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Posts Tagged ‘singapore

I watched this two-part video report how mandarin is taught now. It featured a journalist who revisited a classroom and immersed herself in the student experience.


Video source


Video source

The intended message seemed to be that the methods were more progressive now compared to, say, the time of the kids’ parents. Given the examples and strategies, you might agree.

But I wonder about how the narrative was crafted.

Was three days enough to gauge how the teaching of mandarin had changed? Pragmatically speaking, a journalist is not a researcher and it is tough to get permission and time to record the classroom. That said, three days was not representative compared to three months or three terms.

The class comprised a group of a Secondary 2 Higher Chinese students. These were the minority of students and they enjoyed a smaller class size. How was the class representative of the larger population of students?

That said, the teaching of mandarin, like most other content areas, has changed with the incorporation of various technologies and curricular interventions. Perhaps both were too difficult to show.

I am not referring to the journalist’s toting an iPad. It could have been her own and it did not feature prominently. White boards dominated and this could indicate more a change of medium (from blackboards) and of methods (peer instruction).

An example of a curricular change is the different levels of mandarin in Primary school — foundation, standard, and higher — for students with different abilities. Instead of one size curriculum fits all, it was three sizes fits all.

Perhaps even more insidious is how the type of teachers of mandarin has changed. They are younger, more open to different strategies, and effectively bilingual. If mindset and cultural circumstance have any influence, the way these teachers practice their craft is different from their teachers.

The changes on how content is taught is more nuanced than two videos can reveal. Perhaps a focus on the type of teacher might have been a better narrative.

Today I continue my reflection on the CNA article and video, Regardless of Class.

The video segments on what kids thought about the “class divide” caught my attention the most. There were clips of children aged 9 to 11, and older students aged 15 to 17.


Video source

The whole video is proprietary on CNA’s site, but most of the segments featuring both sets of kids are in the YouTube video above.

The footage and editing sent a clear signal: The younger kids were perceptive and honest about the class divide; by the time they were older, the gaps were
brutally obvious.

The video, particularly in its longer form, made for uncomfortable viewing. Rightly so because the full video was designed to create cognitive and emotional dissonance.

Such dissonance might lead to questions like:

  • How is our schooling system creating and perpetuating such class divides?
  • What might we do to mitigate this?
  • If schooling is, as one teacher pointed out, a symptom and not a cause of social divides, what other contributing factors of social divides might we also need to address?

After repeated and reflective readings of the article and viewings of the videos, I am convinced that what happens at and to the family unit is crucial.

Disadvantaged adults pass their status on to their children and it is difficult for the latter to break out of their structural and social strata. Adults with greater means not only pass their privilege to their offspring, they also find ways to boost what they have.

Fundamental to what adults and parents do is their attitudes and mindsets. Are they defeated by or defiant to their lot in life? Do they believe they have a right to a better life and is this right reserved only for some?

So I wonder simplistically: We have SkillsFuture now; do we need AttitudeFuture and MindsetFuture as well?

We might have the SkillsFuture programme that is supposed to provide post-schooling and lifelong resources for learning. But after reading the article and watching the video linked to the tweet below, I wonder if we need something akin to AttitudeFuture or MindFuture.

Here are a few things I took note of and have thoughts on, particularly from the article linked from the tweet.

I have no doubt that the “class divide” is a critical issue that might potentially disrupt what Singapore stands for. So I was not surprised that this threat was identified by almost half of the 1,036 survey respondents.

That said, “class” is insidious and hard to define. It has multiple contributing factors and layers like education, socioeconomic status, family background, etc. I wonder if respondents had the same things in mind when they thought of class.

Other factors like race and religion were identified as threats to social cohesion by about a fifth of the respondents. However, these perceived factors might have a disproportionate effect in reality.

I am reminded of a tweet from satirical Twitter account, Werner Twertzog:

A third of the population can act on another third while the last third remains indifferent. A minority or a seemingly small threat can have a disproportionate impact.

This does not mean that the class divide less impactful. The class divide is also worsened by indifference, which is why the article and video are important to consume and process now.

I am still ruminating on the article and video. Both provided much to reflect on even though they undoubtedly present only snippets and snapshots of a complicated and nuanced social phenomenon. I think I will focus on what school children and teachers think and do in the next part.

I would like to critique this move fairly, but I cannot as the rest of the article is behind a paywall.

However, the SEAB has a track record of siding with caution. It moves so slowly, if at all, that molasses in a jar looks like speed demon.

Article screenshot: More trials before switch to electronic marking of exam scripts.

The SEAB seems to favour changing the medium and not the method, and as a result, not change at all.

This example of electronic marking would presume electronic test-taking were simple transitions from paper to screens. This is what happened with early e-books. Going electronic in this manner did (and does) not take advantage of hyperlinking, searching, and collaborating.

To push the boundaries where they need to be, the method must also change. The test should not just be about individual accountability, but also about the ability to communicate, cooperate, and collaborate. The challenge should not just be about low level thinking, but about contextual application, evaluation, and creation.

The superficial change in medium and not the method reveals this: The SEAB is neither prepared (state of mind) nor ready (state of being) to design and implement meaningful change. It is about jogging on the same spot to create the impression of work, but not move in any particular direction.

I enjoyed the National Geographic documentary special on Singapore as a possible model for future cities.


Video source

However, I watched with critical eyes and ears, particularly when “models” of education were highlighted around the half-hour mark of the documentary.

The overly broad claims made by the scriptwriters covered up fallacies and bias. For example, take the claims made after the segment on kindergarten children using “coding” blocks to learn.

The narrator claimed that approaches like these were “arming future generations of Singaporeans with the skills necessary for computer programming and literacy without exposing them to too much screen time”.

Neither a visitor to our shores nor a born-and-bred local should take this statement at face value. One fallacy is that kids exposed to such experiences will learn them meaningfully. Just ask a child what they remember from class a year ago. Heck, ask them what they learnt yesterday.

That claim was ludicrous when immediately followed up with: “This dynamic new approach to education is of critical importance for parents, helping to prepare their children for the workplaces of the future.”

Now I am not claiming that repeated and purposeful integration of lessons on computational thinking are not effective. I am pointing out that a) such lessons are not necessarily the norm, and b) there are far too many things that contribute to — and get in the way of — a child’s development.

A good start in early childhood education is important, but it is a stretch to claim that something a child experienced that early has a direct impact on future work.

A child’s education is long-term and multi-faceted while the future is murky. At best something learnt now might prepare a student for the next stage of schooling.

Revisit the last part of the quote: “…without exposing them to too much screen time”. The inherent bias is that screen time is bad.

But consider how students will need that screen time to experience and learn more deeply. Heck, I learnt of the documentary thanks to screen time on Twitter and then relied on screen time to watch it on YouTube.

It is what you do with screen time that matters. I wish people who have reach — like the groups that National Geographic partnered with — would stop harping on old and uncritical messages that avoid nuance. There is no point selling a city of the future if the messaging is from an irrelevant past.

Tomorrow's educational progress cannot be determined by yesterday's successful performance.

There is a kindergarten at the foot of my apartment block and the air is clear enough for the kids voices to travel all the way up.

Some mornings I awake to a chorus of young voices reciting the Singapore Pledge. It is done in the usual sing-song English and in Mandarin.
 

 
I ask myself the usual question and give myself the usual answer:

  • Q: Are the nursery-age kids too young to understand they are saying?
  • A: Probably, but the exercise is not one of citizenship or patriotism. It is one of blind (or deaf) memorisation now and possibly deep understanding much later.

Then I ask myself something that someone born into the majority race here might not ask:

  • Q: If the pledge has been written in our four official languages, why do the kids just say it in two?
  • A: …

I do not have a good answer for that one. I grew up reciting the pledge only in English as that was common to all whatever their designated mother tongue was.

I can hazard a few guesses as to why the kids belt out the Pledge in English and then only Chinese.

  • One of the answers to an FAQ is the Pledge “may be recited in any of the four official languages”.
  • The kindergarten operator might justify the extra language as a value-added service.
  • There are no (or not enough) teachers who can ensure the quality of the Malay and Tamil versions of the Pledge.
  • The majority race attends and teaches, so the majority rules.

My guesses have roots that are more rotten the further you go down that list. I offer no solutions, but I pledge to keep questioning.

Today’s marks Singapore’s 53rd National Day.

Over the years I might have shared unofficial ND videos that I thought did a better job of capturing the essence of who we are than officially-sanctioned ones.

Today one tongue firmly in cheek comes by way of Twitter.

We are 53-years-old. Can we laugh at ourselves? Or did middle age break our collective funny bone?


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