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Posts Tagged ‘singapore

The modern library is not just a place, it is a space. It is not just a place to borrow or read books, it is a space to expand your horizons.

Abandoned property and loud phone use in a local library.

Unfortunately, some people do the unexpected or the unacceptable. Modern libraries in Singapore, particularly those in the heartlands, are also spaces for:

  • Child daycare and playgrounds
  • Denture display AKA public napping
  • Using wifi to watch YouTube or video conference sans ear/headphones
  • Taking advantage of air-conditioning to engage in coffeeshop talk sans coffeeshop heat
  • Talking loudly on the phone
  • Displaying, abandoning, or donating private property

If libraries are microcosms of society, it seems to attract and concentrate the irresponsible and the selfish. They are not the majority, but they make a disproportionately large show of force. Please do not judge the rest of us by those examples.

One local newspaper tweeted:

Here is an excerpt of the article:

…as recently as 2000, 45 per cent of the resident workforce had below secondary school education, and only 12 per cent had university education. Today, those with less than secondary school education has fallen below 30 per cent, and the proportion of university degree holders has more than doubled to nearly 30 per cent.

This is my reaction: Having a degree does not make you educated.

Another paper tweeted:

Here is an excerpt of the article:

The test, sponsored by the International Association for the Evaluation of Educational Achievement, evaluated pupils’ reading and comprehension skills, such as connecting pieces of information, and making inferences from texts. Pupils were given two reading passages – narrative fiction as well as information-based texts such as news articles – and had to answer multiple-choice and written-response questions.

This is my reaction: Being able to decipher or make inferences from text on any medium does not make you sufficiently literate.

 
There was a bruh-ha-ha in April last year when the Ministry of Education (MOE), Singapore, announced the merger of some junior colleges (JCs).

Just when the dust settled, the press huffed and puffed to brew up a storm in a teacup. The latter article reported negative responses to the move to combine the names of the combined JCs.

Apparently people on social media — the painted villain in every other press article — thought that the naming was pointless, a waste of time, or just lame.

All this fuss was over the renaming of JCs like Anderson and Serangoon to Anderson Serangoon. Perhaps a scholar in the family planning unit offered the idea of hyphenated surnames. To sound original, a scholar from the MOE said they should leave out the hyphens.

There were high-fives all round and the two scholars are now on the fast track to be deputy director, or if they keep generating gems, junior ministers.

That is what played in my head. Now back to the news.

So might this be a case of making news where none exist? Perhaps.

I am glad that some people, particularly the alumni of the affected JCs, are upset. It means that they care. The labels mean something because of the shared history and experiences they had when they were students or teachers there.

Those words carry value and mean something to those people. I will have to remember this when I remind people that pedagogical and edtech terms that seem alike are different. Terms like the flipped classroom and flipped learning; choice and agency; “self-directed” learning and actual self-directed learning; schooling and education.

Last Saturday, STonline reported the International Baccalaureate (IB) performances by Singapore schools. As usual, it featured pass rates and the number of perfect scores.

The local rag does this with our PSLEs, GCE O-Levels, and GCE A-Levels, so the article almost writes itself with a template. To be fair, the template has been updated to include human interest stories — the people behind the numbers — but these can seem like afterthought or filling newspaper space for a few days.

The IB result article fit the mould perfectly. It featured the usual suspects with the usual stellar results. Then it zoomed in on twins from the School of the Arts who got perfect scores.

What is wrong with doing this?

There is nothing wrong with human interest stories provided the children are not coerced into doing them and if the overcoming-the-odds stories inspire others.

What is wrong is the almost perverse fascination with quantitive results. It is one thing for schools and the Ministry of Education to keep track of these statistics, it is another to tout them and lead stories with them.
 

 
The health of our schooling system is not just measured by numbers. This would be like diagnosing sick patients by measuring only their temperatures and blood pressure. Even a layperson would say that stopping at such triage is irresponsible. The same could be said of the STonline reporting.

About five years ago, the MOE stopped revealing the names and schools of the top Primary School Leaving Examination (PSLE) students. It also discouraged the ranking and banding of schools into socially-engineered leagues in order to operate by its “every school a good school” principle. The move was meant to emphasise the holistic development of each child.

The IB results article and its ilk hold us back. Yes, the template includes human interest stories and background information about the IB. But the newspaper conveniently forgets or ignores that the IB practically an alternative form of assessment. From the article:

Founded in Geneva in 1968, the programme is now available in 4,783 schools in over 150 countries and territories.

IB diploma students take six subjects and Theory of Knowledge, a course that combines philosophy, religion and logical reasoning. They also learn a second language, write a 4,000-word essay and complete a community service project.

Why not focus on how the thinking and value systems are nurtured? What are the impacts of the community service projects on all stakeholders? How might the rest of the schooling system learn from the IB process? Finding these things out is not easy. Then again, nothing worth doing is easy. Using a writing template is easy.

STonline might think it has the perfect template for reporting academic results. It might. But this template has lost relevance given MOE policy changes. In emphasising the numbers game, it creates speed bumps and barriers in a schooling system that is trying to plod slowly forward.

If you do not point out that something is odd or wrong, it soon becomes the norm. This is another way of saying what Jon Stewart said in his final episode of The Daily Show:

The best defense against bullshit is vigilance. So if you smell something, say something. -- Jon Stewart

The oddities or wrongdoings do not have to be outlandish or major crimes. They can be seemingly mundane events that we choose to ignore or forget to question.

Take our need to pay before you actually pay. In Singapore, this happens for simple things — like when you wish to buy a cinema ticket online or when you want to pay for a cab ride with your a phone app.

I was reminded of the latter when my family took a cab ride home from the airport. I noticed that the NETSPay QR code scheme was available. I opted to try it as every retailer I had asked before was not ready (even those that had the scan here sign or a QR code on point-of-sale devices).

However, the cabbie warned me that there was a 30-cent surcharge. Service and sales providers call this a “convenience fee”.

Really. I had to pay to go cashless. I should charge an inconvenience fee for forcing me to withdraw money from an ATM and for miring me in the past.

How are the authorities, retailers, and providers to encourage widespread adoption of cashless payments when we are penalised by paying in order to pay?

What else does the Goods and Services Tax (GST) do if not to also improve the sale of products and services — seamless and secure being one area improvement?

Imagine if our banks, utility services, and telecommunication providers charged a “convenience fee” for electronic statements. We might go backwards to snail mail-based statements because people want to get and feel something for their money.

In schooling and education, I imagine a ridiculous scenario of attending a class where you can see the teacher talking but you must pay extra to hear what s/he is saying. The teaching resources are also blurred or redacted and you must pay to see it in entirety.

The scenario is as silly as the convenience fee is stupid. The providers who charge this fee are greedy and the regulators inattentive. Collectively, we are stupid to pay in order to pay. We have a long way to go to be a Smart Nation if we cannot get something that is as mundane and mainstream as cashless payment.

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.

The STonline reported that a sample of Singapore students topped an Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) test on problem-solving.

I am glad to read this, but only cautiously so. This is partly because the press tends to report what is juicy and easy. I am cautious also because such news is not always processed critically from an educator’s point of view.

For example, how did the OECD test for problem-solving ability? According to an excerpt from the article above:

Screen capture of original article.

Screen capture of original article.

There were no other details about the authenticity, veracity, or adaptability of the software-based simulation. Only the makers of the software and the students who took the test might provide some clues. This test system is a closed one and lacks critical observers or independent evaluators.

Perhaps it would be better to raise some critical questions than to make blanket statements.

The product of problem-solving is clear (the scores), but not all the processes (interactions, negotiations, scaffolding, etc.). So how can we be certain that this problem-solving is authentic and translates to wider-world application? Our Ministry of Education (MOE) seemed to have the same concern.

MOE noted that the study design is a standardised way of measuring and comparing collaborative problem-solving skills, but real-life settings may be more complex as human beings are less predictable.

Our schools might have alternative or enrichment programmes — like the one highlighted in Queenstown Secondary — that promote group-based problem-solving. How common and accessible are such programmes? To what extent are these integrated into mainstream curriculum and practice?

The newspaper’s description of the problem-solving simulation sounds like some of the interactions that happen in role-playing games. How logical and fair is it to attribute our ranking only to what happens in schools? What contributions do other experiences make to students’ problem-solving abilities?

Test results do not guarantee transfer or wider-world impact. What are we doing to find out if these sociotechnical interventions are successful in the long run? What exactly are our measures for “success” — high test scores?

What is newsworthy should not be mistaken for critical information to be internalised as knowledge. The learning and problem-solving do not lie in provided answers; they stem from pursued questions.

I argue that we have more questions than answers, and that is not a bad thing. What is bad is the current answers are inadequate. We should not be lulled into a collective sense of complacency because we topped a test.


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