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Posts Tagged ‘transparency

You do not have to click through and read the article linked in the tweet to find out why we were not informed of flaws in our MRT trains.

You only have to process how the tweet was phrased. It was written as an answer, i.e., I am telling you. This is why and that is it.

It was not written as a query. A question like “Why were hairline cracks not made public three years ago?” could indicate curiosity or a challenge to authority, amongst other interpretations.

The adage is that it is not what you say, but how you say it. The same could be said about teaching. It is not just what you teach, but how you teach it.

Preferring answers over questions creates students who are spoon-fed, dependent on, and uncritical of information.

Emphasising questions over answers promotes the opposite. Students learn to seek and be more independent learners. They have a model lead learner who questions so they learn how to ask questions and to think for themselves.

For the record, the official answers were that 1) the cracks “did not pose a safety risk”, and 2) the return of the 26 trains to the manufacturer in China “did not impact the capacity of the North-South East-West Lines”.

However, it took a revelation from a Hong Kong news agency for the news to break three years after the fact.

The defective trains were brought to light by Hong Kong online news portal FactWire only last week, raising questions about why the issue was not made public before.

If the issue was not danger to the public, one has to wonder why an announcement was not made in the spirit of transparency. After all there is the other issue of accountability in light of very public train breakdowns.

All that said, the information is out there and someone will create or share it. It is no longer enough for teachers to say, “Let me tell you what you need to know”.

There is too much information, too many variables, and things change quickly. Teachers should be able to say, “Let me teach you how to think”.

Every now and then I get requests to be interviewed, to write an article, or to have something I wrote be part of someone else’s site.

I say no almost all the time and I explain why based on the context of the request. But there is one reason that is common to all requests: I do not want to be manipulated into pushing someone else’s agenda.

Everyone has an agenda, even if they say they do not. Having an agenda is fine if you are honest about it and if you have your heart in the right place.

Quotes taken from what I say or write might get decontextualised. An opinion piece that I write might get edited until its original message gets diluted or warped.

These are probably why some politicians who are interviewed by the press also post their speeches or thoughts on platforms like Facebook. Better to hear from the horse’s mouth.

The sad thing is that not all do this. Instead of allowing people to thinking critically and make their own decisions based on source material, the sources and the press conspire to leave it up to the press to publish selectively.

What is our excuse in the realms of schooling and education?

Is the source material unavailable?

Is the source material available, but not accessible?

Is the source material available and accessible, but not understandable?

If we say yes to any of these questions, why is this the case and what are we doing about it?

In the wider world, people can take control of the information they generate. They create, share, and discuss, largely on social media.

If the goal of schooling and education is to prepare kids for the wider world, then why are we not allowing and insisting that students create, share, and discuss more openly?

The press had a blast last Friday when the Singapore Examinations and Assessment Board (SEAB) announced that entire Primary School Leaving Examination (PSLE) papers from the last three years would be sold to the public.

The response from the public was predictable.

Entire GCE O and A level papers have been available for generations of students, so why did the SEAB do this after years of holding out? The official reason was to reduce over-preparation

However, this response creates more questions than answers. Has anyone asked and convincingly found out if the release of high stakes exam papers at the secondary and junior college levels has reduced over-preparation? If so, might a comparison of pre-teen and teenaged learners be valid?

Perhaps the move is a social engineering experiment which is part of a larger plan for changing the mindsets of stakeholders. The larger plan is a jigsaw puzzle of changes in the last three years:

  • the push to label every school a good school
  • not announcing the country’s top PSLE students
  • de-emphasizing the importance of grades and refocusing on values
  • the rise of vocational education
  • the posturing on the value of basic degrees

Social experiments take time and face serious obstacles.

This social experiment will take years to monitor even as we hope to gain from increased transparency and lowered stress of exam preparation. The ones that gain immediately from the release of full PSLE papers are publishers like Popular, the neighbourhood publishers (nudge-nudge, wink-wink), and test preparation centres. There is money to be made by meeting the demand for these papers and stoking the fear and anxiety that high-stakes exams bring.

A social experiment is not a scientific one because it is less controlled. Other ingredients in the pot, like kiasu parents, are confounding factors. Kiasuism is a staple of our diet and telling parents not to hot-house their kids is like telling them to stop eating rice.

Our kiasu mentality and tuition culture are formidable obstacles against change. The main weapon that leads the charge for change is transparency.

Being transparent means being to see through something. In this case, the exam question transparency allows for more open discussion about the quality of the questions. Schools, tuition centres, parents, and most importantly, students, will be able to better prepare for the exams.

The stress of taking a high-stakes exam will not go away. However, the stresses associated with over-preparation or under-preparation might be reduced.

In the long run, I would like to see the continued transparency and discussion leading to better questions. Not exam questions, but questions about the PSLE as a sorting mechanism when children are just 12-years-old. This transparency is a long-term solution to looking past symptoms of kiasuism and unnecessary tuition, and dealing with the root problems instead.

Ta Prohm Roots (view on black) by mendhak, on Flickr
Creative Commons Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic License   by  mendhak 

How did I arrive at that conclusion?

Our kiasuism is a result of our notion of meritocracy which starts with how well our kids play the schooling game. Success is measured almost solely on test and exam results, hence the premium placed on playing the game well.

If parents feel that teachers and schools cannot help their kids succeed, they purchase that insurance or enable the result with tuition, be it remedial or enrichment or both. When kids do well on paper, this justifies the kiasuism and reinforces tuition-dependency. This perpetuates the processes of testing and private tuition.

Some people see excessive testing and unnecessary tuition as problems. They are not. They are symptoms of more insidious problems with conventional schooling.

One need only revisit recent history of test design and schooling to realize that they were designed for the industrial age. Industry is about mass production and standardization. It is driven by one-size-fits-all efficiency. While that has put cars on our roads, smartphones in our hands, and nearly identical Big Macs in our stomachs, the quality control based on standardization and efficiency suit machines and food but not people.

Put people through schools based on industrial processes and there will be kick back. Teachers struggle with limited production (curricular) time and mass treatment (large classes) because they are counterintuitive to development time as well as nurturing and coaching small groups or individuals. Mass implementation and standardization go against personalization and individualization.

Teachers eventually realize that their students are not products of teaching that undergo quality control (tests) at the end of production lines. But people are malleable and adapt to the circumstances. People learn to be products. Parents with the means outsource coaching and preparation so that their children pass those tests.

The problem is the design of schooling. Testing and tuition are merely symptoms. The transparency of how exams like the PSLE are designed could lead to the questioning of our quality control and sorting mechanisms. In concert with other systemic changes, this could lead to the questioning of the design and purpose of schooling.

OPEN by mag3737, on Flickr
Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 2.0 Generic License  by  mag3737 

I have had a draft of this reflection sitting in Evernote for such a long time I cannot remember exactly why I wrote it. 

Let us say that you have a complex problem to solve. Some will lock down while others will open up.

One benefit of being strategically open is that it can create more transparent processes. This in turn can build trust.

Being more open with problems, ideas, or policies can result in greater feedback and critique. While doing this might result in slower implementation, you are more likely to get better inputs by crowdsourcing.

I think one reason some people do not like being open is that they fear that others will not understand the complexities of the issues at hand. But how are others expected to understand if you are not open in the first place?

Other times people worry that the process is messy and that being transparent is a sign of discord or weakness. But I think that it takes trust to build more trust.

You have to share some information that you might have withheld in the past. This leads to a more informed group that now knows the context, background, or the reasons why.

If you manage the situation well, it creates trust whether you succeed or fail during implementation. That trust is more important than the problem you tried to solve because it helps with the next problem.

Now I remember why it remained a draft. I was just rambling mentally.

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