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Posts Tagged ‘education

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.

Two things prompted this reflection — an interview I watched on YouTube and interactions I had with a special breed of teachers.

A few weeks ago, I watched an interview of Ris Ahmed on YouTube [focused segment]. The actor explained how “Asian” meant very different things in the UK and the USA.


Video source

I can vouch for what Riz Ahmed said because I lived in the USA for several years and had to minor incidentally in socio-political geography to educate those around me.

Now fast-forward to the present. For the last few semesters, I have interacted with pre and inservice teachers who are pursuing diplomas in special needs education (SPED).

I find the “special” in SPED to be a misnomer. It has different meanings in different contexts and it is an insufficient catch-all term.

If you go to almost any school system in the USA and are labelled “special”, you are atypical. You might have a genetic, physical, or behavioural condition that distinguishes you from “normal” or typical. The label is generally a negative one.

In Singapore’s context, being in a special stream of schooling might be a highly sought label. Being a student a Special Assistance Plan (SAP) school is a mark of academic excellence. For some history on SAP, read this NLB article.

However, the special-as-atypical meaning is more dominant now in our context. This is because students with special needs are more visible and are given more equitable opportunities than before.

Despite the “special” label being more common, those of us who consider ourselves typical might still gawk at atypicals. This is because our social circles do not overlap as much as they could.

This is why a newer term and phenomenon is on the rise. It is called inclusive education. This could mean including students with hearing impairments or ADHD or certain forms of autism in neuro-typical classrooms.

Inclusive education recognises that atypical students need more or special assistance while not isolating them all the time from the larger world. This is big step forward in special needs education. It might just be the equivalent of bringing the “real world” into typical classrooms.

This tweet was a timeless reminder that schooling is not the same as education. You can be educated without school; you can get schooled without being educated.

The embedded article focused on how the teaching of virtues and cultivating character distinguished education from schooling. It put forward its case more articulately than my bumbling attempt that schooling was about enculturation while education was about self-actualisation.

But I combined both now with this: I was schooled. I became educated.

I was schooled. I became educated.

For the second time in as many years, my son asked for a printout of our latest home utility bill. It was for a geography topic.

I have no objections to sharing how energy and water efficient we are, but I took care to block out personal information like our account number and address.

Perhaps teachers or designers of curricula think that an example from real life will connect with learners. It might. Then again, it might not. Kids do not normally worry about utility bills.
 

 
There is a more serious disconnect — the hardcopy. I asked my son why he could not share a digital copy on his phone. He replied that the instructions were to bring a printout.

A printout. This means that someone realised that we rely on e-bills now. The utility companies offer this as a cost-saving and timely measure, and customers are already on the bandwagon.

Why is a class disconnected from the new normal? Students will learn from teachers how not to question, to stick blindly with tradition, and to be prepared for the past.

Students will learn to play the game that is school. They will be schooled, but they may not be educated.

Education is not synonymous with schooling, no matter what you may have been told or what you perpetuate without question.

Schooling is about enculturation. Education is more about self-actualisation.

Schooling is about enculturation. Education is about self-actualisation.

Those are compact and loaded sentences. I unpack them simply this way: Schooling is about preparing you for what society expects you to be; education is about preparing yourself for who you need or wish to be.

Schools function to school and educate, and arguably do more schooling than education in the early years. As a student gets older, he or she seeks an education. That is why universities are often referred to as institutes of higher education instead of really-big-and-expensive-schools. A working adult who learns on and with the job might opt for continuing education. This might take the form of a higher degree, credentials, skills upgrades, or enrichment.

The problem is that both the student and teacher might be so used to schooling that they do not know (or they forget) what it means to educate. That is why we have schools in universities (e.g., School of Education) and training (e.g., content delivery for compliance).

There might be circumstances where schooling an adult is necessary (e.g., standardisation exercises are not philosophical discussions) but for the most part education is the better path. That is why we have andragogy which is borne of pedagogy.

Andragogy differs from pedagogy by one main element — learner experience. However, I do not know any good educator of kids or adults who does not take the experience and perspectives of their learner into account. When they do this effectively, they rise above schooling and teaching. They educate.

This STonline article lead with this opening line:

The education system needs to be aligned with the structure of the economy, so that people will continue to be armed with the required skills to find jobs in the current age of disruption.

We probably take this stance for granted in Singapore. The refrain is like white noise and the blue sky that envelops our tiny Red Dot.
 

 
The economic focus has its merits, of course, and the news article mentioned a relatively low post-graduation unemployment rate and a renewed focus on skills over pure academic results.

But surely our education system must align itself, without conflict, to more than just the economy.

  • How about the arts in all its forms?
  • How about the development of individuals to their fullest of their abilities?
  • How about helping these individuals by focusing on equity instead of equality?
  • How about nurturing citizens of the country and the rest world who are compassionate problem-seekers and solvers?
  • How about not calling these approaches idealistic and investigating how they actually contribute to the economy and more?

What else should an education system align to?

When a few people talk about the Netflix-ation of education, they might be referring to the online, customisation, or on-demand aspect of Netflix.

Coursera seems to have already taken a leaf from the Netflix book by offering courses by subscription.

We will have to wait and see if this has any legs and becomes a worthwhile trend. In the meantime, I offer a perspective on a Netflix-like education that I would NOT like to see.

Ever since Netflix went global, I lost access to the US listing and gained a Singapore listing.

Now some favourites of mine, like Black Mirror and Rock and Morty, are labelled in Chinese.

Why?

Singapore is not in China, and even though we have a Chinese majority, our lingua franca is English.

My preferred language setting is English and most other titles are in English, e.g., Werner Herzog’s Lo and Behold (see screenshot above).

So again, why?

For some reason, Netflix also recommends a section of movies to me that is labelled “Western Movies”. Why not call the category “Corrupt Bourgeoisie Shows” since there is an implied value system?

The issue is not so much the language or the labels. It is that there is a one-size-fits-all standard that I do not have control of. Isn’t Netflix-ation supposed to provide more choice based on my preferences?

So while having a Netflix-like education might offer more customisation, it might also view us more like a customer. However, this customer is not king, nor is he or she always right.

This customer is to be mined of data and possibly manipulated into accepting labels and making false choices. This is not the Netflix-like education I look forward to.


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