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Posts Tagged ‘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.

The op piece in this tweet was an impassioned call to step up our efforts in inclusive schooling and education.

I take no issue with that call because we can only be better people for it.

I did notice, however, that you could substitute every instance of “inclusive education” or “special needs education” with almost any contentious issue in schooling — say technology integration — and the op piece would still make sense. Take this segment, for example:

… we still have a long way to go in embracing inclusion technology fully.

One of the key factors for inclusive technology integration in education is adaptation. The present landscape of special needs technology integration in education in Singapore is lacking in a customisable curriculum to meet the diverse needs of children with special needs.

I did not change the last two words (special needs) in my selection because every child is special in their own way. Technology can help express their uniqueness and latent abilities.

Reading the whole article more critically, you might discover that it says everything and nothing at the same time. Everything because it covers the issues broadly; nothing because it merely skims the surface. This is why we can play the word substitution game.

Viewed more broadly, the write-up might sound like a politician’s or policymaker’s script for a speech. It is a call to action, but it is so generic that is becomes impotent.

Word substitution is my way of determine the depth of thought of the written or spoken word. If one issue in schooling or education cannot be distinguished from another with the help of word substitution, its rallying call is but a whisper.

… or do as I do?

That was my reaction when I read this article in STonline about a local school restricting mobile gaming from 7am to 2pm.

Before I explain my reaction, I should point out that the newspaper article was a report of a report. There could be information loss from translation and there definitely was selective reporting of another report. That said, I have to work only with the information at hand.

Draconian measures by HCI on mobile gaming.

The crux of the matter is this: Students cannot use their own devices for mobile games right before school starts and during breaks.

Sometimes it is logical for students to be held to different standards. Other times it is not. For example, there are dress codes for students’ uniforms and their general appearances that teachers are not subject to.

Some would argue that the adults have matured to the point of understanding socially accepted standards of decency so that they know how to dress professionally.

If you believe that, you have not sampled enough adults. That is why we have dress codes everywhere, even at a beach.

So if standards and codes of conduct are the norm, what is wrong with a partial ban on mobile gaming?

Consider this: How would you like to be told that you cannot check your Facebook feed on your commute to work because you need to psyche yourself up for work?

Or how you like to be told that you cannot nap, gossip, or surf down rabbit holes during your lunch break?

Yes, both the students and teachers are at school and schools are walled gardens separate from the real world. So what happened to bringing the real world in?

Some teachers I know do not draw that line. I know adults who are just as guilty of walking distractedly or being overly engaged with their phones. What gives these adults the right to say “do as I say and not as I do?”

As for the adults who say “do as I say because I do not do what you do”, I ask: Just how real world is that? How (dis)connected are you?

This reflection has been brought to you by the medieval workshop of Draconian Measures.

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.


Video source

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.


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