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Posts Tagged ‘irrelevant

Here is a tweeted headline that could have been relevant ten years ago.

The Yellow Pages were irrelevant even then. It seems to have taken a newspaper a decade to realise or admit it.

It sometimes takes teachers in schools just as long, if not longer, to realise and admit that some of their practices are losing relevance.

The aptly named Yellow Pages can also mean that the medium is showing their age. The problem with irrelevant practices is that the signs are not as obvious. It takes critical reflection to spot the yellowing edges of bad habits and pages of unquestioned tradition.

Sir Ken Robinson tweeted this recently.

He urged his Twitter followers and others who stumbled on his tweet to discuss this statement: Most of what kids currently learn at school will probably be irrelevant by the time they are 40.

There are so many ways to approach this statement.

One might be to point out that if schools still operate as dispensers of content, they are bound to be irrelevant.

Such content does not have to just be useless for work or life after 40 years. It can also be irrelevant immediately if it is not meaningful to the learner right there and then. Content does not need 40 years to be irrelevant; it can take just 40 seconds.

Schooling and education should also be about changing thinking, values, attitudes, and behaviours. All these take an extended period to happen, and they might retain their currency for much longer too.

However, such qualities might still lose relevance in the future. For example, cultures that value unquestioned compliance are not likely to nurture critical or creative thinkers. If you are taught more to listen and obey than to talk and take action, then you will tend to do just that.

All this is just opinion. The premise of the article that sparked SKR’s “discuss” seemed to be that algorithms and artificial intelligence threaten to take jobs and create a “useless class” in the future.

The article outlined how the processing of information and content, quick and focused algorithmic thinking, and slow-responding schools might contribute to an unemployable group of people.

One part of the article focused on the role of schooling and education:

Since we do not know how the job market would look in 2030 or 2040, today we have no idea what to teach our kids. Most of what they currently learn at school will probably be irrelevant by the time they are 40. Traditionally, life has been divided into two main parts: a period of learning, followed by a period of working. Very soon this traditional model will become utterly obsolete, and the only way for humans to stay in the game will be to keep learning throughout their lives and to reinvent themselves repeatedly. Many, if not most, humans may be unable to do so.

Industrialised and modern countries might have policies in place to promote “lifelong learning”. For example, Singapore has SkillsFuture.

Aside from some teething problems and unsavoury practices, the effort seems like a stop-gap measure. It deals with the symptoms (like retrenchment, unemployment, growing irrelevance) instead of underlying issues (changing expectations, more fluid and connected work, managing information).

If current workers were schooled to think and operate narrowly, they are unlikely to see the need for continuous and constant learning. Their mindsets might read like this: I am done with school, why force me to go back?

Values are more CAUGHT than they are TAUGHT.

To avoid the problem of being irrelevant at 40, all learners, young and old, need to learn and practice what some might call a growth mindset. Some of this might be taught, the rest — I would wager a large part — is caught.

So schools need teachers as models of such a mindset. But here is the Catch-22: Are schools the best place to find such models?

I shake my head in disbelief sometimes when I think about how inflexible some schools or teachers can be.

I know of some schools who have more liberal mobile device policies. As part of a consulting gig, I visited a primary school whose policy was to allow all students, even the youngest ones, to bring smartphones to school as long as the devices were kept in lockers.

Other schools have Amish-like policies on smartphones. I am very familiar with one that disallows cassettes, CD players, walkmans, VCDs, and pagers amongst other devices (see portion of handbook below).

handbook_rule

Even the Amish might remark that they do not use these devices not because they are against them but because they might have to rob a museum to get them!

The first type of school is more progressive in that it recognizes the modern demands of their stakeholders. Both parents are likely to be working and their child might have to find their own way home on arranged or public transport. Phones are critical for such daily updates.

That same school does not yet allow the use of the phones for lessons. However, they will have will not have to fight the battles of resistance among teachers, low buy-in among parents, or early “exploratory” use among students when the time comes for them to make that decision.

The second school will have a tougher time pulling itself out of the educational dark ages.

A rigid, backward, or disconnected policy also has a way of affecting the mindset of teachers. It can breed group think, inflexibility, and a fear of risk-taking.

My wife reminded me of something we experienced in the middle of the year. My son had answered a comprehension question on a passage about Elizabeth Choy being tortured during the Japanese Occupation of Singapore [1][2].

The correct answer to a question was that she was given “electric shocks”. My son did not get the full marks because he answered that she had been “electrocuted”. His teacher did not give him the full marks because he did not write down exactly what was in the passage.

This incensed my wife, an English teacher, who discussed it with my son’s teacher. My wife also asked her colleagues in school for their comments. Everyone except my son’s teacher agreed that getting an electric shock was the same as being electrocuted.

To be fair, there could have been more to the argument. Perhaps there was some comprehension skill that was tested that my son did not perform.

But perhaps the equivalent of copying and pasting was more important than interpretation and exercising vocabulary. Perhaps schooling was more important than education.

And perhaps these are examples of how teachers and schools risk losing relevance. The rest of the world sees the point of change and moves on, but teachers and schools do not.


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