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Posts Tagged ‘psle

This is my response to newspaper articles [Today] [STonline] on a study by Singapore’s Institute of Policy Studies (IPS). I also respond in longer form to tweets about the articles or study.

First some background, disclosures, and caveats.

According to one article, the study was “a quantitative look at the views of 1,500 citizen or permanent resident (PR) parents with children in local primary schools on their perceptions about Singapore’s education system at that level”.

I am not linked to the IPS nor do I have a stake in what it does. As an educator, I have a stake in how people process reports of such studies because it reflects our collective capacity to think critically.

My intent is to provide some insights based on my experiences as a teacher educator and researcher. In the latter capacity, I have had to design and conduct research, supervise it, and be consulted on designs, strategies, and methodologies.

However, without full and immediate access to the actual IPS report and data, I have to take the newspaper articles at face value. I also have to assume that the research group implemented the survey-based study rigorously and ethically.

The headline by the Today paper was click(bait)-worthy. It was not the only finding, but the paper thought it would grab eyeballs.

At least two people tweeted and wanted to know if other stakeholders like parents and the students themselves were asked about the impact of the PSLE.

I understand their concerns, but this was probably not on the research agenda. I say this not to dismiss the importance of their questions.

Good research is focused in order to be practical, to manage limited time and resources, and to shed a spotlight on a fuzzy issue. The questions about teachers and students could be addressed in another study.

It might help to view the study as a snapshot of early stage policy implementation. MOE has passed policy of “every school, a good school” and shared upcoming changes to the PSLE. The big question is: What is the buy in?

MOE can more easily manage the buy in among teachers and students. Parents are a different matter, so the study rightfully focused on that group.

The study was not about making any comparison. It was about taking a snapshot of public opinion.

This is also not a question that the IPS could seek answers to in mainstream schools here. Except for international, private, and most special needs schools, all mainstream Primary schools subscribe to the PSLE and do not have alternatives like e-portfolios. Some home-schooled children even take the PSLE.

This is actually a critical question that needs to be asked.

Our Prime Minister hinted at it in his National Day Rally speech in 2013 and MOE responded with some changes — IMO superficial changes — in late 2016.

If enough stakeholders question the timing or value of PSLE, then the followup questions revolve around the WHEN and HOW of change.

According to the ST article, “the sample of parents… had a proportionate number of children in almost all the 180 or so primary schools here.”

Now this could mean that there was less than ten parents representing each school on average. We cannot be sure if some schools were over or under-represented, nor can we be absolutely certain that the respondents were representative of parents in general. This is why national surveys rely on large returns.

That said, surveys, whether voluntary or solicited, tend to be taken by those who want to have their say. You can never be absolutely certain if you have are missing a silent majority or have a data from a vocal minority. However, a large return tends to balance things out.

The survey study seemed to rely on descriptive statistics. At least, that is what the papers focused on. If that is the case, a statistical analysis was not in the design. If it was, there would be specific research questions based on hypotheses.

Not every study needs a statistical analysis. If this was a snapshot or preliminary study, the descriptive statistics paint a picture that highlight more questions or help policymakers suggest future strategies.

Overall, I do not fault a study for attempting to paint a broad picture that no one else seemed to have a clear view of. It sets the stage for more query and critical analysis.

But I do have one more potshot to take and it is directed at the newspapers.

The contrast of what was highlighted by each paper of the same study could not be more stark.

To be fair, both papers had a few articles on the same study to highlight different topics. But what the newspapers choose to tweet is an indication of what they value. This is no different from what any of us chooses to tweet.

I chose to call out the subjectivity of any press that thinks of itself as objective or impartial. Any study and press article has bias, some have more and some less.

As content creators, we should make our bias transparently obvious. As critical thinkers and doers, we should try to figure out what the biases are first.

I read this forum letter and squirmed a bit. The premise of the first half of the letter seemed to be that if you change expectations about the PSLE, stakeholder behaviours will change too.

While that is probably true, the premise presupposes that shifting the goalposts in the new PSLE format (from T-scores to achievement levels) is the same as changing expectations. But if the expectations remain largely in the academic domain, the behaviours that feed it may remain the same, e.g., hothousing, drilling, excessive tuition.

Behaviours also shape expectations. People tend to use the same old strategy when facing a new situation. If it works, or if they can bend the the new situation to their will, they will take the path of least resistance. Behaviour can entrench the status quo.

If we shift the goalposts, will the way we kick the ball will also change? After all, the goal is still to score a goal.

If the point in play is penalty kicks to tie-break at the end of the game, the high stakes tend to favour practised drills and time-tested strategies.

The ball has to end up in the back of the net enough times so that you win. Likewise, a child has to do well enough in the PSLE to get to the next round of schooling, preferably in a match that favours him/her.

Those are the rules and the rules can change. Perhaps we need to play a different game altogether.

Thanks to this tweet, I read and reflected on a response to the click-and-comment bait article, With her son’s PSLE results in hand, milestone reached for co-founder.

My response is this: All of us responded with support or attack, for the son or on the mother respectively, simply because the story is not isolated.

We responded because the story is a magnifying mirror that highlights an ugly spot we would rather cover up or not see.

But it is plain to see and we are right to judge because we are bringing up what we do not like about ourselves.

Yes, the mother loves her son. But there are different ways to show it. Some say there are 50 shades of showing it. (Oh wait, that is something else!)

Some ways help, other ways hurt. Some ways perpetuate the type of schooling and parenting we would rather not subject our children to. If we do, they will learn from us and teach that to their children. In the PSLE of life, we an F grade for that and there is no alternative pathway.

Did you hear that? That is the sound of the Internet — specifically the local Twitterverse — sharing their thoughts on how the founder of kiasuparentDOTcom reacted to her son’s PSLE results.

This was a colourful response by SGAG.

Mine was a more subdued share.

I have no doubt that the article has been very “popular” on Facebook as well. It was written to be click and comment bait. But it should also send clear signals to all stakeholders in our schooling and educational systems.

Systemic change is not just about grand rhetoric and stylish posturing. It is about putting boots to the ground and applying elbow grease. The former is typically top-down while the latter is normally bottom-up.

Whether the change efforts meet in the middle and are effective depends on whether the message of change connects, is consistent, and is constant.

MOE sent a clear initial signal of the “change” in scoring for the PSLE, coming “soon” in 2021. That is the shot across the bow to say take notice.

It has bought itself four years to fire more messages and shots, but it is not clear what forms these will take or what the efforts will be. So far we have been told that schools need to prepare themselves. This is still a signal from the top down.

What are the efforts going to be like from the bottom up? How will the grassroots efforts organise themselves? With videos like this? With more SG conversations, forums, panels, etc.? Is anyone trawling the SG edublogosphere, Twitterverse, and Facebook groups?

If we do not shape the agenda, interrupt the conversation for critical inputs, or otherwise organise ourselves, someone else will do these for us.

Hmm, this might be something to discuss at the next #educampsg in 2017.

Let us say that you had thousands of potential volunteers to contribute their time, effort, and collective intelligence. What would you do?

Four years ago, scientists created a game about shaping RNA. About 38,000 players contributed human intuition to what technology could not figure out by itself.

Here in Singapore, we had our annual ritual of find-out-the-highest-PSLE-T-score effort and hunt for the schools with the highest proportions of T-scores of 250+.

Not all of the 125,000 members of participated. But enough did so that it “caused the website to crash at times due to capacity problems”.

All this happened despite the rhetoric and early efforts of our Ministry of Education (MOE). According to this article:

The fascination with aggregate scores still continues although it has been five years since the Ministry of Education stopped announcing PSLE’s top scorers and their T-scores to remove the spotlight on academic grades.

Just what does this effort contribute to?

It perpetuates the focus on scores and grades. It does nothing to determine what else makes a school good. It prevents schools from reinventing themselves and escaping from this expectation.

There is a thin line between good and bad forms of crowdsourcing. One form distills the wisdom of the crowds; the other manifests the madness of the mob.

How do we stop this PSLE T-score madness? Is there a game that can help us synthesise artificial RNA that will code for protein that might change our neural structure? That sounds like science fiction.

The T-score system will go away in 2021 only to be replaced with another scoring system. Will that change mindsets, expectations, and behaviours? I do not think so.

So how about crowdsourcing alternatives for assessment and evaluation?

Today is an important day for most 12-year-old students because they will get the results of an important exam.

My son is one of those kids and we can look back at 2016 and reflect on how little stress we added to the process.

How stressful could it have been? This dramatisation provides some insight.

How more opposite was it for us?

  • We did not add to the excessive work that the school piled on my son and his peers.
  • We encouraged play and insisted on rest.
  • We opted for an alternative pathway in Direct School Admission (DSA) based on other measures like writing samples, e-portfolio, interviews, observation, performance, etc.

Instead of waiting for the PSLE results and then going through another wringer of secondary school selection, we opted for a good fit and a DSA school already said yes.

Because… why not?

There is more than one way to run the race. We chose not to race with others in an overcrowded lane. We chose to race with ourselves.

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Splash Productions recently released a short film on YouTube that focused on the stresses of the PSLE from a child’s point of view. [News article]

Video source

The creators of the video, Mr Jerome Lau and Mr Stanley Yap, made reference to Pokémon Go because they “thought the initial hype of the game in Singapore reminded them of the paper chase”.

Why did they create the video in the first place? According to the news article:

The idea for the film was sparked in early February when Mr Lau and Mr Yap found out from a close friend that the daughter of someone he knew had committed suicide.

Concerned, they decided to find out more about teen suicides.

They were shocked to find out from a Samaritans of Singapore report that teen suicide rates in 2015 were the highest in 15 years, with 27 people aged 10 to 19 committing suicide.

“Our first thought was, wow, there are actually a lot of young people committing suicide, it’s just that they are not made known to the public,” said Mr Lau.

Then in August, two students from a top JC killed themselves within 10 days of each other. This provided the impetus to start.

Mr Lau, who is married with two children, a 12-year-old son who has just finished his PSLE and a nine-year-old daughter who is in Primary 3, became the executive producer of the film.

He said: “We thought that we really needed to do something about this.

“We wanted to start a conversation… To try and help parents manage their mindsets and expectations with their children’s results.”

The video features two kids and their families: One stressed and one much less so. Parents and teachers should watch this video, not just to start conversations, but also to reflect deeply on how the words and actions of adults affect children.

My son sat for the PSLE this year, so the video was particularly poignant. We took a very relaxed approach to this major exam because his school pushed — and I dare say over-pushed — so much that we looked for ways for him to have fun instead of doing more work.

Kids are more resilient than we give them credit for, but how much so depends on the emotional foundations that the adults around them establish and build.

I am sure that parents will see part of their children and themselves in the video. I hope that the video clicks and connects, and that adults take the PSLE as seriously as some of them take Pokémon Go.

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