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Posts Tagged ‘singapore

An issue that refuses to go away is that of class sizes in Singapore schools. It should not until our leaders relent.

Our current Education Minister provided at least three main objections to reducing class sizes (reducing student:teacher ratios):

  1. Studies elsewhere showed little or no benefit
  2. Teacher quality was more important than class sizes
  3. Local schools already have some autonomy to make small but strategic changes

No study on the effects of reducing class sizes is perfect or absolutely generalisable. Each study will have its own context, constraints, and focus areas. Each study will also suffer from inadequately answering these questions:

  • What are the measures of success and why were these selected? (Academic results are not the only and best measure.)
  • When are the measures taken? (The effect of class size reduction takes time and can be easily undone if not consistently applied over the entire student experience.)
  • What of the less measurable or even immeasurable benefits of small class sizes like teacher morale, social bonding, mentoring and apprenticeship, etc.? (These “intangibles” are just as important, if not more so, when trying to increase the contact time between a teacher and every learner.)

No one in their right mind or in the face of good data will argue that teacher quality is paramount. A great teacher might strategise how to allocate her time and energy in an unfairly large class. Now give that same teacher smaller classes and what might happen next?

That question needs to be answered even though most people have good guesses or be able to cite anecdotes. This is why other ministers in parliament have suggested that we have official trials of our own. Our schools, our teachers, our contexts, our findings.

As for giving schools the option to decide what to do with teacher deployment, the fact of the matter is that they have always had that option whether it was policy or not. After all, which school principal would not see that disadvantaged kids need more time and attention? Which teacher would not provide small group or one-on-one coaching?

The official answers to a concerted and official reduction of class sizes avoid the crux of the issue: Make it policy to reduce the student:teacher ratio not just administratively, but also realistically.

This means not just taking the total number of students and education officers in Singapore to get that ratio. It means providing a range of smaller numbers that each school can target given its context and constraints. It means focusing on better ways of teaching and learning, not on simply crunching numbers.

It is Youth Day in Singapore, so I turn my thoughts on however youth is defined.

Some might say that “Youth is spoilt on the young” because they do not know how to use or appreciate it. Such a thought assigns blame and relies on an external locus of control — neither blame nor responsibility is yours.

To leave a better planet for our kids, we need to leave better kids for our planet.

I prefer this saying: To leave a better planet for our kids, we need to leave better kids for our planet. Our youth may not know what they have, so we must be role models of how to behave as appreciative and responsible stewards.

It is strange what the newspaper considers physical education (PE).

When did PE become structured time for sports during what is already short recess? Does the school extend recess? How does walking outside school with Google Maps count as “outdoor adventure” and PE?

Modern PE, anyone?

The debate on whether Singapore teachers should get to park their cars for “free” while they are at work refuses to go away.

Some might say that the arguments are pointless because the Auditor General’s Office (AGO) has already determined that teachers must pay for parking. However, the prime issue is not about free parking, but about how such decisions are made.

A Member of Parliament (MP) critiqued the approach of implementing policy from an economic lens and urged “a conversation about reciprocity, trust, and relationships” instead [edited version of MP’s speech].

We need to insert and steer our values into the national conversation about prosperity and growth. We need to balance the economic reasoning with moral reasoning. We need to make what is cheap, efficient, and quick to what is fair, just, and right.

— Seah Kian Peng

The critique was countered in a parliamentary reply that included how the Ministry of Education had been transparent and consultative. I am not commenting on that claim because I do not wish to turn healthy skepticism into unreasonable cynicism.

I actually do not like how dependent we still are on cars. I expressed this conviction when I cycled to school when I was a teacher and took the bus to campus when I was a professor. I still take bus 11 (walk, bike), and rely on the bus and train now. So I do not really have a stake the parking issue.

I do, however, have a stake in the mindsets and well-being of our teachers and educators. I still operate as a teacher educator and I have long observed that pedagogical issues are not compartmentalised from economic ones.

The crux of the “clean wage” argument seems to be one of transparency — you should not get benefits that others in the civil service do not enjoy.

But teachers are civil servants like no other. Teachers do not submit claims for stationery that schools do not provide. Nor do they ask for compensation for treats they might provide students when both they and their students go the extra mile.

Speaking of which, how many civil servants claim lost family time, weekends, and vacation time because they have to:

  • make corrections on work they have to bring home?
  • plan for lessons before the work week?
  • chaperone kids for training, performances, or overseas trips?

If we cannot abide by having hidden benefits, how can we accept hidden costs?

Furthermore, some things cannot be compartmentalised, quantified, and paid for like parking spaces. Teachers give because they tend to be nurturing. Can we not take better care of them in return?

Viewed through an economic lens, a wage looks unclean if a teacher gets free parking. But viewed with a moral filter, slapping fees on such civil servants who already give so much and do not complain about now having to also pay for parking is filthy.

Singapore TV was supposed to go entirely digital at the end of 2017, but there were so many holdouts that the move was pushed to the end of 2018.

So the relevant authorities created an outreach programme to get more households on the digital TV bandwagon.

Mine was one of the 400,000 or so households to benefit from the voucher to either pay for a set top box plus antenna, or to offset the purchase of a digital signal TV.

Letter and voucher for digital TV.

I had no plans to get either. I had cancelled cable TV a while ago as no one in my household watches local broadcast and subscription TV. We only watch Internet-enabled shows — YouTube, Netflix, Prime, etc.

The only broadcast TV I watch is on National Day. Even then, I rely on Toggle or ‘live’ streams.

We are certainly not “digital natives” (ugh, a reference on my pet peeve list) nor are we “millennials” (that would have made my list if it was closely linked to and misused in education).

I am grateful for the voucher. I only wish it arrived earlier. That way I would not have bought my parents a new digital-ready TV and antenna last year. But since they have a second TV that is analogue, this will save me some money.

It is obvious who this move targets and benefits. The letter and voucher arrived by snail mail with offers for free delivery and installation. The target audience would need the help of their adult children to go online to make this arrangement.

The move seems to be piecemeal one. This is like patching the cracks on a wall instead of tearing the wall down and replacing it with something else.

This patch might seem to make sense now. It buys time for broadcast TV to stay relevant. This is like how newspapers and magazines ensure paper survival with pressure tactics applied to various organisations. Walk into most waiting rooms to see what I mean.

This helps the incumbents to stay rooted in the past and change agents to use the excuse that the process needs to be slow and painless.

What happens when we need to go fully digital? Will there be another round of handouts? What does this say about our capacity for change?

… or do as I do?

That was my reaction when I read this article in STonline about a local school restricting mobile gaming from 7am to 2pm.

Before I explain my reaction, I should point out that the newspaper article was a report of a report. There could be information loss from translation and there definitely was selective reporting of another report. That said, I have to work only with the information at hand.

Draconian measures by HCI on mobile gaming.

The crux of the matter is this: Students cannot use their own devices for mobile games right before school starts and during breaks.

Sometimes it is logical for students to be held to different standards. Other times it is not. For example, there are dress codes for students’ uniforms and their general appearances that teachers are not subject to.

Some would argue that the adults have matured to the point of understanding socially accepted standards of decency so that they know how to dress professionally.

If you believe that, you have not sampled enough adults. That is why we have dress codes everywhere, even at a beach.

So if standards and codes of conduct are the norm, what is wrong with a partial ban on mobile gaming?

Consider this: How would you like to be told that you cannot check your Facebook feed on your commute to work because you need to psyche yourself up for work?

Or how you like to be told that you cannot nap, gossip, or surf down rabbit holes during your lunch break?

Yes, both the students and teachers are at school and schools are walled gardens separate from the real world. So what happened to bringing the real world in?

Some teachers I know do not draw that line. I know adults who are just as guilty of walking distractedly or being overly engaged with their phones. What gives these adults the right to say “do as I say and not as I do?”

As for the adults who say “do as I say because I do not do what you do”, I ask: Just how real world is that? How (dis)connected are you?

This reflection has been brought to you by the medieval workshop of Draconian Measures.

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