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Posts Tagged ‘school

This press piece began with this question.

Why is the question not: Why are some people less productive than others when working at work? It is not as if working outside of home automatically makes work better for everyone.

A similar and equally uncritical question could be asked of schooling and education: Why is home-based learning so difficult? We should instead pivot to the question about the difficulties of learning in the classroom.

One direct answer for avoiding the pivot is that refocusing on work and school highlights what we fail to do well and somehow keep ignoring. For example, it is easier to ignore how administrative needs at work or school might be placed higher than working or learning needs.

Another simple answer is that the home is not made for work or school. Often it is a place to get away from both, i.e., to rest, pursue an interest, spend time with family, etc. We can make adjustments to home just like a scuba diver dons a suit and air tank, but such adjustments are temporary. 

So, no, the tweeted question is not a good one. It is an attempt at clickbait. It is not an attempt to actually challenge or develop creative and critical thinking. 

A question that might actually create some dissonance might be: What can we learn from the online pivot at work/school and apply to the workplace/classroom when we return?

Martin Weller recently critiqued how we tend to do the same thing differently:

We decry the tendency to simply replicate lectures online, but then do the same with meetings. We call for educators to use technology to its advantage to realise new pedagogies, and then recreate face to face conferences in Zoom. We stress the need to rethink your teaching approach to ensure learners are not adversely affected and then conduct line management via Teams.

In short, we think almost exclusively inside the work/school box even when circumstances (pandemic) throw us firmly outside it.

Now that we have enforced experiments with telecommuting and remote teaching/learning, why not use these experiences to address the weaknesses of the office and classroom?

To those who only see the positive side of returning to normal schooling post-pandemic I say: Don’t romanticise school. 

I reflected on what I wrote a few days ago by focusing on how someone opined that school was a place for teachers to “get to know their students, to put a hand on a shoulder, to ask the right question, to engage a disengaged learner”. I do not dispute that these happen. 

I also read and reflected on the opinion piece above. It bemoaned how home-based learning (HBL) “has its limitations”.

Those opinions dwell on just half the story. The other half is less rosy. Socialisation is school is not always friendly, affirming, or otherwise positive. There can be negative social pressure, physical bullying, and too-early starts of the day. HBL has its limitations, but so does school.

I am not saying that in-person schooling is pointless. It has critical societal functions like enculturating and nannying our young. I am saying that we do not romanticise it by ignoring its ills.

For example, the first argument against HBL in the op piece was that “not all students are equally self-motivated to direct their own learning and some require closer supervision that may not be available in their homes”. The same is true for in-person schooling.

The argument extended to how schools provide “a relatively safe and supportive environment for at least part of the day for students facing emotionally trying circumstances at home”. I agree. But schools can also be a place that creates emotionally trying circumstances — people are people after all.

The second and third arguments were that schools were better for conducting science experiments and co-curricular activities. Of course they are. By a similar token, home is better for learning about family/neighbour dynamics, tinkering with DIY projects, inventing new games at the void deck, participating in Chinese funeral or a Malay wedding in the heartlands, etc.

The fourth argument was that schools were better at preparing kids for tests and exams. Except tuition agencies. Or preparatory centres. Or self-help groups. Or tiger parents armed with assessment books from Popular bookstore.

Of course schools are good at tests and exams. There is almost nowhere else that relies exclusively on paper-based tests to determine a child’s worth and category. But just because schools are good at this does not mean that tests and exams are good.

The fifth argument seemed to be that parents and educators preferred that kids went to school. Schools provide a vital societal function of nannying kids while their parents work. Schools also enculturate children so that they fit into society.

If the adults can rationalise the need to shut down in-person school and replace it with HBL for public health, they should also be see how much informational and non-procedural work is necessarily mediated with technology, e.g., work from home (WFH). If WFH is to become more common or even the norm, should schools not inculcate that mindset by having more and better HBL?

We should not wish for school to be the normal. We can and must do better.

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The easy thing to do with videos like these is to show them to students who complain about going to school and telling them how grateful they should be.

The more difficult thing to do is to draw out meaningful questions, generate discussion, and educate our students on empathy and action. 

My reaction to yesterday’s news: It’s about time! If there is any frontline worker as precious as our “precious”, it is teachers.

The article lists the types of schools whose teaching and non-teaching staff will get inoculations. They range from pre-schools to madrasahs, but somehow exclude higher education institutions. Why?

When you work in school, it can be difficult to see its faults. It can be even more difficult to admit that you perpetuate practices that are losing relevance.

So when someone points those faults out, the instinct is to ignore or push back. But a bitter pill might be easier to swallow when it is delivered with humour.

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Ryan George is a YouTuber who plays many versions of himself having conversations with his personas. His videos are often sharp and funny critiques of movies (see his Pitch Meeting) series. This one takes the cake on modern schooling practices that are still unquestioned traditions or holdovers from the past.

An open-minded teacher or principal might laugh at the funny bits and admit that what he says is true. But it would take a brave and persistent one to take action to change things.

I was intrigued by the video below that suggested how we might reimagine workflows and buildings post-COVID-19.

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The video started with the redesign of a hospital and then moved on to a small campus and office spaces. It suggested not only more airflow but also more sustainable efforts.

The latter efforts come not just with architectural design but also with changes in workflow expectations. For example, working in-person only for creative tasks and spending more time alone on mundane or repetitive tasks.

I wonder if designers of mainstream schools are thinking of similar principles. I know of concept schools that already exist, but these tend to be the exception instead of the rule. I had the privilege of visiting one a decade ago.

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Perhaps the pandemic might push us to think outside the building box and factory workflows. Perhaps.

I watched Deputy Prime Minister (DPM) and Finance Minister, Mr Heng Swee Keat, deliver the Fortitude Budget in Parliament yesterday. It was the fourth budget speech for the Singapore government’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

I also monitored my Twitter stream for takeaways by the major english language newspapers. None of them mentioned the schooling and education related headlines from DPM’s speech.

With regard to home-based learning (HBL), DPM announced a greater role for artificial intelligence (AI) and learning sciences. As there were scant details, I presume that AI will play a role in learning analytics while researchers in the learning sciences will be consulted on e-pedagogy.

DPM also announced an “accelerated timeline” for all secondary school students to receive digital devices. This was initially announced in March and the device could take the form of a tablet, laptop, or Chromebook. The goal then was for all secondary 1 students to own a device by 2024 and all secondary school students to have one by 2028.

There was no firm timeline in the budget speech for both announcements. We do not yet know what an accelerated timeline means for the ownership of devices, nor do we know how long the changes to HBL will take.

All the changes are urgent and important. They are needed immediately and over the long haul. While these changes might not be as tweet-worthy to the newspapers, I aim to read and summarise what I learn in the weeks to come.

Mainstream schools in Singapore are starting their June breaks in May because the COVID-19 pandemic has given us the ability to time travel.

Actually, no. This switch was administrative juggling to reduce HBL or home-based learning (more accurately, emergency remote teaching) to just under a month. How so?

Kids have been on HBL since 8 April. If the school vacation was not brought forward, HBL would have continued till at least 29 May because the end of the lockdown was extended from 4 May to 1 June. So the school vacation covers the remainder of the extended lockdown.

One emerging problem is that some teachers are trying to keep the kids occupied with school vacation activities. Why? The teachers and parents say their kids will be bored.

On one hand, you might understand the response — some parents are bald from tearing their hair out trying to be teaching assistants, IT support, cheerleaders, etc. So any distraction sanctioned by a teacher might provide welcome relief.

On the other hand, why should teachers organise the vacation time of students? Yes, the circumstances are different in that everyone needs to stay cooped up at home. But should kids not be taught that being bored is not a bad thing?

Feeling bored can be the start of planning, creating thinking, storytelling, exploration, and experimentation. The best teachers of such thought and actions are the kids themselves. They might need some guidance or supervision, but they must learn to try and to learn from mistakes.

Kids might not be able to step out much during a lockdown, but this does not mean they cannot explore. Many of the same tools that enable HBL (e.g., video conferencing, text, shared notes, audio and video platforms, video games) might provide remedies for boredom and opportunities to learn outside the curriculum.

Our kids might already feel caged with the lockdown and school holiday projects they need to complete. They need to feel bored because this means they have the time to hear themselves breathe. This is liberating. Their teachers and parents do not have to plan everything for them and the kids learn to operate independently.

Let our kids feel bored. It is evidence of a break and an opportunity to keep themselves meaningfully occupied.

The most recent measures added to Singapore’s COVID-19 circuit breaker redefined “essential services”.

When the restrictions started two weeks ago, getting your fill of bubble tea and having a haircut were essential. Now they are not.

I am not complaining nor am I worried because I did not buy into the bubble tea fad and I can get a haircut later. But I am worried about some smaller food & beverage (F&B) outlet owners and the possible parallel future of school edtech.

According to this government article, “standalone outlets that only sell beverages, packaged snacks, confectioneries (e.g. sweets, toffees) or desserts will be required to close their outlets” (more detailed list here). These are typically owned by young, gung-ho, and creative types who rent shophouse space in HDB estates and areas that can only be described as outliers.

The large and franchised chains like Starbucks or Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf are not affected as much because most outlets operate in malls. They can still sell their wares via takeaways and deliveries. The small and independent outlets have to shut down completely.

Here is a message from Lee’s Confectionary, a patisserie that I visit almost every week:

Message from Lee's Confectionery about the extended circuit breaker.

The independent F&B outlets are the ones who need to most help. They do not have parent bodies that might absorb the impact and share the load. They rely on viral social media marketing, word of mouth, and reputational capital because they carved niches of their own. But they were the first to be dropped.

What is the parallel with edtech in schooling that is currently defined by emergency remote teaching and possibly later by actual online learning? I worry that the established vendors of content and “learning” management systems, or sellers of popular tools like Zoom, will continue to get deference over niche platforms or tools.

Such a move is a “safe” bet from an administrative and policy point of view. Those in charge of purse strings can bargain for the best price of implementing a platform over large systems. In terms of policy, having just one or very few platforms is easier to monitor and control.

But such a mindset is outdated. It counters what open, online, and distance education expert, Martin Weller, described as essentials for moving forward: openness, decentralisation, and distribution.

An oversimplified version of those three principles put into action is: Do not put all your eggs in one basket. CMS and LMS strain when accessed concurrently. These platforms are rarely designed with progressive pedagogy, e.g., they are designed largely for consumption instead of creation/co-creation. None of the standard platforms can assure stakeholders that they can implement tests and evaluations in the way schools currently do.

Yet the incumbents are preferred over the niche and nimble tools or providers that pioneering teachers already rely on. It is not that niche and nimble tools are actively discouraged. It is that they are not prudently encouraged. I wonder when we might see a clear shift in of mindset built on empowerment and trust.

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The video a performance of the Christmas carol, God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen. That was also one of my responses to a parent who complained that the end-of-year vacation was too long.

Her complaints were that her children were restless and adults needed to keep them occupied. She was also concerned that her kids fell behind on mother tongue lessons.

This is Singapore and so we complain about someone else’s complaints, especially if the latter sound stupid. This site hosts some choice reactions.

But since it is Christmas, I present some thoughts in the form of questions:

  • How about offering the gift of childhood to kids?
  • Why not teach kids how to rest or to organise themselves?
  • How about some empathy for teachers who need a break from taking care of children for 40 (or more) weeks a year?

Lest I sound like a scrooge, I close with two more Christmassy YouTube videos.

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