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Posts Tagged ‘schooling

One of the artificial intelligence (AI) initiatives slated for Singapore schooling is “adaptive learning systems”. I take issue with calling them that.

One one hand, I understand why they are simple learning systems — they monitor what each student does and offer resources based on need or performance.

On the other hand, this is actually a content delivery system. The “learning” moniker is marketing speak. Vendors know that they are not going to get their feet in the front door if they do not use more progressive terms while mostly maintaining the status quo.

You can tie a bow on it, paint it gold, and call it an alternative-looking shovel. I call a spade a spade.
 

It is easy to play the blame game. For example, some might attribute the lack of deep writing to what seems like shallow sharing on social media. Case in point, this tweet.

The first part of the tweet that houses this assumption is itself not nuanced. Many things contribute to the inability to write more deeply, meaningfully, or reflectively. “Impatient” writing could be due to the maturity of the writer, the time they have left to write, the relevance of the task, etc.

The educator was open enough to acknowledge the feedback from her students — the low-hanging fruit sort of writing was a product of the low-hanging fruit sort of testing. If tests value and reward short-term thinking and convenient answers instead of more nuanced thought, then why do we blame students for thinking that way?

We are buffeted and conditioned by our environments. We adapt to those conditions and adopt mindsets and behaviours that help us survive or thrive. Then we bring those mindsets and behaviours to other environments and see what works.

If students learn superficial writing from superficial media, then might they learn about nuanced writing by being exposed to more thoughtfully-crafted social media postings? Maybe. Nuanced writing takes time, discipline, and effort. Pursuing and nurturing such value systems is, in part, what education is for.

I was schooled. I became educated.

The learning of any subject might seem like a goal and an end unto itself. This might be true when the learner is a novice and being schooled. But as learners mature, they might realise that it is more important to learn-to-be (a writer), not just to learn-about (writing). They become more educated when they realise that it is far more important to learn HOW to think that to be taught WHAT to think.

 
I remain cautiously optimistic for subject-based banding (SBB) to be implemented fully in Singapore schools by 2024. SBB is supposed to replace current streaming practices.

Academic streaming in Secondary schooling was first introduced here in 1981 — this makes it over 35 years old — and it is baked into our psyche.

Why is it being replaced? One might look to the study of another system to find answers:

In the latest update of Hattie’s influential meta-analysis of factors influencing student achievement, one of the most significant factors… is the teachers’ estimate of achievement (1.57). Streaming students by diagnosed achievement automatically restricts teacher expectations. Meanwhile, in a mixed environment, teacher expectations have to be more diverse and flexible.

While streaming might seem to help teachers to effectively target a student’s ZPD, it can underestimate the importance of peer-to-peer learning. A crucial aspect of constructivist theory is the role of the MKO – ‘more-knowledgeable other’ – in knowledge construction. While teachers are traditionally the MKOs in classrooms, the value of knowledgeable student peers must not go unrecognised either.

SBB as a replacement of streaming is still largely a concept as it does not yet have widespread implementation. I would like it to do well, so I look for potential pitfalls.

One obstacle is adult mindset. The policymakers, teachers, parents, and tuition agencies comprise of people who were likely products of streaming. It is hard to break out of what we know in order to try something else better.

Even if there is buy in to the idea SBB, the practice of comparing kids largely or only on academic standards remains. The SBB will see academic subjects offered at three levels G1, G2, and G3. A cynic might point out that these mirror the Normal (Technical), Normal (Academic), and Express streams after reading this CNA report.

Upon entering Secondary 1, they will take a combination of subjects at three different levels based on their PSLE scores: General 1, General 2 and General 3. These three levels are mapped from the current Normal (Technical), Normal (Academic) and Express standards respectively.

The cynic would be wrong because a child might take two subjects at G1, four at G2, and one at G3.

The actual issue is parents or students wishing to take as many G3 level subjects as possible and tuition agencies claiming to have strategies to make those wishes come true. This keeps the formulaic and reductionist thinking alive at the expense of change and what is best for each student.

Normal stream students are stigmatised. CNA reported our Minister for Education saying:

…entering a stream that is considered ‘lower’ can carry a certain stigma that becomes self-fulfilling and self-limiting,” he added. “Students can develop a mindset where they tell themselves, ‘I am only a Normal stream student, so this is as good as I can be.

The SBB cannot guarantee that this stigmatisation will stop. Consider how parents and students might compare how many G1 or G3 students have on their plates. Load them with G1s and the stigma follows a different label.

Then there is the fact that our schools are already stratified. Students of certain abilities and/or socioeconomic status get into certain schools. Put plainly, some schools effectively have Express students only; even their N(A) students might be Express students elsewhere. The SBB policies deal with students already in schools and does not clearly address such stratification.

Administrative measures need to counter such stratification. These measures are not yet clear: The Ministry of Education and schools “will develop guidelines and assessment mechanisms, including using Secondary 1 year-end examinations”.

Assuming that school stratification persists, will students in such “better” be offered G1 subjects if they need them? How will such schools deal with the change in traditions and reputations if this happens?

Or might enacted policies blur these stratifications so that every mainstream school here opens its doors to students from all backgrounds? How will school administrators deploy the currently stead-state pool of teachers? If teachers cannot specialise, how will they be prepared to deal with even more diverse student needs?
 

 
Like the Minister for Education, I would like to see this happen:

The Express, Normal (Academic) and Normal (Technical) streams, together with their labels, will be phased out… So from three education streams, we will now have ‘one secondary education, many subject bands… We will no longer have fishes swimming down three separate streams, but we have one broad river, each fish negotiating its own journey.

The reality is that fish rarely swim alone; they swim in schools and they do so as a survival strategy.

Like it or not, our students are also put into groups. Some of these groups are based on their choice, e.g., co-curricular activity. But some grouping is insidious, e.g., socio-economic status, general academic ability, behaviours, attitudes, etc.

Students will be taught in groups or classes based on new labels: G1, G2, and G3. These labels come with baggage in the form of fixed mindsets and current streaming practices. If we ignore this baggage, we might invite a change from streaming to streaming plus.

When I read the tweet below, my mind wandered to a difference between schooling and education.

A primary function of schooling is the enculturation of children so that they fit in the societal box. Education is the collective effort of actualisation to fit the individual.

Schooling is about enculturation. Education is about self-actualisation.

We need both, but there is an imbalance.

Schooling is arguably the easier of the two to plan and implement, so that gets emphasised. Education is left largely to time, life, and circumstance. Unfortunately, each person’s lot in life is unequal and inequitable.

Schooling and education overlap, but they are not synonymous. If we realise the differences, we might work towards actually improving education instead of merely reinventing schooling.

I read an newspaper article that summarised the changes to our schooling system this year.

The newspaper took an important step by relying on expertise outside their organisation to write it, but chose to give the article an inaccurate title: In 2019, expect further moves towards greater equality in education.

The article was not just about moves towards equality. The opening paragraph indicated that it was about offering “a level playing field for all students to enjoy diversified educational pathways while developing a lifelong joy of learning”. The three content chunks were:

  1. A reduction in formal assessments
  2. Kinder admission systems
  3. Reducing the financial cost of schooling

Only the third chunk was properly aligned to the title of the article. To be more precise, it was about facilitating greater equity and not equality, since it was about giving the disadvantaged a disproportionate leg up.

After this information dump, the author chose to highlight two more areas of concern. These dealt with the equality and equity playing field:

  1. How private tutoring skews access to opportunities
  2. How the current Primary school admission system still favours the haves over the have-nots

Now these were not only important topics, they were also aligned to the topic of equality and equity. However, they were not official moves but much needed ones.

I wonder when our sociopolitical system will be mature enough to appreciate more direct and aggressive critique. I would like to see articles like these be actual opinion pieces instead of being reduced to mouth pieces.

This is the MOE press release that accompanied the announcement on reducing tests in Singapore schools.

First comes the policy shift (long overdue, in my opinion). Then might come the years-long mindset shifts. Next is the decades or generations-long behavioural shifts.

The press release ends as most documents that herald change do.

You could apply points 15 and 16 to any change in schooling, but that does make them any less true.

The stakeholders hardest to reach and change lie immediately outside the school arena, i.e., parents and enrichment tuition centres. This is what makes the change process arduous.

Like teaching, the policy announcement is neat. And like learning, the actual change processes are messy. It is time to muck about.

After reading Part 1 and Part 2 of Education Buzz Words, I distilled some of my favourite unfavourites.

In alphabetical order, my pet peeves of words and phrases used misleadingly with aplomb are:

  • 21CC (as if they are all unique and not timeless)
  • Best practices (when applied singularly and devoid of context)
  • Education (when you actually mean schooling)
  • Engagement (when this is not accompanied with empowerment)
  • Flipped classroom (when confused with flipped learning)
  • Gamification (when blindly combined or confused with game-based learning)
  • Learning (when confused with teaching, which learning is not)
  • Real world (when cited behind walled gardens)

We would do well to heed this warning from a teacher who said this in Part 1.

Teachers love buzzwords because they carry weight, but are we really understanding them? How about we become better at understanding and putting these words into practice rather than just repeating words to sound hip and cool.


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