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Posts Tagged ‘school

I enjoyed this audio recording of how a few students shared how they thought school should change post-pandemic. Among the ideas: 

  • de-emphasise grades
  • enable students to get more sleep
  • be more inclusive to more differences
  • have more real world connection, e.g., community-based learning

The suggestions were not just current issues, most were also informed by research which the students were able to cite.

But here is the rub: It is one thing to rethink school, will we actually redo school?

If have not been living under a rock, you know that a local enrichment centre posted clowns outside schools to market their wares [STonline article].

I would not ordinarily propagate such “news” and am triggered by the fact that it crossed borders. It was featured in a Washington Post article and was a question in an NPR quiz.

According to STonline, the director of the enrichment centre “did not expect the backlash” from the general public. Really? The Speaker of Parliament had to declare on Facebook: “Whoever is doing what I assume to be some viral marketing nonsense, stop it!”

Some folks say that there is no such thing as bad publicity. I say otherwise. If that centre thinks that the marketing stunt was a good idea and could not see its consequences, I question what it might offer in terms of pedagogy and content.

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The Judy Collins song, Send in the Clowns, has the lines: 

Send in the clowns
Don’t bother, they’re here

I say we do not need more of these clowns. But we need not bring the whole circus tent down on them because this affects everyone else under it. Don’t send them in or give them attention. Vote by keeping your wallets shut.

The article linked in the tweet above gave me a case of déjà vu. It outlined what other similar articles have reported about sleep:

  • Kids need their sleep
  • They are not getting enough partly because school starts too early
  • Adolescents sleep later due to developmental changes

The only newsworthy item was a benefit of the pandemic: As kids were staying home from school, they were sleeping longer.

Citing a study conducted during the “circuit breaker” period last year, Dr Lim said that with children waking up 55 minutes later on average due to enforced home-based learning, those in primary school gained an extra 30 minutes of sleep, while students in secondary school level slept 56 minutes longer compared to pre-pandemic times.

Unfortunately, the article returned to form. The pros of changing our policies and practices were weighed against the cons. For example:

  • One big pro: Kids perform better academically if they get optimum amounts of sleep.
  • One big con: We need to change transportation schedules if we are to accommodate later school start times.

The big con seems be such an immovable object that sleep ends up in a hard place. I am tempted to call the con a sleeping giant.

According to the report, one expert suggested that telecommuting enforced by the pandemic resulted in less worker transport. When will we wake up to the idea that the problem is an opportunity to provide a benefit to kids and take advantage of changing travel patterns?

This tweet and its embedded article gave me reason to revisit my pivot.

It offered some reasons why schools should reopen for kids to resume in person classes. Among them were:

  • School closures had “significant” impact on “skills attainment and earning prospects…  physical and mental health” (no evidence, just statement of presumed fact)
  • Access to online learning is uneven (true in many SE Asian contexts, less so here)
  • There were “increases in anxiety, depression and self-harm” and “increased loneliness, difficulty concentrating” and “poor eating habits and disrupted sleep patterns” and “increased the risk of domestic violence” and “more screen time has exacerbated the risks of online harm” (again all stated as evidence without giving any)

In short, this was a list that the Pessimists Archive would have a field day with. It included tired reasons for reopening in-person schools and vilifying online education.

There is just one thing I fully agree with about this tweeted headline. Online learning is no substitute, but not for the reasons spelt out in the op piece.

Online education is not yet a common substitute because it is: 

  • called upon mostly in emergencies like a fire extinguisher would
  • relegated to the exception instead of integrated as part of a norm
  • held to the standards of what is possible or desirable in-person instead of evaluated on its own merits

I am not saying that schools should not reopen when they can. They should because they serve critical societal and economic functions. And since I work mostly from home, I would like my wife (a teacher) and my son to give me my work space back. 😉

I am saying that we should not vilify online education when you have not given it a chance to bloom, cross fertilise, and create newer and better versions of itself. This is, after all, what we did with schooling. 

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.

Video source

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


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