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Posts Tagged ‘singapore

Singapore has a 14-day advisory leave-of-absence for students and teachers returning from trips to China. This is a measure to curb the spread of the 2019-nCoV or Wuhan coronavirus.

My tweet links to a Today article, but this CNA article is more detailed.

Side note 1: It is frustrating to find so many news and “news” returns when Googling for sources and nothing from official sites. The ministries needs to learn about search engine optimisation.

Side note 2: I drafted this reflection yesterday and so my claim is accurate as of the tweeted news release. Official sites may have been updated by now, but then that is still too late.

Back to the 14-day leave-of-absence. While inconvenient, it is a prudent measure given how not containing the disease is worse. So my mind wanders away from the possible social, geographical, or economic impacts of such an advisory.

Instead I recall an educator who shared how he had tried to push for online and e-learning in his school in Thailand. His peers and higher-ups saw little need because schooling was still valued as a face-to-face act.

But when the region he was in suffered severe flooding, his “blue sky” efforts suddenly became a lifesaver for less interrupted schooling. At the time, I think he jokingly called it calamity-based learning.

In Singapore, we now have the Student Learning Spaces (SLS) for home-based learning. But it is still peripheral instead of core; exceptional instead of mundane. The SLS in no way competes with or replaces bread-and-butter classes. If it did, we might question why kids need to go to school (other than to socialise and share disease).

This year marks my 31st as an educator. In the last 14 years I have had the qualifications and work in the area of online and e-learning. It has taken that long to see a small but important blip on the schooling and educational radar.

Viruses spread fast (as do falsehoods about the same) thanks to technology. But people learn and respond much more slowly, if at all. What is 14 days compared to 14 years?

The latest round of PISA results for Singapore raise more questions than answers for me.

How about being number 10 in academics?

How about striving for measures that actually mean something?

How about not playing the game of rankings and comparison?

Two weeks ago, I shared this announcement about Singapore’s ten-year plan for AI and focused on how it might affect schooling.

I left my reflection on AI for grading on slow burn for a while. I am enjoying a break, but I also enjoy wrestling with dubious change.

Yes, dubious. But first, two pretexts.

First, the vendors that the Ministry of Education, Singapore, works with are not going to be transparent with their technologies, so I cannot be absolutely certain of the AI development runway, timeline, and capabilities.

Next, the field of AI is not new and it is diverse. Parts of it evolve more quickly or slowly than we might expect. For example, handwriting recognition has been around since before Microsoft released its slate PCs. It was good enough to recognise some doctor scrawls even back then!

However, the Hollywood vision that AI will replace or even kill us off has not materialised. An expert might point out that AI is not good at making social predictions and ethical decisions. I simply point out that artificial intelligence is still no match for natural stupidity.

Back to the issue — we need to consume claims made by policymakers and edtech vendors critically. And more critically if they are reported by the mainstream media that thrives on sensationalism.

Do not take my word for it. Take this expert’s view that some claims are “snake oil”. In his slides, he put these claims into three categories: Genuine and rapid progress; imperfect but improving; and fundamentally dubious.

An expert’s view that some AI claims are “snake oil”. In his slides, he put the claims into three categories: Genuine and rapid progress; imperfect but improving; and fundamentally dubious. Slide #10 at https://www.cs.princeton.edu/~arvindn/talks/MIT-STS-AI-snakeoil.pdf
Source

I highlighted “automated essay grading” in the screenshot above because that coincides with our 2022 plan to “launch automated marking system for English in primary and secondary schools”.

The fundamental issue is AI’s ability to automate judgement. Some judgements are simple and objective, others are complex and subjective. Written language falls in the latter category particularly when the writers get older and are expected to write in more complex and subjective ways.

Anyone who has had to grade essays will know what rubrics and “standardisation” sessions are. Rubrics provide standards, guidelines, and point allocation. Standardisation meetings are when a group of assessors get a small and common set of essays, grade those essays, and compare the marks. Those same meetings set the standard for the definitions of subjectivity, disagreement, and frustration.

Might AI in three years be able to find the holy grail of objective and perfect grading of subjective and imperfect writing? Perhaps. If it does so, it might be less a result of rapid technological evolution and more one of social manipulation.

To facilitate AI processing of essays, students might be required to use proprietary tools and platforms. For example, they might have to use word processed forms instead of handwriting. They could be told to write in machine readable ways, e.g., only five paragraphs, structured paragraphs, model phrases, etc. In other words, force-fitting writers and writing.

This is already how some tuition and enrichment centres operate. They reduce essay writing to formulae and teach these strategies to kids. Students are not encouraged to make mistakes, learn from them, or develop creative and critical thought. They are taught to game the algorithms.

The algorithms are the teachers’ expectations and rubrics now. They could be the AI algorithms in future. But the same reductionist strategy applies because we foolishly prefer shortcuts.

The AI expert I highlighted earlier focused on how ill-equipped AI is to predict social outcomes. He concluded his talk with this slide.

Concluding slide (#21) from https://www.cs.princeton.edu/~arvindn/talks/MIT-STS-AI-snakeoil.pdf
Source

We might also apply his last two points to automated essay grading: Resist commercial-only interest aimed to hide what AI cannot do, and focus on what is accurate and transparent.

This is not my way of stifling innovation as enable by educational technology. I wear my badge of edtech evangelist proudly. But I keep that badge polished with critical thought and informed practice.

One of the artificial intelligence (AI) initiatives slated for Singapore schooling is “adaptive learning systems”. I take issue with calling them that.

One one hand, I understand why they are simple learning systems — they monitor what each student does and offer resources based on need or performance.

On the other hand, this is actually a content delivery system. The “learning” moniker is marketing speak. Vendors know that they are not going to get their feet in the front door if they do not use more progressive terms while mostly maintaining the status quo.

You can tie a bow on it, paint it gold, and call it an alternative-looking shovel. I call a spade a spade.
 

I take a leaf out of the chapter of “if you see something, say something” to point out a fallacy perpetuated by a local McDonald’s.

Misrepresented and outdated food pyramid at a local McDonalds.

I spotted this food pyramid at the eatery. The red arrows point to a misrepresentation — the two servings of vegetables has a broader base but a smaller number than the three servings of the smaller base of proteins above it.

Another possible misrepresentation is the yellow box at the apex of the food pyramid. While other authorities might include these in their food pyramids, our Health Promotion Board does not represent it as one of the four food groups.

Healthy Plate replaced the food pyramid in 2014.

But all this is moot when you consider how the healthy plate replaced the food pyramid in 2014. Apparently we are too dense to interpret a pyramid. Perhaps we have too much junk in our systems and greedily consume misrepresentations like the one at McDonald’s.

The fast food joint is not the best place to maintain a healthy diet. It is certainly not a place to learn about a food pyramid. This is my point: We do not have to look far and wide for authentic examples to use for the modelling and teaching of critical thinking.

I can understand the appeal of knocking this effort down in the name of equality.

The fact is that we are not born equal. Most of us do not wish to worsen the inequality, so we do what we can to narrow gaps.

Mainstream schooling and education are critical to bridging gaps and providing stairways to progress. Those who cannot take these paths (like those with special needs) might get special help.

Might the brightest also have special needs? An academically brilliant child might not be as well-adjusted socio-emotionally. The same child might not get the support and challenges he or she needs in a conventional classroom.

A child prodigy is not always born into the best of circumstances. Who are we to judge such conditions, children, or help?

I am not for elitism. I am for empathy for kids with special needs, wherever they are on the continuum of development and ability.

Recently I tweeted a comprehensive opinion piece that critiqued the amendments to the Children and Young Persons Act.

I agree that Singapore needs to do more by way of legislation and regulation to protect the data privacy and rights of minors. I also favour doing the same for young adults in the context of higher education and LMS use.

But I wonder what unwanted signals this declaration makes:

Thankfully, Singapore has not experienced such high-profile incidents relating to the breach of children’s digital privacy or online harms.

Does it take a “high-profile incident” for us to take action? It should not. It speaks poorly of us as a people if we only react when tragic things happen to important people.

Does the the paucity or absence of data for a phenomenon mean it does not happen? I think not.

I recall having a passing conversation with a university staff about how much abuse was swept under the table. This was right before high profile cases made the news and universities here seemed to react with countermeasures.

Universities were already aware of what was happening in their campuses. It was just that the data was not shared and so the issues were not transparent to the public.

So shit still happens and about as regularly as we have bowel movements. They seem mundane or are unpleasant to talk about. But if they reveal a health problem we might have, are we going to try to flush the symptoms of an underlying problem away?


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