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Posts Tagged ‘school

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.


Video source

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.


Video source


Video source

This is about as close to viral as evidence of educational leadership might get.

The usual tropes apply, e.g,. leading by example, doing as others do, taking the risk to look foolish, etc.

I applaud and admire the school principal. But I also balance that view with a challenge to ourselves: It is easier to challenge everyone to do the same thing at the same time. That is how schools operate by default much of the time.

How about challenging each student to be their best selves? This is not the stuff of viral videos, but it is what schools need to do all the time.

The writeup embedded above about the rise of Waldorf schools in Estonia made for some interesting reading. But based on the reporting alone, I thought that it mixed various ideas just like a salad.

Actual salads should be healthy, but not all are. For example, two years ago CNBC reported a salad that had more calories and fat than a burger.
 

 
School policy salads are a mixed bag too. I like how the Waldorf schools in Estonia embrace the humanities, focus on cross-disciplinary integration of academic subjects, and emphasise actionable feedback instead of competitive grading.

But I wonder about their policy to avoid technology until students are in high school. When I first heard about the Waldorf way some years ago, it was about this approach.

Defenders of this approach might point out that technology is better in the hands of older and more responsible learners. They also say that technology is distracting and mind-numbing.

I would remind them that there are adults who do not know how to use technology responsibly, so it is never too young to learn. Our kids do not learn by avoidance; they learn by immersion. We are their coaches and lifeguards.

The same technology that hampers learning can also enable it. The difference lies in how students are guided to use it. And they must use it, not avoid it. Avoiding technology might reduce some problems (e.g., distraction), but it also creates other problems (e.g., unprincipled use).

Ask adults what school is for and a common response will likely be “To prepare our kids for work.”

I have been consistent in railing against notions of schooling. Long story made short: Schools evolve too slowly to respond to what work currently is and will become. It is also not the full responsibility of school to prepare kids for work. Work prepares kids and workers for work.

All that said, there are some forms of work and some types of workers that take their schooling seriously. Whatever they did in school and on paper, they transfer and entrench in work.

I make this claim based on something I experienced this week. I made my way to an insurance company building to settle an administrative matter.

I had called the day before and took about a decade’s worth of paper I had filed away. Despite doing this, I was surprised to learn that I would be issued a cheque. I was told then that I had to bring needed paper copies of banking information (e.g., bank book, bank statement) if I wanted an e-transfer of funds.

I was surprised because 1) I paid premiums by e-banking, 2) the transactions were recorded electronically, 3) I went fully electronic years ago and did not have paper copies of banking documents.

I was told politely but summarily that I would have to bring a bank book or bank statement. When I said that I had electronic versions on my phone, I was told that they needed to be printouts.

This was strange given how the customer service representative was using a laptop and its camera to facilitate all our transactions. Even stranger: I said that I could send an electronic copy over for printing, but I was told that there was no way to receive it.

No way to receive it? Not by wifi or bluetooth or 4G? Not on our personal or work devices? Not to a wireless printer?

I am not alone with this experience. If we stop to think about this, we face this behaviour and detect this mindset every day.

Some work behaviours might change, e.g., retrieving and recording information with mobile devices instead of on paper. But some mindsets do not change, e.g., refusing to think outside the paper box.

So school does prepare kids — and eventually adults — for work. If we do not learn from incidents like the one I shared, it prepares students for the past and increasingly irrelevant forms of work.

We might think of schooling as teaching the prior generation's knowledge so that youth are prepared to communicate on an equal footing with those they are about to join in the economic and civic spheres. -- Robert Pondiscio

Steven Anderson described five reasons why educational research is not commonly used in schools. He then suggested four things teachers could consider about reading, applying, or conducting research.

I could not agree more. In fact, I am guiding and mentoring a group of teachers as they write research papers about their shared experiences. I enjoy the clinic-like sessions as we write, reflect, and revise our work.

But back to the importance of practice-based research. I sum it up with this image quote I made in 2015.

Practice without theory is blind. Theory without practice is sterile.

Like it or not, this tweet can be interpreted more than one way.

Tweet about school.

It could mean that the school as a physical building literally houses and protects a future generation.

It could also mean that the school is a social structure that shapes the future. What the future looks like depends on the changes implemented now.

A third perspective is that the future — the students and what they do — is walled in by the past. If we are realistic, the implied optimism of the tweet needs to be balanced with this:

We might think of schooling as teaching the prior generation's knowledge so that youth are prepared to communicate on an equal footing with those they are about to join in the economic and civic spheres. -- Robert Pondiscio

This opinion piece, Not a good idea to start school later, is not about the good of the students. Instead, it is about their parents, the employers of the parents, the transport companies.

Now these other stakeholders also have a say. The problem is that their say is dominant and overwhelms what is important. That is why there is no change. The question of why we do not start school later is perennial and so are the standard answers.

The problem is not just that we keep revisiting this issue and not change anything. It is that we normalise the cycle, and in doing so, lose sight of what is important (the learner) and instead dwell on what is urgent (everything else).

What is important is seldom urgent. And what is urgent is seldom important. -- Dwight D. Eisenhower.


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