Another dot in the blogosphere?

Posts Tagged ‘rhetoric

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.

I was tickled by this piece by Martin Weller, Let’s think inside the box. In it he challenged the assumptions behind the rhetoric to disrupt university education.

I do not agree fully that universities need to operate inside the box because that ignores some very real problems, e.g., research taking precedence over teaching, research benefitting journal publishers and little else, lecturing being the dominant form of teaching.

Weller’s piece reminded me of an image quote I created a while ago.

Do not ask questions you do not want answers to.

Weller’s perspective might very well be: Do not say disrupt if you do not want to deal with the consequences. Now that is something I would stand behind and work toward. The rhetoric might pluck at heartstrings and create cognitive buy-in. But change rides on the backs of those applying the elbow grease.

I have heard this uttered in speeches in years past and will hear it in years to come. It is that we live in an age where information is at our fingertips and that we need to change how we school our children.

If my eyes were like bowling balls, you would hear them roll slowly down the lane. I strike with these questions:

  • How often to those speakers practice what they preach?
  • How much has teaching changed to take advantage of this?
  • How relevant is “teaching” if this is the case?

The “you can Google anything” rhetoric needs to be challenged with these unGoogleable questions.

There is a saying that hindsight is 20/20. People who say this mean that things look clearer once you get past them. It is easy to look back and see what you have accomplished.

It is also easy to paint a picture rosier than actually was. Our memories are more fickle than we would like to admit. One of my favourite sayings is: Nostalgia is like grammar. It makes the past perfect and the present tense.

Nostalgia is like grammar. It makes the past perfect and the present tense.

Like it or not, we forget more than remember [Decay Theory]. We Instagram-filter our memories as we snapshot them [Interference Theory].

Video source

So when ISTE2016 made this declaration, I clap and I caution.

Let us celebrate successes, but not congratulate ourselves prematurely. Things may have changed, but they are not representative of every context, even in the so-called first world.

For example, participants at ISTE were having wifi issues.

We know of teachers who are still behind or trying to get over the “how to use tech” barrier. If you conducted a study, I would wager that a significant portion of “professional development” gets stuck at technology awareness and basic training.

Singapore embarked on the ICT Masterplan 4 this year, but teachers still complain about access and connectivity. They are not just talking about technology (poor signal, blocked resources), but also about policy and practice.

I mention these not to play down the achievements of any system attempting and embracing change. It takes guts, persistence, and time for change to happen and there will always be laggards and brickbats.

But let us not give naysayers fuel for their fire.

I say we admit we have failings, address them, and learn from them. I say we not whitewash underlying problems. I say we challenge rhetoric with reality.

I often cringe when I hear “21st century competency” or “21cc” used in conversations about change. 

We are a little over a decade into the 21st century and there are almost 90 years left in this century. Can we claim we know what students really need to know as workers 20 years from now? Most of us cannot predict what will happen in 20 months and some of us cannot see beyond our own nose.

The so-called 21ccs are mentioned in the context of change. Changing schooling. Changing teacher mindsets.

Practically every generation notices change, is cautious about change, or calls for change. Sometimes we do not look back enough to realize that these observations about change are constant. Every evolution of technology or mass media simultaneously drives change and creates resistance to it.

So when anyone says that we must change because of the demands of the 21st century, we should not take them at their word blindly. Those who call for such change sometimes focus only on rhetoric.

For example, why is collaboration a 21cc? Did people not have to collaborate in other centuries?

Surely they did and that is not what some people mean when they cite collaboration as a 21cc. They might actually mean the technology-mediated or enabled collaboration that can take place now as compared to back then. Whereas communication, compromise, and collaboration might have been almost exclusively face-to-face back then, that is not the case now.

We have technologies like video conferencing that simulate FTF meetings. But we also have wikis, work logs, social media platforms, and shared documents, presentations, and spreadsheets that provide asynchronous collaboration as well. In the future we might collaborate with resources as fronted by artificial but supremely intelligent agents.

This sort of collaboration involves dealing with inordinate amounts of data and working with others on larger scales.

While these might remove the human face in collaboration, they still allow the connection of minds. In fact, the absence of physical appearance, skin colour, different accents, and other trappings of FTF meetings might reduce bias or allow for simultaneous and multiple conversations.

This is real and is already happening now. It will only get more extensive but easier in the future. This is the type of human collaboration we need to prepare our kids for and not the classroom sort.

But some people spout rhetoric about 21ccs like armchair prophets. I have found that it remains rhetorical instead of becoming transformative practice for at least two reasons.

The words of wisdom or warning are spoken by those who say but cannot actually do. They are not deep participants of the sorts of things they observe or attempt to describe. They can only imagine.

Another reason for the 21cc rhetoric is lip service. The words are empty. Papers are pushed and policy is set, but it is a game with many empires or observers and not enough players.

Some rhetoric is necessary to perhaps get buy-in and create ownership. Then people actually get on with the act of change. Such rhetoric initiates and enables. But other words remain words or even create barriers to change. We should be wise enough to tell the difference.

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