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Posts Tagged ‘singapore

 
I remain cautiously optimistic for subject-based banding (SBB) to be implemented fully in Singapore schools by 2024. SBB is supposed to replace current streaming practices.

Academic streaming in Secondary schooling was first introduced here in 1981 — this makes it over 35 years old — and it is baked into our psyche.

Why is it being replaced? One might look to the study of another system to find answers:

In the latest update of Hattie’s influential meta-analysis of factors influencing student achievement, one of the most significant factors… is the teachers’ estimate of achievement (1.57). Streaming students by diagnosed achievement automatically restricts teacher expectations. Meanwhile, in a mixed environment, teacher expectations have to be more diverse and flexible.

While streaming might seem to help teachers to effectively target a student’s ZPD, it can underestimate the importance of peer-to-peer learning. A crucial aspect of constructivist theory is the role of the MKO – ‘more-knowledgeable other’ – in knowledge construction. While teachers are traditionally the MKOs in classrooms, the value of knowledgeable student peers must not go unrecognised either.

SBB as a replacement of streaming is still largely a concept as it does not yet have widespread implementation. I would like it to do well, so I look for potential pitfalls.

One obstacle is adult mindset. The policymakers, teachers, parents, and tuition agencies comprise of people who were likely products of streaming. It is hard to break out of what we know in order to try something else better.

Even if there is buy in to the idea SBB, the practice of comparing kids largely or only on academic standards remains. The SBB will see academic subjects offered at three levels G1, G2, and G3. A cynic might point out that these mirror the Normal (Technical), Normal (Academic), and Express streams after reading this CNA report.

Upon entering Secondary 1, they will take a combination of subjects at three different levels based on their PSLE scores: General 1, General 2 and General 3. These three levels are mapped from the current Normal (Technical), Normal (Academic) and Express standards respectively.

The cynic would be wrong because a child might take two subjects at G1, four at G2, and one at G3.

The actual issue is parents or students wishing to take as many G3 level subjects as possible and tuition agencies claiming to have strategies to make those wishes come true. This keeps the formulaic and reductionist thinking alive at the expense of change and what is best for each student.

Normal stream students are stigmatised. CNA reported our Minister for Education saying:

…entering a stream that is considered ‘lower’ can carry a certain stigma that becomes self-fulfilling and self-limiting,” he added. “Students can develop a mindset where they tell themselves, ‘I am only a Normal stream student, so this is as good as I can be.

The SBB cannot guarantee that this stigmatisation will stop. Consider how parents and students might compare how many G1 or G3 students have on their plates. Load them with G1s and the stigma follows a different label.

Then there is the fact that our schools are already stratified. Students of certain abilities and/or socioeconomic status get into certain schools. Put plainly, some schools effectively have Express students only; even their N(A) students might be Express students elsewhere. The SBB policies deal with students already in schools and does not clearly address such stratification.

Administrative measures need to counter such stratification. These measures are not yet clear: The Ministry of Education and schools “will develop guidelines and assessment mechanisms, including using Secondary 1 year-end examinations”.

Assuming that school stratification persists, will students in such “better” be offered G1 subjects if they need them? How will such schools deal with the change in traditions and reputations if this happens?

Or might enacted policies blur these stratifications so that every mainstream school here opens its doors to students from all backgrounds? How will school administrators deploy the currently stead-state pool of teachers? If teachers cannot specialise, how will they be prepared to deal with even more diverse student needs?
 

 
Like the Minister for Education, I would like to see this happen:

The Express, Normal (Academic) and Normal (Technical) streams, together with their labels, will be phased out… So from three education streams, we will now have ‘one secondary education, many subject bands… We will no longer have fishes swimming down three separate streams, but we have one broad river, each fish negotiating its own journey.

The reality is that fish rarely swim alone; they swim in schools and they do so as a survival strategy.

Like it or not, our students are also put into groups. Some of these groups are based on their choice, e.g., co-curricular activity. But some grouping is insidious, e.g., socio-economic status, general academic ability, behaviours, attitudes, etc.

Students will be taught in groups or classes based on new labels: G1, G2, and G3. These labels come with baggage in the form of fixed mindsets and current streaming practices. If we ignore this baggage, we might invite a change from streaming to streaming plus.

Assessment in the form of summative tests and exams is the tail that wags the dog.
 

 
Why the tail? Summative assessments tend to happen at the end of curricular units. How do such tails wag the dog? They shape what gets taught and even how it gets taught.

So one might be happy to read this:

But to what effect?

It might be too early to tell given that this movement has just started. There was this report that parents and tuition centres were not buying into the new policy. That report was a follow up to a previous one last year on how “tuition centres rush in to fill (the) gap” left by a lack of mid-year exams.

So is this a case of wait and see? Perhaps.

While some hair on the tail of the dog might have been snipped, the tail is still there. Like academic streaming, having one’s worth dictated by exams is baked into our psyche.

The MOE and schools can apply invisible pressure on stakeholders like parents and tuition centres by reducing the number of exams. These stakeholders might feel the change and pressure, but not see the point. It will take time and constant reinforcement that exams are not the be-all and end-all.

Today I conduct a mobile learning and game-based learning session. This is part of a Masters course on educational technologies.


Video source

This Wired video from 2018 appeared in my YouTube feed. Two days ago, my Twitter feed led me to a news article about how Singaporeans spend the most time playing video games when compared to the rest of Asia.

While the video focused on the impact of video games on the brain, the article provided a few insights into how and how much we play.

My session is a primer on game-based learning. If my learners walk away from the session knowing the differences between game-based learning and gamification, I would be a happy man.

I only wish I could focus on educational gaming for an entire semester instead of just one session. This would almost mirror the immersion and flow that gamers experience, and the learning would be both intentional and incidental.

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.

In “olds” made news, this report tells us what we already know: Singapore teachers are paid very well and they are overworked.

So instead of focusing on established fact, I concentrate on how the latest facts were established. In the process, I illustrate principles of Skepticism 101.

First, were the 200 teachers from each country representative of the teacher population?

A sample of 200 might be statistically sound, but there was no information about how the sampling was conducted. For example, were the numbers garnered from a convenience sampling of respondents, e.g., from a limited set of schools or a captive audience?

We’re all 200 beginning teachers or was there a proportionate mix? If there was a mix of teacher experience, how many beginning teachers were used to determine their average starting salaries?

Second, the starting salaries of beginning teachers in Singapore was very high. The amount was equivalent to what a local assistant professor might make a decade ago.

Even taking into account salaries that keep pace with the rising cost of living, there was no information on whether the sampled teachers here were mid-career switchers, hired by independent/private schools, and/or Masters or Ph.D. holders. All these teachers typically command higher starting salaries.

It was entirely clear if the salaries were relative or absolute. If they were relative, they would be scaled to the cost of living in each country. If the numbers were absolute, then you would have to make comparisons of salaries from different Jon’s within each country and not between teachers of different countries.

Third, the definition of work hours was not clear. Were these official or unofficial work hours? Was the average over term time or over the entire calendar year? What if some teachers reported office hours but not weekend marking?

Were the salaries and work hours compared against data that the Ministry of Education here might have? This was not the job of the producers of the report; this was something the newspaper could have done to add meaning and value.
 

 
I do not doubt that teachers here are well-paid and work-stressed. But as long as the processes (i.e., data sampling and analyses) were murky, I do not trust the product (the report). When a news article further simplified the report, this muddied the water even more.

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.

I normally wait for everyone and their grandmothers to have their say on the latest blip in the Singapore schooling radar. This time I waited for the uncles and aunties to weigh in as well.

The usual and time-honoured statements breached like whales, made a splash, and then returned to the deep. Also usual was the response of tuition centres.

Some tuition centres, particularly the chain and branded ones, responded to the Ministry of Educations (MOE’s) new policy of reducing academic exams by maintaining the status quo or providing purely extrinsic rewards. Case in point:

…parents whom he has spoken to were also largely in favour of keeping the centre’s in-house mid-year and end-of-year examinations, which are set by its tutors, even though the schools are removing such examinations for certain levels.

…tutors would turn an assignment into a mini-competition for students during class, with rewards such as snacks given at the end of the assignment to encourage good work.

There were also examples in the report that mentioned the names of centres that would offer or expand their offerings on enrichment. But since I do not wish to advertise their wares, I am not quoting them.

The tired excuse for doing these things: Tuition centre operators are giving in to what parents want. Never mind that these steer everyone in the direction that is opposite to MOE’s.

According to the same article, some tuition centres have embraced formative, non-graded assessment and feedback, and/or actually focus on remediation.

The exam reduction policy has yet to be implemented, but tuition centres have reacted. Some take advantage on what parents know and fear, and offer replacement tests. Others seem to focus on the learners.
 

 
Tuition has been called the shadow schooling system here. Like an actual shadow, you cannot actually get rid of it as long as we cast light on schooling. That said, some shadows distort and some are scary.

Cast a stronger light directly at the shadow and it disappears, perhaps taking away with it the associated fears. Just how enlightened and equipped are parents to critically examine what they are sold about tuition in is various forms?


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