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Posts Tagged ‘schooling

For the second time in as many years, my son asked for a printout of our latest home utility bill. It was for a geography topic.

I have no objections to sharing how energy and water efficient we are, but I took care to block out personal information like our account number and address.

Perhaps teachers or designers of curricula think that an example from real life will connect with learners. It might. Then again, it might not. Kids do not normally worry about utility bills.
 

 
There is a more serious disconnect — the hardcopy. I asked my son why he could not share a digital copy on his phone. He replied that the instructions were to bring a printout.

A printout. This means that someone realised that we rely on e-bills now. The utility companies offer this as a cost-saving and timely measure, and customers are already on the bandwagon.

Why is a class disconnected from the new normal? Students will learn from teachers how not to question, to stick blindly with tradition, and to be prepared for the past.

Students will learn to play the game that is school. They will be schooled, but they may not be educated.

This is my response to newspaper articles [Today] [STonline] on a study by Singapore’s Institute of Policy Studies (IPS). I also respond in longer form to tweets about the articles or study.

First some background, disclosures, and caveats.

According to one article, the study was “a quantitative look at the views of 1,500 citizen or permanent resident (PR) parents with children in local primary schools on their perceptions about Singapore’s education system at that level”.

I am not linked to the IPS nor do I have a stake in what it does. As an educator, I have a stake in how people process reports of such studies because it reflects our collective capacity to think critically.

My intent is to provide some insights based on my experiences as a teacher educator and researcher. In the latter capacity, I have had to design and conduct research, supervise it, and be consulted on designs, strategies, and methodologies.

However, without full and immediate access to the actual IPS report and data, I have to take the newspaper articles at face value. I also have to assume that the research group implemented the survey-based study rigorously and ethically.

The headline by the Today paper was click(bait)-worthy. It was not the only finding, but the paper thought it would grab eyeballs.

At least two people tweeted and wanted to know if other stakeholders like parents and the students themselves were asked about the impact of the PSLE.


I understand their concerns, but this was probably not on the research agenda. I say this not to dismiss the importance of their questions.

Good research is focused in order to be practical, to manage limited time and resources, and to shed a spotlight on a fuzzy issue. The questions about teachers and students could be addressed in another study.

It might help to view the study as a snapshot of early stage policy implementation. MOE has passed policy of “every school, a good school” and shared upcoming changes to the PSLE. The big question is: What is the buy in?

MOE can more easily manage the buy in among teachers and students. Parents are a different matter, so the study rightfully focused on that group.

The study was not about making any comparison. It was about taking a snapshot of public opinion.

This is also not a question that the IPS could seek answers to in mainstream schools here. Except for international, private, and most special needs schools, all mainstream Primary schools subscribe to the PSLE and do not have alternatives like e-portfolios. Some home-schooled children even take the PSLE.

This is actually a critical question that needs to be asked.

Our Prime Minister hinted at it in his National Day Rally speech in 2013 and MOE responded with some changes — IMO superficial changes — in late 2016.

If enough stakeholders question the timing or value of PSLE, then the followup questions revolve around the WHEN and HOW of change.

According to the ST article, “the sample of parents… had a proportionate number of children in almost all the 180 or so primary schools here.”

Now this could mean that there was less than ten parents representing each school on average. We cannot be sure if some schools were over or under-represented, nor can we be absolutely certain that the respondents were representative of parents in general. This is why national surveys rely on large returns.

That said, surveys, whether voluntary or solicited, tend to be taken by those who want to have their say. You can never be absolutely certain if you have are missing a silent majority or have a data from a vocal minority. However, a large return tends to balance things out.

The survey study seemed to rely on descriptive statistics. At least, that is what the papers focused on. If that is the case, a statistical analysis was not in the design. If it was, there would be specific research questions based on hypotheses.

Not every study needs a statistical analysis. If this was a snapshot or preliminary study, the descriptive statistics paint a picture that highlight more questions or help policymakers suggest future strategies.

Overall, I do not fault a study for attempting to paint a broad picture that no one else seemed to have a clear view of. It sets the stage for more query and critical analysis.

But I do have one more potshot to take and it is directed at the newspapers.

The contrast of what was highlighted by each paper of the same study could not be more stark.

To be fair, both papers had a few articles on the same study to highlight different topics. But what the newspapers choose to tweet is an indication of what they value. This is no different from what any of us chooses to tweet.

I chose to call out the subjectivity of any press that thinks of itself as objective or impartial. Any study and press article has bias, some have more and some less.

As content creators, we should make our bias transparently obvious. As critical thinkers and doers, we should try to figure out what the biases are first.

Education is not synonymous with schooling, no matter what you may have been told or what you perpetuate without question.

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

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

Those are compact and loaded sentences. I unpack them simply this way: Schooling is about preparing you for what society expects you to be; education is about preparing yourself for who you need or wish to be.

Schools function to school and educate, and arguably do more schooling than education in the early years. As a student gets older, he or she seeks an education. That is why universities are often referred to as institutes of higher education instead of really-big-and-expensive-schools. A working adult who learns on and with the job might opt for continuing education. This might take the form of a higher degree, credentials, skills upgrades, or enrichment.

The problem is that both the student and teacher might be so used to schooling that they do not know (or they forget) what it means to educate. That is why we have schools in universities (e.g., School of Education) and training (e.g., content delivery for compliance).

There might be circumstances where schooling an adult is necessary (e.g., standardisation exercises are not philosophical discussions) but for the most part education is the better path. That is why we have andragogy which is borne of pedagogy.

Andragogy differs from pedagogy by one main element — learner experience. However, I do not know any good educator of kids or adults who does not take the experience and perspectives of their learner into account. When they do this effectively, they rise above schooling and teaching. They educate.

Today I draw a link between a newspaper that calls itself Today and schooling.

Over the last few weeks, I noticed the Today paper experimenting with different web publishing formats.

I had previously been able to read desktop and mobile versions of the same article from Today. Recently, however, some pages seem to only be desktop-only or desktop-like.

Whether the pages were desktop or mobile, I could load them in Reader View in mobile Safari and get only text and images that were relevant to the article. There were no other distractions. Lately, I rarely have the option to toggle Reader View.

I have also noticed that some pages do not load content on the desktop or mobile browsers if ad blockers are on or privacy apps are active, respectively.

The Today paper is doing this despite Google Chrome and Apple Safari browsers cracking down on various types of ads and trackers.

The paper needs to stay ahead of the game, not fall and roll backward into the web publishing past. Back then newspapers pushed what they wanted — content, ads, and trackers — with very little consideration for reader experience.

There is a similar parallel in schooling. Some schools restrict technology use (“it is distracting”) and others ban them (“it is harmful”) in favour of ye good olde days. They push content and testing with very little consideration for how students actually learn best.

Both newspapers and schools need to get a broader sense of what is happening today. Readers and students want more say and involvement, have more rights, and feel more empowered.

Modern web browsers already reflect these changes. Users can install blockers of ads and trackers. Content creators can upload and share their thoughts on multiple platforms with only themselves as filters. But the Today paper seems to want to roll back time to yesterday.

Students today might block boring or irrelevant lessons by averting or closing their eyes. They do create content, but this is often heavily filtered, strictly dictated, or otherwise constrained like recipes. Schools still are stuck in the past.

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 is not news. I share the quote above as a critique of how many schools prepare students more for the past than the current and much less the future.

The sensing mechanism that newspapers and schools have is the same. What they create as artefacts are mirrors with which to reflect on themselves. What they critically read, watch, or listen to online serve as looking glasses to anticipate tomorrow.

Lady Gaga sang that we are Born This Way. I say we are also schooled a certain way.

Case in point: In the low-hanging fruit category of technology in Singapore schools comes this report.

I wondered why 85% of schools using technology to take attendance was newsworthy, so I asked and answered my own questions.

What do the attendance tools look like?

While most schools use mobile systems for attendance-taking, which can also be accessed on a Web browser, others rely on a biometric system that requires students to get their fingerprints scanned when they enter and leave the school compound.

Some tools rely more on the teachers while others depend on the students. Some might create sharable data while others do not. Despite these differences, any and all tools are part of that 85%.

Without knowing how these systems work and what their strengths and weaknesses are, how more informed are you as a result of reading the article?

How concerned are you that a vendor might have access to your child’s data and attendance? Did your child’s school provide you with a copy of a policy document? Did you sign a release document? If not, why is there not a newspaper article on that?

Are the attendance systems more accurate and reliable?

Not necessarily, no. Sometimes the problem is human:

“We tried out biometric, but faced issues with having to remind students who forgot to mark their attendance at the terminals,” said Madam Azizah Rabunam, who heads the school’s department of information and communications technology.

Other times the problem could lie more in the technology.

My son’s school has gates like the ones at MRT stations. If students do not check in, they do not get in.

If this sounds perfect, it is not. I have access to my son’s attendance records and the system occasionally does not record either his entrances or his exits.

It is particularly odd when the system does not register his entrance but records his exit. How does a person leave without entering? On a few rare occasions, the system marked him absent.

When I alerted my son’s form teacher, she mentioned that teachers verify attendance again in class. So much for efficiency.

What purposes do the attendance tools serve?

A Ministry of Education (MOE) spokesman said such systems can help schools better monitor truancy, absenteeism rates and trends related to latecomers.

In other words, these systems are core to what schools are for: To condition and to enculturate our kids. This is a necessary evil if we are to have a compliant workforce.

What is the point of my reflection?

Now we can swallow whole the claim of the article that:

The different systems also reduce the administrative workload of school staff.

We just have to take the collective word of newspaper, MOE, and vendors. After all, we have been schooled that way.

Most educators worth their salt have heard of Sir Ken Robinson. His TED talks have made him famous.

I wonder how many have viewed the videos of Yong Zhao or read his work. To say that Yong Zhao rarely fails to provoke is to make an understatement.

I am an admirer of his and respect his work. I have referenced some key moments over the last few years.

One of the more recent articles by Yong Zhao builds on yesterday’s theme: What seems to work might be an illusion. Yong Zhao argued that what seems to work in schooling can hurt because of side effects.

His article is an introduction to a longer one published in the Journal of Educational Change. He has a link to download the full article and you will have to visit his site to get it.

Yong Zhao started with this premise:

Educational research has typically focused exclusively on the benefits, intended effects of products, programs, policies, and practices, as if there were no adverse side effects. But side effects exist the same way in education as in medicine.

He suggested that the side effects in schooling and education might occur because:

  1. Time spent on a new intervention results in time lost in something else.
  2. Resources like people power are also redirected to newer initiatives that might distract from important core tasks.
  3. The desired outcomes of schooling and education are often contradictory. You cannot have an obedient and pliable workforce and one embraces diversity and risk-taking.
  4. Different people respond differently to the same treatments. What works with one group in one context can change with the group, the context, or both.

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

All these seem like common sense or obvious points to make in hindsight. Yet we make the mistakes again because we do not learn from others and recent history.

Once again, we need to pull the wool off our eyes. This time it is the wool that we put on and we have ourselves to blame for being so blind.

Yesterday I learnt something new.

Semmelweis reflex.

Thanks to generously and openly shared Google Slides (and this one in particular) I found a label for a phenomenon that has plagued schooling since the very first classroom: The Semmelweis reflex.

It is unreasoned and unreasonable resistance to change. It is the stubborn defence of “it has always been done this way”. It is the Goliath to my David.

The tendency to maintain the status quo or to throw the might of inertia in the face of progress is probably the biggest barrier to change in schools. That is why I fight it.


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