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Posts Tagged ‘schooling

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.

Two things prompted this reflection — an interview I watched on YouTube and interactions I had with a special breed of teachers.

A few weeks ago, I watched an interview of Ris Ahmed on YouTube [focused segment]. The actor explained how “Asian” meant very different things in the UK and the USA.


Video source

I can vouch for what Riz Ahmed said because I lived in the USA for several years and had to minor incidentally in socio-political geography to educate those around me.

Now fast-forward to the present. For the last few semesters, I have interacted with pre and inservice teachers who are pursuing diplomas in special needs education (SPED).

I find the “special” in SPED to be a misnomer. It has different meanings in different contexts and it is an insufficient catch-all term.

If you go to almost any school system in the USA and are labelled “special”, you are atypical. You might have a genetic, physical, or behavioural condition that distinguishes you from “normal” or typical. The label is generally a negative one.

In Singapore’s context, being in a special stream of schooling might be a highly sought label. Being a student a Special Assistance Plan (SAP) school is a mark of academic excellence. For some history on SAP, read this NLB article.

However, the special-as-atypical meaning is more dominant now in our context. This is because students with special needs are more visible and are given more equitable opportunities than before.

Despite the “special” label being more common, those of us who consider ourselves typical might still gawk at atypicals. This is because our social circles do not overlap as much as they could.

This is why a newer term and phenomenon is on the rise. It is called inclusive education. This could mean including students with hearing impairments or ADHD or certain forms of autism in neuro-typical classrooms.

Inclusive education recognises that atypical students need more or special assistance while not isolating them all the time from the larger world. This is big step forward in special needs education. It might just be the equivalent of bringing the “real world” into typical classrooms.

This tweet was a timeless reminder that schooling is not the same as education. You can be educated without school; you can get schooled without being educated.

The embedded article focused on how the teaching of virtues and cultivating character distinguished education from schooling. It put forward its case more articulately than my bumbling attempt that schooling was about enculturation while education was about self-actualisation.

But I combined both now with this: I was schooled. I became educated.

I was schooled. I became educated.

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.


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