone benefits that way.

I reflect on this not as a media critic, but as an educator. Those of us in schooling and education need to also keep up, not just with relevant technologies, but more critically with habits of use.

One habit is the collective practice of creating, commenting, critiquing, and collaborating. These are shaped or redefined by the new tools we use. For example, the reach of an artefact or idea can go far beyond one’s classroom walls. That should be the expectation and consequence. One might need to learn how to act local and think global.

If there is a flaw in most teacher professional development (PD) sessions, it is their design. The PD does not address in equal measure the following:

  • Knowledge (the what)
  • Skills (the how)
  • Attitudes, beliefs, teaching philosophies (the whys and so whats)

If we do not adequately address this trifecta of PD, we entrench behaviours in the same or the past. We do what CNA did — not change essential behaviours — when moving to a different context. We do not push and pull for change that stems from changes in attitudes, beliefs, and teaching philosophies.

Every now and then I share two videos that I just watched: One is a product of collaboration and the other provides insights on the processes behind that product.

Then I go on to say how those of us in schooling and education can learn from such videos. For example, evaluations of worth should not just be about products; they should be about processes as well.

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The video above featured the efforts of four producers of CNA Insider. Recently, the video series focused on the ordeals of our guest workers, rises in domestic violence, and NGO efforts during the pandemic lockdown.

The BTS video revealed the stories behind the storytellers. It was a reminder that the human narrative is the tie that binds.

When applied to schooling and education, we might ask ourselves what stories we craft. Are they more of the same? Or are they journeys of change, failure, and small joys? Which stories are worth telling? Which stories live on and inspire?

One of the reading methods I adopted from my days as a graduate student and then an academic were to read the synopsis, introduction, and conclusion of an article first.

I practice this particularly with opinion pieces in the press. I modify the method by examining who wrote the article and I try to unpack why. Take this “commentary” that proclaims that “It is time to rethink how we do online education”.

You need only to scroll to the end of the article to find that the author is the regional director of a learning management system (LMS) provider. Scroll to the middle and the largest chunk of the article is about (surprise, surprise) the the virtues of adopting an LMS.

An institutional LMS has its uses. But it also has its abuses, so I counter some claims (copied from the article and pasted in italics). At this point, I should mention that I am making some assumptions based on my professional experience of working with such vendors. I need to make assumptions because the statements in the article are either so general as to be vague or are claims without cited and linked evidence.

LMSs are used to create and deliver curriculums that students can follow both online and offline.

Offline? An LMS is online. The whole point is to access it anywhere you have a reliable Internet connection. Some tools have an offline mode, but you need to periodically go online to get updates.

An offline service that delivers material might look like the postal service. But even that has online components, e.g., tracking packages. So I do not know how an “offline” LMS is supposed to create and deliver curricula without strategically going online.

It is secure, easily accessible and allows for student-teacher interaction.

Claims of security should always be questioned. An LMS is only as “secure” as the log-in system of an institution and the user behaviours.

The ease of accessibility might rest on the platform each user has. Internet access being equal, LMS tend to be more “accessible” on laptops and desktops than on smaller mobile devices, e.g., phones. The latter typically require specific apps because LMS tend to not be built with mobile-first principles. Such apps are lite versions of full LMS, so users can forget about, say, submitting essays for plagiarism checks before revising and resubmitting on mobile.

As for “student-teacher” interaction, don’t get me started. Correspondence courses of old were secure as the postal service, accessible to anyone with an address, and allowed student-teacher interaction.

For starters, all users are authenticated before they are granted access.

Yes, with a standard username and password combo, preferably linked to a school’s or university’s single sign-on (SSO) system. I do not know of any SSO that requires two-factor authentication that is tied to a person’s identity. This means that a student can share log-in information with someone else to access materials or to take a quiz.

Authentication is not the same as identity confirmation. The latter is what is required for strict access to materials or the taking of critical tests or exams. Is our PSLE or GCE assessments online? No, because while authentication is possible, identity confirmation is not.

A reliable LMS uses cryptographic protocols and encryption to ensure the confidentiality and security of user data.

Good news, right? At no point did the author say where the data is stored (the company’s servers) or what happens to that data (it should be in Terms and Conditions; data could be anonymised and repackaged for the company or third parties to use).

With standard compliance regulations for data integrity and confidentiality in place, institutions can opt for certified LMS service providers for maximum security.

See my comment on anonymisation of data. Providers use student and teacher data. There are legitimate uses like improving services, but there are less clear cut uses too.

Data integrity, confidentiality, and security are important, but they should not be conflated. For example, if data is kept purely intact, it cannot be anonymised for confidentiality. If it cannot be anonymised, it should be used for other purposes.

Some LMSs integrate live streaming capability in a seamless manner.

As do other platforms, mobile or desktop. YouTube and Twitch can also do this more efficiently and effectively than university lecture capture systems. But such systems are not in walled gardens like LMS (which could be a plus) and such capture systems tend to be fire-and-forget for lecturers (another plus).

All that said, the seamlessness might be convenient, but this also means that teachers and lecturers do not learn the skills of how to do such work themselves. This has been and continues to be evident whenever e-learning days or a lockdown like the current one places pressure on content delivery.

The LMS market is already booming.

So is the market for fast foods. This does not mean that they have products that are good for their consumers/users, or processes that are good for the environment/education system.

The regional market here might be “booming”, but that does not mean the same is happening elsewhere. Anyone thinking of buying into an LMS should investigate why it might be waning elsewhere before subscribing to a service that creates dependence.

According to a report by Market Research, the Asia-Pacific region is expected to be the fastest-growing LMS market in the coming years…

This might be true depending on your sources. It is a trend that might last a while. Why? Decisions to buy into LMS are made my policymakers and administrators, not educators and students. The latter groups are rarely consulted, if at all. If they were, I bet on the trend bucking.

Increasing computing power and rich features on these devices make for a dynamic and holistic learning experience.

This was in reference to mobile devices like phones. Despite their increased power, they still deliver subpar experiences compared to devices with larger screens and multitasking.

The one size fits all approach that has dominated education for so long does not work anymore.

How ironic. An LMS is designed to fit many tools into one container.

The diversification of tools and platforms based on context and need should drive adoption and innovation. When you buy into an LMS, you get a walled-off area but you trade it with practices that are constrained by tools that might not suit your needs.

Consider the oft dreaded threaded discussion forum. It is the go-to tool for interaction because thoughts are externalised, captured, and sometimes graded. Discussion threads can get so long and confusing that they put off discussion to all but the most persistent.

Users need to be taught new and more disciplined ways to discuss online. This is not a bad thing, but the structure can be off-putting or unnatural. Instead, users might prefer to share their thoughts on Twitter, Instragram, or some other social platform. However, an LMS cannot integrate every possible tool, be it designed for education or for general use.

I called the article an insidious LMS advertisement (and titled my reflection so) because a respectable news agency saw it fit to pass a long advertisement off as an article. It was a piece that was not challenged for evidence or subject to critique. Caveat emptor.

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I watched this two-part video report how mandarin is taught now. It featured a journalist who revisited a classroom and immersed herself in the student experience.

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The intended message seemed to be that the methods were more progressive now compared to, say, the time of the kids’ parents. Given the examples and strategies, you might agree.

But I wonder about how the narrative was crafted.

Was three days enough to gauge how the teaching of mandarin had changed? Pragmatically speaking, a journalist is not a researcher and it is tough to get permission and time to record the classroom. That said, three days was not representative compared to three months or three terms.

The class comprised a group of a Secondary 2 Higher Chinese students. These were the minority of students and they enjoyed a smaller class size. How was the class representative of the larger population of students?

That said, the teaching of mandarin, like most other content areas, has changed with the incorporation of various technologies and curricular interventions. Perhaps both were too difficult to show.

I am not referring to the journalist’s toting an iPad. It could have been her own and it did not feature prominently. White boards dominated and this could indicate more a change of medium (from blackboards) and of methods (peer instruction).

An example of a curricular change is the different levels of mandarin in Primary school — foundation, standard, and higher — for students with different abilities. Instead of one size curriculum fits all, it was three sizes fits all.

Perhaps even more insidious is how the type of teachers of mandarin has changed. They are younger, more open to different strategies, and effectively bilingual. If mindset and cultural circumstance have any influence, the way these teachers practice their craft is different from their teachers.

The changes on how content is taught is more nuanced than two videos can reveal. Perhaps a focus on the type of teacher might have been a better narrative.

Today I continue my reflection on the CNA article and video, Regardless of Class.

The video segments on what kids thought about the “class divide” caught my attention the most. There were clips of children aged 9 to 11, and older students aged 15 to 17.

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The whole video is proprietary on CNA’s site, but most of the segments featuring both sets of kids are in the YouTube video above.

The footage and editing sent a clear signal: The younger kids were perceptive and honest about the class divide; by the time they were older, the gaps were
brutally obvious.

The video, particularly in its longer form, made for uncomfortable viewing. Rightly so because the full video was designed to create cognitive and emotional dissonance.

Such dissonance might lead to questions like:

  • How is our schooling system creating and perpetuating such class divides?
  • What might we do to mitigate this?
  • If schooling is, as one teacher pointed out, a symptom and not a cause of social divides, what other contributing factors of social divides might we also need to address?

After repeated and reflective readings of the article and viewings of the videos, I am convinced that what happens at and to the family unit is crucial.

Disadvantaged adults pass their status on to their children and it is difficult for the latter to break out of their structural and social strata. Adults with greater means not only pass their privilege to their offspring, they also find ways to boost what they have.

Fundamental to what adults and parents do is their attitudes and mindsets. Are they defeated by or defiant to their lot in life? Do they believe they have a right to a better life and is this right reserved only for some?

So I wonder simplistically: We have SkillsFuture now; do we need AttitudeFuture and MindsetFuture as well?

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