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Posts Tagged ‘schooling

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

The best way to start change is to identify what needs changing in the first place. This seems so obvious as to sound redundant, but you have probably seen how blind change initiatives can be.

So if we are to desire change in schools, we must know what is wrong with them. Here are two videos that outline some critical issues.

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The video above highlights how most schools:

  • Are based on outdated Industrial Age values.
  • Do not promote student autonomy.
  • Perpetuate inauthentic learning.
  • Do not accommodate student passions.
  • Provide little or no room for individualisation.
  • Rely on lecturing.

Video source

The video above uses social conflict theory to explore social inequalities that school reinforce or perpetuate. While the video focuses on schools embedded in US systems, the principles apply to any system that claims to be based on meritocracy.

Both videos shed light on what areas need urgent change.

Both videos are also not perfect — both equate education with schooling. They could have drawn distinctions between the two terms because both seemed to desire movement away from schooling and progress towards education.

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

Unlike Banksy, I do not think that the embedded graphic in his tweet is true.

The graphic is labelled “education”. What is depicted is traditional and mindless schooling. There is also the arguably necessary schooling of getting individuals to conform and to work together based on rules. Both are not the same as education. For one thing, education is about the development of the individual.

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

Did you process the embedded image in the tweet above and laugh? You are probably part of the majority and get the joke about stereotypical mainstream schooling in Singapore. Read on.

Did you shrug your shoulders or go “meh”? You probably do not care or did not get the joke. Stop reading. Go away.

Did you see the plot holes and choose to plug them? I did and am doing this.

Real life is often funnier than fiction, so the image works. But it does not work all the time.

All schools here do not go full tilt during the first week. All parents do not send their kids for enrichment tuition. The rhetoric may be popular, but that does not make it right or truthful.

Kids in their first year of Primary or Secondary school often have orientation weeks or fortnights. After all, they are transitioning from one form of schooling to another.

They need to be prepared to be schooled. This means learning how not to ask questions and not to think imaginatively. So the last image of the child in pain is true, but the tag is not. It is painful to lose during schooling what employers will later demand.

My critique aside, it is also true that schools now focus more on non-academics like building character and integrating into communal culture. For example, my son has spent much of the first week outside of his school and the classroom to learn about the artwork in the CBD and to go kayaking with his teachers and peers.

A layperson who was schooled 10 to 15 years ago can create a tweet like the one above to draw laughs from others similarly schooled. While there is a little truth — take extra tuition, for example — that is more a function of kiasu parenting.

Only those in schooling and education can and should point out fallacies. I do so at the risk of sounding humourless and “not getting it”. I do get it; they do not. They need to be educated too.

If you found out that a tool and practice you have relied on was based on false premises, would you still use them? I wager you would not if you placed weight on basic ethics.

I recently found out about a school’s career guidance programme. I have no beef with that because kids need to be more aware what lies ahead.

No, I was dismayed to find out that the school relied on the Myers-Briggs type indicator (MBTI) for students to gain “insights” into who they were.

In the past I have highlighted videos that summarise why the Myers-Briggs personality inventory is a sham.

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After you watch these videos, you will realise that this tool and practice:

  • Are neither valid nor reliable
  • Ignore context and human growth/change
  • Are based on misplaced and reinterpreted Jung theory
  • Go against Jung’s view: “Every individual is an exception to the rule
  • Only emphasise the positive and vague (the same strategy used by pseudoscience)

The only entities to benefit from the perpetuation of the Myers-Briggs personality inventory are the companies that prepare and score them for a fee — to the tune of US$20 million according to the Vox video. Perhaps some HR departments benefit as well if they choose this lazy and unreliable method of classifying people and their potential — again see the Vox video.

Businesses are not about to slaughter a cash cow just because they find out it is fake beef. They will hide this fact or disguise it with beef flavour (pseudoscience). But will school administrators, teachers, and educators keep buying in to and buying these services? Do they not see the long term harm of modelling uncritical thinking and action?

My beef with such schooling is that people know the facts but choose not to change (wilful ignorance) or do not know because they do not keep learning (plain ignorance). Another excuse is that the MBTI is not the only element in the programme. Of course it is not! Poison is not the only ingredient in a beefy dish served to many.

The unkindest cut might be that the continued use of the MBTI — and other perpetuated fallacies — does not mercifully kill the victims immediately. The poison keeps the poisoned alive long enough to poison others.

The last weekend saw a “big read” from TODAYonline with the ominous tagline, What the demographic ‘time bomb’ spells for Singapore’s education system.

What is our demographic ‘time bomb’? An aging population due to couples having fewer children. This is not news as Singapore has had one lowest replacement birth rates in the world.

To oversimplify a complex issue, this is the line of thought that binds several paragraphs or pages: Our falling replacement birth rate led to reduced enrolments in school, and schools were merged to optimise resources. Fewer children born, fewer schools needed.

According to the news article, observers and experts suggested centralisation of programmes and co-curricular activities so that kids could pursue their interests even as those items were labelled extraneous in shrinking schools.

The same observers and experts also revisited reduced class sizes so that schools would maintain similar numbers of classes and keep as many teachers as possible.

The centralisation has already started, but as I have argued previously [1] [2] [3], the class size issue will not be taken seriously yet.

Part of the resistance to the class size issue is the unwillingness to operate outside the box or the blindness to possibilities. Both stem from the fact that the problem and solutions have a largely administrative foundation. They start with student-teacher ratios (or pupil-teacher ratios, PTRs, as our Ministry of Education calls it).

A social issue as complex as a declining replacement birth rate is complex and has far-reaching consequences. It cannot be solved with a spreadsheet mentality. The social issue needs needs multiple social approaches.

In the schooling front, we need to also change qualitative issues like changing mindsets, expectations, evaluation, and pedagogy. Mindsets like kids should be siloed by age and ability. Expectations that there should be only one teacher in the room. Evaluations that stop at conventional assessment, i.e., tests and projects. Pedagogy that is defined largely by textbooks and fixed or approved curricula.

Each of these elements is complex in itself and cannot be reduced to numbers on a spreadsheet. Collectively, changing all these elements can diffuse the so-called time-bomb and turn it into an opportunity to transform our schooling system into a truly educational one [examples].

Simply put, when the factory model stops working because you no longer have enough workers, it is time to think of boutique approaches.

Today I link a YouTube video and a call by one of our Deputy Prime Ministers (DPM), Tharman Shanmugaratnam: ‘If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it’ will not cut it for Singapore’s education.

Video source

We were all taught that we have five senses — sight, hearing, smell, taste, and touch. These senses are obvious and seem irrefutable, but they are oversimplifications.

We actually have a myriad of basic senses. Two of the less obvious ones include proprioreception (sense of space) and equilibrioreception (sense of balance).

It is easier to just teach everyone that we have only five senses. We are taught these in kindergarten or in primary school. However, most adults probably do not realise they have more than five senses even if they have a basic degree.

We do not seem worse for not knowing. This is an indicator of the “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” mindset. It is being satisfied with or indifferent to the status quo because we choose not to be receptive or reflective.

The only-five-senses-as-fact is broken. We had more studies discover and verify more senses, but somehow we choose not to update what we know and teach.

Arguing that teaching these extras makes things more complicated does not make sense. Teaching these “new” facts leverages on the wonders of the human body and illustrates the importance of the scientific method.

We need to be critical and humble enough to spot the cracks in WHAT we teach and HOW we teach it. We need to consciously keep breaking old mindsets and expectations like test is best.

CNA quoted DPM Tharman:

“The biggest mistake we would make is think that because we are doing well in the PISA test, or we get a good rating by the Economist Intelligence Unit or anyone else, that therefore we keep things as they are,” Mr Tharman said.

“The biggest mistake is to think if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. Because in education, more than in any other field, we will only know how well we are doing 20 or 30 years from now.

“If it ain’t broken, experiment. That’s the way we will secure our future.”

DPM Tharman was our Minister for Education from 2003 to 2008. Even though he has a new portfolio now, I am glad that he singled out changes in education as a pillar for holding Singapore up.

The PISA scores remind us that Singapore is doing well on testing stage. The type of schooling and education that helps us do this is like relying only on our five basic senses. We have so much more to discover and develop.

The CNA article and DPM’s speech highlighted more sets we need to challenge ourselves with. These included:

  • Avoiding the “lottery of birth” and ensuring social mobility
  • Reducing emphasis on academic-only measures and providing time and space for creative efforts
  • Not trapping ourselves with false multiculturalism

Like our “extra” senses, these education experiments will make us more complete.

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