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Posts Tagged ‘schooling

Unpack the two tweets below. The original tweet is below the response.

The original tweet highlights how selective hearing and reading can result in deafness to logic and blindness to perspective.

That tweeter started with a conclusion (our conditions are irrationally restrictive) and selectively cited policies in order to reverse engineer disgust with authorities.

The replier applied a dose of rare common sense to explain how enacted policies follow logic. For example, people who opt to travel now are subject to even stricter conditions and practices to ensure the safety of all.

We should not envy other countries that seem to have opened up despite not having as high a vaccination rate and/or having people that actively resisted masking and vaccines. Those places paid with disproportionately more lives than we have.

Emerging from a pandemic is not a race to be first. Singapore’s strategy has been to flatten the curve during endemic phase of COVID-19 so as not to overburden medical care or kill our vulnerable. This is a long game and some do not have the patience or the foresight to do this.

So they take to platforms like Twitter and Facebook to vent unhappiness or even spew hatred. This attracts likes because people can be stupid that way.

Consider another scenario that played out in the USA.

Video source

An unvaccinated woman was denied a kidney transplant and her supporters want to play up the narrative that she was being unfairly punished.

This simple explanation was designed to create outrage (just like the original tweet was). It also stemmed from being deaf to logic and blind to perspective.

A medical professional explained that organ recipients must take immunosuppressive drugs to reduce the risk of organ rejection. This leaves the patient vulnerable to disease.

The woman claimed to have SARS-CoV2 antibodies. But we do not know if she has antibodies to the delta variant or if she has enough to fight off infection.

The less simple explanations may not be as easy to understand, but they provide the rationale for effective COVID-19 responses.

Being open to such explanations starts with the decision to stop being wilfully deaf and blind to logic and perspective. If schooling has not open your eyes and ears, then you have not been educated.

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?

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.

I liked George Couros’ distinction between school and learning. I would label the headers schooling and education, but that is just me.

I would also take pains to explain why this is a false dichotomy because each side has their values and we need both.

For example, an education focuses on generating meaningful questions, but it also requires the critical collecting, analysing, and evaluating of answers. Such question asking might lead to the challenging of norms, but schooling serves an important social function of enculturating. This means learning when to be compliant.

The dichotomy is not wrong. It is just not nuanced at face value. This is like how I say that a coin does not just have two sides. There is a side that goes all around and gives it depth. Exploring that side makes it real.

Better edubloggers than me have reminded us why schools should not return to normal post-pandemic.

In a moment of serendipity, Seth Godin just blogged this:

…we learn in ways that have little to do with how mass education is structured…

…The educational regimes of the last century have distracted us. It turns out that the obvious and easy approaches aren’t actually the ones that we need to focus on.

How likely is meaningful change to happen? Not very, but we can hope while pushing from whatever edge and corner we are at.

If nothing substantial happens this time round, perhaps the next pandemic will bring a more forceful reminder.

History repeats itself. It has to, because no one ever listens. -- Steve Turner.

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.

Video source

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.

After reading this tweet, I remembered a phrase I used to describe to preservice teachers. It was a schooling process called GIGO — garbage in, garbage out.

This was not to say that the teachers did not care about their craft or their learners. It was a warning that the systemic setup of teaching to the test was an effective way of quenching passions.

Students simply react to the constant test pressure with a survival strategy of binging and purging. This results in a lack of knowledge retention and counters the calls for lifelong learning. I hope the our MOE’s recent pushes go some way to counter superficial learning.

This opinion piece suggested that teachers and educators had to play new roles in the COVID-19 era, specifically, health promoters, ICT champions, and social workers.

If you read the piece with an outsider’s perspective, the writer’s arguments and examples seem sound. But they are not airtight.

Any current mainstream school teacher can tell you that they already had those roles pre-COVID. It is just that the roles were not as obvious or that one role in particular — ICT champion — was easy to mostly ignore. All this means that the roles are not new. They might be renewed or more obvious to parents now, but they are not novel.

But focusing on the roles of teachers does the opinion piece a disservice. I blame part of the headline (Teachers now have new jobs) and the relegation of the more important message to the last third of the article. The COVID era has exposed our efforts in creating equitable schooling and education, and it has forced us to question if students are “truly digital natives”.

The same news site has articles highlighting how many students had to be given or lent devices and data dongles [example]. The struggles of learning from home, even with adequate technology, also indicates how being “digitally native” is a misnomer. Being savvy does not guarantee that students know how to learn or why they need to learn something.

If the article was to stay true to the remainder of its headline that “Schools will never be normal again after COVID-19”, it could have also avoided uncritical tropes and media-speak, e.g., catering to learning styles. Learning styles have been [debunked].

We do not need things to return to normal again if that means not crrically questioning sacred cow practices. I say we cull old and diseased bovines like busy work as homework, early starts that favour bus driver schedules, and high stakes exams.

If you visit this John Hopkins University visualisation of novel coronavirus (2019-nCoV) cases, you might discover how Singapore seems to be disproportionately affected.

Instead of focusing on the misinformation, disinformation, or panic buying of groceries, my mind turns to how this affects teaching and learning.

Most schools and education institutions reacting to the spread of the novel corona virus here share the same state — an unpreparedness to embrace online and e-learning. This is despite having a wealth of online resources that serve as a proxy for content delivery.

I anticipate that if teacher, administrator, and policymaker mindsets do not change, we will not be prepared for the next virus (or equivalent). Online platforms and content do not matter if they are used peripherally or only in emergencies.

We might take a leaf out of the YouTube book (irony intended) to learn how to be better prepared.

YouTube is an everyday phenomenon. Students need not be told to refer to it or search it. They do so on their own. They need it and want it. If that online resource was cut off, they would revolt.

Compare this with curated, designed, and aligned resources in content management systems. They are prescribed like medicine — used only when someone else thinks it is necessary as well as sparingly or strategically.

The current mindset of schooling still relies on an expert and teaching model. We need this because schools have a role to play in enculturating our children, i.e., transmitting information, values, and skills. But it is largely answer-driven.

The forward-looking mindset shifts towards learning. This means starting with complexity, not textbook answers and oversimplifications. The means recognising that learners, no matter how young, can and should continue learning by first asking questions and then learning how to find answers.

I dare say that if we manage to rely on a learner and learning-driven model, we will collectively create that paradigm shift that experts like to talk about. We will learn on demand, not just teach on supply. We will learn virally.

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.


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