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Posts Tagged ‘vacation

Mainstream schools in Singapore are starting their June breaks in May because the COVID-19 pandemic has given us the ability to time travel.

Actually, no. This switch was administrative juggling to reduce HBL or home-based learning (more accurately, emergency remote teaching) to just under a month. How so?

Kids have been on HBL since 8 April. If the school vacation was not brought forward, HBL would have continued till at least 29 May because the end of the lockdown was extended from 4 May to 1 June. So the school vacation covers the remainder of the extended lockdown.

One emerging problem is that some teachers are trying to keep the kids occupied with school vacation activities. Why? The teachers and parents say their kids will be bored.

On one hand, you might understand the response — some parents are bald from tearing their hair out trying to be teaching assistants, IT support, cheerleaders, etc. So any distraction sanctioned by a teacher might provide welcome relief.

On the other hand, why should teachers organise the vacation time of students? Yes, the circumstances are different in that everyone needs to stay cooped up at home. But should kids not be taught that being bored is not a bad thing?

Feeling bored can be the start of planning, creating thinking, storytelling, exploration, and experimentation. The best teachers of such thought and actions are the kids themselves. They might need some guidance or supervision, but they must learn to try and to learn from mistakes.

Kids might not be able to step out much during a lockdown, but this does not mean they cannot explore. Many of the same tools that enable HBL (e.g., video conferencing, text, shared notes, audio and video platforms, video games) might provide remedies for boredom and opportunities to learn outside the curriculum.

Our kids might already feel caged with the lockdown and school holiday projects they need to complete. They need to feel bored because this means they have the time to hear themselves breathe. This is liberating. Their teachers and parents do not have to plan everything for them and the kids learn to operate independently.

Let our kids feel bored. It is evidence of a break and an opportunity to keep themselves meaningfully occupied.

Video source

The video a performance of the Christmas carol, God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen. That was also one of my responses to a parent who complained that the end-of-year vacation was too long.

Her complaints were that her children were restless and adults needed to keep them occupied. She was also concerned that her kids fell behind on mother tongue lessons.

This is Singapore and so we complain about someone else’s complaints, especially if the latter sound stupid. This site hosts some choice reactions.

But since it is Christmas, I present some thoughts in the form of questions:

  • How about offering the gift of childhood to kids?
  • Why not teach kids how to rest or to organise themselves?
  • How about some empathy for teachers who need a break from taking care of children for 40 (or more) weeks a year?

Lest I sound like a scrooge, I close with two more Christmassy YouTube videos.

Video source

Video source

A break from work is never really a break. This was true for me when I was a teacher and an educator. It is the default for me as a freelancing consultant.

One of the lines I include in my auto-reply now that I am on vacation is “we live in an age where you can drop me an email and be assured that it has been delivered thanks to this automatic reply.”

But that is preceded by a tongue-in-cheek subject line: “I’m not deaf; I’m ignoring you.” That is my way of saying that I take my breaks and mental health seriously.

This does not mean I do not do any work while I am on a break. I still make the effort to learn something new every day and I respond to requests when I can. But I cannot do these things if I am not of sound mind and body.

Yesterday I reflected on how a field trip was a lost opportunity for modelling and teaching critical thinking.

Today I reflect on how I used a holiday book report to teach my son about metacognition.

In simple terms, metacognition is thinking about thinking. When a person steps back from a task or problem to consider alternatives, the strategising is a form of metacognition. When learners rise above a lesson and ask themselves what they actually learnt, that reflection is another form of metacognition.

When my son was given a book report to complete during the June school vacation, he started reading his book without considering what the instructions and his options were. This is what many students do: When told to do something, the dutiful take the straight path without question.

I asked him if he had been taught how to analyse questions or if he had been taught study skills. He replied that he had not.

I am giving the benefit of the doubt to his teachers since kids often do not see the point of such things when they are told. This is often because they do not get to practice those skills in a meaningful context.

My son’s book report was an excellent context and it was very well designed. He and his classmates could choose from a list of books instead of being forced to read just one book. They were also given several options to submit their report.

The options were varied, e.g., draw a comic to illustrate a key chapter, craft an alternative ending for the book, write a poem as a response, etc. In all options, students had to rationalise and justify their choices.

I was impressed with the design of the task because the teacher had incorporated learner choice into the report. I highlight choice and not learning “style” because the latter is a myth.

My son was about a quarter way through his book before he considered his options. When he decided on one, I asked him why he chose it and he struggled to articulate his reasons. In doing so, he had missed at least two opportunities to exercise metacognition.

When he did not read the instructions and options first, he failed to plan for his journey. That is like plunging into an actual journey without planning, research, money, schedules, or destinations.

The book report options were varied enough so that he could take advantage of his strengths or address weaknesses. He selected an option because it appealed to him. While that seems reasonable on the surface, powerful learning is about knowing when to leverage on what one is good at or face up to what one struggles with.

Our discussion on metacognition will not be the only one we have. This form of learning is a long process of self-discovery and awareness, and I will be there as a guide.

I reflected on the interaction I had with my son about cognition and metacognition.

Metacognition is arguably more important than cognition, particularly of the lower level sort, e.g., factual recall. It is easy to Google for information or find a solution in YouTube. It is not as easy, but certainly more important, to be able to decide if what you find is valid and reliable.

Facts will come and go. Students who face tests and exams are smart enough to adapt and rely on GIGO — garbage in, garbage out — as a strategy.

However, this form of schooling and assessments conditions them into that sort of pragmatic but lazy thinking. The more important types of thinking lie in metacognition. They need to be able to analyse, evaluate, reflect, and strategise. They need to focus on the long tail, not just the short game.

I am not sure where I am going with this, so I will let the storytelling tell me where to go.

Last Friday was the final day of the school term for mainstream schools here. I was at a mall and walked behind a mother and her son. The boy, about 8 or 9-years-old, started merrily declaring, “I am so happy there’s no more school!”

Then he started walking like the little girl in the now infamous video. There is even a GIF of her and her younger brother.

As he dance-walked, he kept repeating, “Woo-hoo, there’s no school! Woo-hoo, there’s no school!”

I am sure that many teachers are just as thankful for the break. Inside they might feel like the girl in the GIF and secretly they might want to express themselves like the boy at the mall.

Enjoy the break teachers because you deserve it. And if you gave too much holiday homework, you deserve what is coming your way too. 😉

This is the last week of the mid-year break for most schools in Singapore. I do not think that it is my imagination that the breaks are broken.

A nearby library is like a second office for me. I find it harder to get a seat there with every passing break. The kids there are not reading for pleasure. They are doing school-assigned and tuition homework.

I do not have to be a child in school to feel it. While the number of days in the June break hardly varies every year, the number of disruptions to it seem to rise.

My son had two weeks of extra classes in school over the first two weeks. Each day of schooling during this break was as long as (8am to 2.30pm) or longer than (8am to 4pm) the typical school day.

You might forgive this intrusion and even admire his teachers if you consider that he is taking his PSLE this year. You would be less forgiving if you realise how much his school mismanages curriculum time. Let us not forget that teachers need a break too.

Addendum (21 Jun): I forgot to add that my son’s school also has a three-day leadership camp on the last three days of the school vacation.

The DSA processes are also in full swing during this period. This means briefings, entry tests, and interviews that took away even more time.

My wife and I did not put our son through DSA preparation that some enrichment centres offer. We did this not to save on money or to sabotage his chances. We keep believe in our son’s abilities and we hope that a few selection committee members are able to distinguish between the schooled and the educated.

My son already has his own e-portfolio. I started one for him when he was in utero and he has his own YouTube videos and pixel art galleries.

I do not think that things will get better even though the current rhetoric seems to de-emphasise academic grades. Not every school is brave enough to dump homework and re-educate parents on this matter.

Homework is an staple like rice on our table. Homework is given and it is a given. Homework can be done but not done away with. This is despite the research and critical practice that questions its value.

Like it or not, schools will resist change and turn a deaf ear to rhetoric. How slowly do schools change? Consider how lectures as a concept and practice have not changed for hundreds of years despite the evidence stacked against them.

Short of becoming an education minister who rules with an iron fist, there is little each of us can do. But the little is also what is the most empowering.

These are the little moments of time relating to our children and what they do.

It is a little movement to turn your head away from tuition ads or to throw those flyers into the nearest recycling bin.

It is an even tinier movement of the computer mouse to not click on tuition bait or kiasu parent stories in Facebook.

The little people in our lives matter and they have important things to say and do. All we need to do is set aside a little time.

I first read about Nikoi Island in a blog. My first question was: Where is Nikoi?

It is in the South China Sea and 2.5 hours away from Singapore over a three-leg journey (ferry-car-ferry).

I really needed a vacation with my family after an exceptionally taxing semester. Vacations can sometimes be more tiring than restful, but I can count Nikoi as truly relaxing.

Their website is not only well-designed, it is also very informative. It provides information on what to do before you go and what to expect once you are there.

The reassuring experience started with the booking and confirming processes. The people behind the technology were very prompt. I recall sending a query one evening on a weekend and receiving a detailed reply after about an hour.

They are also very quick on Twitter. When I returned, I shared this general tweet and they responded even though it was not necessary.

These prompt and personal communications bracketed what must be the most positive and relaxing trip I have had in a while.

Upon arriving on Bintan, staff identified us, sat us in a lounge, and processed our passports and immigration forms. After a quick pass through security, we were whisked into waiting MPVs.

After a windy, undulating hour-long drive, we arrived at another jetty for a 15-minute boat ride to Nikoi. Once there, I started to feel my cares melt away.

I loved being able to wake up to the sound of sunbirds tweeting and waves crashing gently on the beach. The frangipani trees provided a sweet, mild perfume.

What might surprise visitors initially is the lack of walls and doors on the lower level of each villa. There are rudimentary locks for rooms and a personal safe on the upper level, but otherwise there is an open kampung feel to the place.

A central kitchen prepares meals for couples with no kids in one dining area and families in a separate dining area. Both dining huts have sandy floors and it was lovely to dig my feet into the cool, fine grains.

You also have “no choice” on what to eat there, but this is a good thing. They find out when you check in if you have dietary restrictions, but you eat what they serve. The staff indicate every day what the meals are on blackboards and they tell you at the end of one meal what the next meal is.

And what an excellent spread they offer each day. My wife went nuts with photographing every dish to create Facebook/WhatsApp photo envy. Kids get served first (main and dessert) followed by adults (starter, main, dessert).

I should mention that menus were not limited to blackboards. Servers offer iPad-based menus if you wish to drink something like alcohol or espresso.

You will put on weight if you do not enjoy some island activities. Kids get entertained at the Kids Club. My son and I went snorkelling, and my family went on walks and skimmed the coast in kayaks. But I still made deeper footprints and sat lower in the water with each meal!

Nikoi seems to be a model of ecologically responsible development and maintenance. With minor exceptions, the food is bought locally from certified eco-sustainable sources. The infrastructure is mostly driftwood and recycled wood, non-drinking water comes from a well, and lighting takes the form of LEDs and tiki torches.

The lighting options make the place dim at night and this prevents the disorientation of turtles who haul themselves on the island to lay eggs (roughly Apr-Sep). Staff protect the eggs with wire fences to prevent the resident monitor lizards from gorging on them.

On a less cloudy night, the moon provides enough light for you to wander the paths and beach. You might notice lots of coral fragments underfoot. I am told this was due to illegal fishing with explosives and fishing boats dropping anchor in the past.

I like the lack of light anyway. It helped me spot a few fireflies.

Nikoi is not cheap, but the cliche that you get what you pay for holds true. The thing is you are not likely to think about the bill. I was looking at the smiles on the faces of my family and the Nikoi staff and wondering when I would be back there again.

Would I do anything differently the next time round? Yes.

I will avoid the crowds in the Bintan ferry by opting for the Emerald Class. This gets you priority embarking and disembarking as well as reserved seats.

I am not sure if I will get a prepaid SIM card with XL again. Reception was OK on the island but service was not reliable. My phone would display 3G and enough bars, but it would claim insufficient quota one hour and not complain the next.

By the way, prepaid SIMs can be purchased at the kampung immediately beyond the gantry that divides the resorts special zone from the rest of the island. I also spotted an Indosat stall about halfway into the car journey.

I would also bring my own nano SIM cutter as the store holder only has micro SIM cutters.

Yes, I need Internet access even on a relaxing holiday. Staying connected helps me relax. And share my photos immediately!

safari by cuatrok77, on Flickr
Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic License  by  cuatrok77 

Sometimes you hear folks say that they need a break from their break. They might be referring to how their vacation was more hectic than work. Or how more stressful it was. Or how tiring it was.

Mine was relaxing but I still need a holiday from my holiday because of the people I met while I was away. Somehow you can travel to almost any part of the world and you will bump into socially ugly Singaporeans.

Everyone will claim to know someone uncouth or from a backcountry. We have no countryside, so what is our excuse?

We are well-to-do and generally well-behaved. But when we travel, the body wanders but the mind does not. This manifests itself in ugly behaviours.

Like piling plates high at buffets, talking loudly, and complaining unreasonably. I was unfortunate to see all three at once thanks to a large family group at a restaurant.

The last thing we need is to export the way we talk. With language comes a culture. The video below is meant to be funny and is quite funny. But I would classify this as horror-comedy.

Video source

Then there are those who behave like idiots because the rules seem different elsewhere. Like creating a ruckus till 2am and throwing fruit and chairs into your swimming pool.

Thankfully my holiday was largely a restful and peaceful one. But I was treated to the occasional safari where I saw that the Ugly Singaporean animal was not just alive and well but also breeding.

Oh, to have a hunting licence.


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