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Posts Tagged ‘system

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.

This STonline article lead with this opening line:

The education system needs to be aligned with the structure of the economy, so that people will continue to be armed with the required skills to find jobs in the current age of disruption.

We probably take this stance for granted in Singapore. The refrain is like white noise and the blue sky that envelops our tiny Red Dot.
 

 
The economic focus has its merits, of course, and the news article mentioned a relatively low post-graduation unemployment rate and a renewed focus on skills over pure academic results.

But surely our education system must align itself, without conflict, to more than just the economy.

  • How about the arts in all its forms?
  • How about the development of individuals to their fullest of their abilities?
  • How about helping these individuals by focusing on equity instead of equality?
  • How about nurturing citizens of the country and the rest world who are compassionate problem-seekers and solvers?
  • How about not calling these approaches idealistic and investigating how they actually contribute to the economy and more?

What else should an education system align to?

Are classrooms today different from those from a generation ago? Yes and no, depending on what you look at.

If you focus on the superficial, like infrastructure, you might say that classrooms have more modern fixtures. But just about any school-going child can still recognise a 19th century classroom because not much has changed.

On the other hand, classroom practices vary. For example, there are fewer incidences of corporal punishment now. Officially we might like to declare that there is none. So the classroom of today is different from yesteryear’s in that sense.

A recent STonline article, Put away e-devices in class? No way!, tried to show how else classrooms are different.

The article cited one example of “high-tech ways of engaging students”. It was the Swivl. Or in the case of the article, the “Swivl robot”.
 

 
I have used different generations of the Swivl (see older version above) and I would not consider it a robot in the educational context.

The device allows you to place a video-recording phone or slate on it so that it tracks the human presenter as he or she moves about the room.

The Swivl is not a robot in the sense that has been applied in schooling and education. The latter form is often an enhancement, an analogue, or even a replacement of the teacher.

According to the article, the device was used to record presentations and the recordings were put online. Institutions of higher learning that purchased this tool initially used it to create “e-learning lectures”. This was a perfect example of doing the same thing differently or a case of different-tool-same-method.

The important issue should not be the technological enhancement, but what technology enables pedagogically and in terms of learning.

For example, recordings of presentations or teaching enable a learner to see themselves through another’s eyes. They might learn to take more and broader perspectives, and thus develop metacognitive strategies like reflecting and changing approaches.

This sounds like a mouthful, but it is also what is more important than the tool itself. The tool does not just enhance a process; it enables it. This is what makes the classroom different and better than the one in the past.

I pick on just one of the three anecdotes in the article to make that point. The other examples of gamification and virtual reality are worth reading and seem different enough. Managed well they are better practices than classrooms of old.

That said, critical readers (critical, not cynical) should note that standalone anecdotes to not necessarily represent an entire system. Small pockets of experimentation or innovation do not represent the entire suit or wardrobe.

Actual pockets are designed be discrete. Some are even hidden. Both are functional and are arguably essential, but very few people outside the owner of the pockets know what is in them. So I appreciate the article turning this pedagogical pocket inside-out.

But let us not get carried away and think that the pockets make the suit.

Is Apple innovative? This tweet featuring the number of dongles the company and third-parties sell should provide a clue.

According to this CNET article, Apple now sells 17 unique dongles. That few? I have several of them for my iPhone, iPad, and Macbook Pro. I use a Cocoon Grid-It to keep things organised.

Cocoon Grid-It.

When Apple removed the 3.5mm audio jack from the iPhone 7, everyone and their grandmother seemed to have an opinion. It was a first world problem to use a wireless headset for audio or rely on a lightning-to-3.5mm adapter.

The complaint against the adapter was that it was easy to lose and you could not charge the phone and listen to audio at the same time. Enterprising people stepped into this newly created niche to offer solutions for the first and second problems.

People made fun of the Apple’s own wireless AirPods. Here is a video parodying an old Apple iPod silhouette ad.


Video source

Again people and companies stepped up to bridge that gap.

Is Apple trying to change things without asking everyone’s permission? Definitely.

Is Apple being innovative? Only time will tell. In the meantime, it has created opportunities for others to take advantage of.

One larger issue that accompanies the bid for change is dealing with legacy issues. Apple seems to be pushing for one port to rule them all (USB-C) and wireless connectivity. The problem is the variety of peripherals and other devices the Apple products might connect to.

The trouble for Apple — and any schooling or education system for that matter— pushing forward is staying connected to the old ways which are still common, possibly dominant, and expected. But as the people responding to this need attest, they can be creative, innovative, and even elegant about it.

Another larger issue is whether the change is desired. The rhetoric for change in schooling and education is loud and common in the blogosphere and Twitterverse. The demand change on the ground is more muted.

This is just guesswork as no one has definitive data on the demand for and measurement of change. Leaders in the schooling and educational arenas like to describe the process of change as three steps forward and two steps back. I have seen organisations that take two steps forward and three steps back.

Apple on the other hand seems to be having an easier time. The much-maligned new Macbook Pro with only USB-C ports seems to be in demand. CNET claims that its sales are going to surpass the 2015 Macbook.

People do embrace the change, even when it creates inconveniences (dongles galore!) and is costly (the new iPhone/Macbook costs how much?). Perhaps there is something that those of us in schooling and education can learn from Apple.

Let us imagine that you are an adult learner who wants to keep learning, but are not looking for academic qualifications. What do you do?

If you go with most agencies, they will likely offer you courses or modules. These might lead up to something or they might be self-contained. But they are still not designed with you in mind because there are desired outcomes, learning objectives, and curricula determined by someone else.

What are you looking for does not quite exist in the schooling and vendor realms. Instead what you need is designed with two main principles: Just-in-time (JIT) and just-for-me (JFE).

What you need is experiences. An extended vacation might do the trick if you travel light and learn on the run. If you stay in a place where the residents do not speak your native tongue, then you might pick up a new language.

But that is not the bi- or multilingualism I am thinking most people need to experience.
 

 
I see the wisdom of thought leaders who suggest that kids be comfortable in one or more programming language. That is something a school or vendor can help provide. A very motivated individual can also learn this on his or her own thanks to the multitude of books and online resources on programming.

Without this language, most individuals can problem-seek. But armed with the ability to program well, individuals have one more tool with which to problem-solve.
 

 
The older adult learner is unlikely to want or need programming language skills. So what experiences might they invest in?

I suggest being fluent in the daily language of operating systems. The dominant ones are Windows and Mac OS on larger screens, and Android and iOS on smaller screens. We might throw Chrome OS on both screens for good measure.

Being conversant in more than one operating system language can help older learners problem-seek and problem-solve on any major computing platform.

If you need to book that vacation, can you do the research, take notes, seek advice, book a cheap flight, and get the ideal Airbnb place on desktop and mobile devices? Do you know the merits or demerits on each platform?

Now imagine having to offer your services or wishing to stay relevant to clients who are likely on different platforms. You might create an online presence on one platform, but does it look the way you want it to on another? You can only know for sure if you are comfortable, or better still, fluent in all major OS languages.

This is why I have no qualms about investing in various devices with different operating systems. They create learning opportunities just-for-me and just-in-time.

When articles run on techie sites or blogs about devices running a particular operating system, there will invariably be a comment war where one side slimes the other. This is as pointless as arguing whether one language is better than another.

The more you learn, the more you realize how they are more the same than different. Then the fights seem small-minded and petty.


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