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Posts Tagged ‘singapore

An over-simplified answer to the complex issue of “why scrapping mid-year exams is giving some parents more anxiety than relief” is that many parents still only understand and place value in summative examinations.

So the article, penned by a professor (and ex-colleague) from the National Institute of Education, Singapore, tried to inform readers about:

  • the differences between summative and formative assessment
  • assessment of learning 
  • assessment for learning
  • research on feedback strategies for learning

In short, the tweeted article was an attempt to bridge the gap between where parents are now and where they need to be when supporting their children when there are fewer high stakes examinations.

All that said, I wonder if an editor was too hasty with a computer mouse and keyboard. 

For example, I was surprised to read that summative assessments “provide valuable input on how much more is needed to do better”. That is not what summative assessments typically do, especially if they are high stakes like the PSLE. There is no remediation after students take that exam because it sorts them into secondary schools.

There might be remediation after mid-year examinations (and other tests), but as the marks add up to an overall grade, such exams are typically summative. However, since they are a half-year check point, they can be formative as well.

Formative feedback does not just revolve around assessments. Parents need to know that feedback on any student work — homework, group project, performed skill — can be formative. Such feedback focuses on learning and mastery, both without which summative assessment is pointless.

Perhaps some parents do not know how to uncouple assessments and grades. It is important that they understand this because doing work (or improving it) just for a grade (or a better grade) sends the wrong message. 

But wait, there is more! Progressive teachers have already tinkered with alternative strategies (see above) and assessments. A few, particularly in higher education are part of the ungrading movement. Most Singaporean parents are probably not ready to even contemplate these.

So, in the spirit of summative assessment, I would give them a failing grade for refusing to catch up if they know better. If they seek formative feedback, they can contact any assessment-literate educator.

A Singapore member of parliament (MP) has been roundly criticised online for his “radical idea” of local degrees that expire.

mrbrown chose to focus on the cost of getting a degree. I look elsewhere. For example:

  • If you get a degree in one field but are now operating in another field without that degree, what then?
  • If Singapore IHL degrees lapse, should the same thing happen to overseas degrees?
  • What do we do with governmental, workplace, and other efforts to retrain, upskill, or otherwise provide professional development for workers?
  • What about other paper qualifications like polytechnic diplomas and ITE certificates, or postgraduate degrees like Masters and doctorates?

To be fair, the news report seemed to suggest that the MP did recognise the importance of “skill sets and real-world experiences” and “continuous and lifelong learning”. But his argument was couched on the wrong premise — continuous accreditation — instead of continuous education. 

Instructing recruits circa 1989.

I unearthed a photograph taken in 1989 of me when I was an infantry officer. It had decolourised so much that I converted it to greyscale so that it looks less terrible.

That year marked my first official stint as an instructor. My corporals and I were teaching recruits how to dig shell scrapes and use them as cover.

Several memories flooded back, but two in particular are lessons that I have remembered since that time. The first was how objective data can become subjective according to the whims of higher-ups. The second was that doing nothing sometimes is doing something.

To give me something to write about, I reflect on these lessons over the next two days.

It has been said that there is a fool born every minute. There might be a similar reproduction rate for charlatans.

Recently, I received a snail mail flyer from one such charlatan, an “enrichment” centre. How do I know that it was a charlatan? It offered, amongst other things, the following: 

I share partial screenshots of the flyer that featured the debunked theory of learning styles and curriculum booklets supposedly enabled by augmented reality (AR).

This set of links and my summary are enough authority on why learning styles are a myth. I will say no more because they are a waste of time and energy.

The use of AR is sneakily seductive because even “highly engaged parents” will a) not know what exactly that means, and b) be fooled by bells and whistles. 

I would wager that most parents have not heard of frameworks like TPACK by Mishra and Kohler (2006) (PDF from Mishra) or about Kirshner et al’s (2004) educational affordances of technology. If they did, they might realise that the pedagogy has not caught up with the technological hype.

Someone from the “enrichment” centre might know of these frameworks. But they ignore critical practice and educational research in favour of distraction with a new and shiny object.

Extraneous tuition and “enrichment” are already rooted as shadow schools in Singapore, so parents are willing to pay for them. There is a saying that a fool and his money are soon parted. I can only hope that more parents engage with knowledge of critical practice and rigorous research. They and their kids will be richer for it.

Disclaimer: My reflection below is not authoritative information about the new health protocols for Singapore’s COVID-19 strategies. The authoritative source is MOH (see points 21 and 22) and the reporting article is from CNA. My focus is the design of a job aid.

Maybe it is the educator who provides feedback or the instructional designer in me, but I look for clarity in any work. So I thought that the protocols presented by CNA could have been better.

I watched the video briefing, read the article, and studied the protocol summaries. The original protocol by CNA was:

The improvements (in blue) might include:

  • For clarity, the numbers refer to protocols, not steps to follow. Each should be labelled “Protocol #”. This sends a message: Do one of the following depending on which category you fall into.
  • I swapped the positions of protocols 1 and 2 because the majority of people (almost 99% according to point 5 of the MOH source) do not have mild or no symptoms. So the first protocol should address the majority.
  • Protocol 2 (formerly the first protocol) lacked the instruction to see a doctor. The CNA article stated that you are “encouraged” to do this; the MOH source has stronger wording (“should see a doctor, point 21). In the video briefing, the doctor’s diagnosis seemed to be a given. This instruction is not clear in the summary. This is remedied with the phrase “After you see a doctor”.
  • Protocol 3 should provide information (or a link) to where ART results should be uploaded. If an ART result is positive, the instruction should be to follow protocol 1 or 2 depending on the person’s health.

In the presence of a lot of information, people tend to refer to summaries, lists, job aids, etc. These are succinct versions of the long form instructions. Short forms tend to lose information and context, but they do not have to lose quality or clarity if we take care to design them carefully for communication or education.

I do not claim to have a perfect job aid. My background of instructional design simply gives me a critical eye for usability and clarity. It is a skill that transfers from the design of materials for teaching and learning to communication to the general public. I leave this critique here should I need it later as a reference for instructional/consultation material.

Yes, kids should learn from mistakes. But they are not likely to this as a result of high stakes summative exams.

Tests are not the best method for developing resilience and critical reflection. A major exam like the PSLE has one main purpose — to sort. 

Assessment and evaluation experts know this. The layperson does not. It will take a lot of re-education of learners young and old to beat the exam mindset into submission. I doubt we can do this. But we might be able to get enough people to realise the limits of tests and exams.

If have not been living under a rock, you know that a local enrichment centre posted clowns outside schools to market their wares [STonline article].

I would not ordinarily propagate such “news” and am triggered by the fact that it crossed borders. It was featured in a Washington Post article and was a question in an NPR quiz.

According to STonline, the director of the enrichment centre “did not expect the backlash” from the general public. Really? The Speaker of Parliament had to declare on Facebook: “Whoever is doing what I assume to be some viral marketing nonsense, stop it!”

Some folks say that there is no such thing as bad publicity. I say otherwise. If that centre thinks that the marketing stunt was a good idea and could not see its consequences, I question what it might offer in terms of pedagogy and content.

Video source

The Judy Collins song, Send in the Clowns, has the lines: 

Send in the clowns
Don’t bother, they’re here

I say we do not need more of these clowns. But we need not bring the whole circus tent down on them because this affects everyone else under it. Don’t send them in or give them attention. Vote by keeping your wallets shut.

This is a PSA of sorts. If you want to recycle an Apple product in Singapore via a trade-in scheme, you have to do so through an Apple partner.

There is just one local partner and it tries to be helpful by asking you for your device’s serial number. It does not tell you that only some devices are eligible.

Brightstar, Apple trade-in parter in Singapore.

I have used the service often enough to learn that it rejects items that were refurbished by Apple. It only seems to accept first-time purchased Apple products. Items that are vintage and obsolete — whether first-time or refurbished — also get rejected. This does not make sense given that the aim is to return the item so that parts and materials can be salvaged instead of mining the earth and manufacturing new parts.

However, the partner company will gladly accept a refurbished, vintage, obsolete item I donate. The company benefits financially and I do not. I would rather recycle items through ALBA or donate the items to a worthy cause, and I have.

One result of this selective trade-in practice is that I keep using old devices. My son has a hand-me-down iPhone 7 (the latest model number is 13) and the family uses a late 2012 iMac and a late 2012 Mac Mini.

This would be fine if Apple services them when they break down. Unfortunately, this task is outsourced to third-party players who charge a premium for their services. I had to repair the 2012 iMac twice and I could have bought a brand-new M1 iMac or a new Mini with external monitor for what I paid.

Refurbished Apple products initially cost less than original items, but I have discovered that I need to hang on to them longer than I need because the lone partner company that collects them has a strange stance. This could mean that I pay more over the long term to maintain my items. It also means that I look for other ways to donate or recycle them when they outlive their usefulness.

This news surprised me: A local university seemed to insist on in-person classes despite some staff and students being stuck overseas.

This information was published in a local newspaper on 18 August but was already reported on elsewhere on 10 August.

The TODAY paper reported that the university:

…is facing criticism because it is the only one of Singapore’s main universities where students and faculty staff members stranded abroad are unable to study or teach online until they are able to enter the country.

Staff and students are overseas and having trouble travelling to Singapore due to strict border restrictions. They have had to struggle with issues like dropping out, being put on no-pay leave, getting courses cancelled, etc.

The earlier article revealed that: 

…academics who have been granted compassionate leave, and thus allowed to teach classes remotely, will be paid only for the days that they teach.

…based on this payment system, a professor whose classes are clustered within two or three days will be paid only for those days, while another with the same number of teaching hours, but with classes spread across all five days of the week, will receive full pay.

As a former academic, I feel for the teaching faculty who are affected by bean-counting administrators and micromanagers. I borrow an argument from that same article on valuing teaching faculty: 

…academics do work, even on the days they don’t have classes, and that teaching online might even require more work in terms of planning and coordination than in-person lessons.

The university policies probably do not make sense. If teaching staff and students are stuck overseas for legitimate reasons and both have the capacity to teach and take classes online, why not do that? 

Have we learnt nothing from enforced remote teaching and learning due to COVID-19 lockdown? Why return to normal when you can do better?

Looking elsewhere, some faculty take to Zoom as a fact of life. Take Dr Inna in her tweet above as an example.

Teaching online is not a substitute for a campus experience. But it is better than cancelling classes, treating people like numbers in a spreadsheet, and implementing cruel policy.

It is Singapore’s 56th birthday today. Other than singing our national anthem, we also sing theme songs.

Video source

The video above is our official theme song for 2021. But we have unsanctioned efforts elsewhere.

Video source

Last year, a 900-person online choir sang the evergreen Home. It was particularly relevant when we were in full pandemic lockdown. It is still relevant in the age of Zoom.

Video source

But my favourite offering is this 2018 synthesis by local a cappella group, MICapella. It is a joyful piece that time-travelled from our independence to today.

I prefer the unofficial efforts because they are authentic. They are works of passion and collaboration from folks on the ground. 


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