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Posts Tagged ‘work

The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) released the 2018 results of its Teaching and Learning International Survey (TALIS).

The Today article summarised some TALIS data.

Taken at face value, the sample of lower secondary school teachers in Singapore spent less time teaching but more time marking student work than their OECD counterparts.

So might the 2005 initiative to Teach Less, Learn More become Teach Less, Mark More now?

I jest. Here was another tweeted article on TALIS.

As I read both articles on survey findings, I wondered:

  1. How were “working hours” of the sample of lower secondary school teachers calculated?
  2. Did these hours include work done outside school, e.g., grading student work at home or at a Starbucks?

Why ask these questions? If the working hours were only based on official time tables and co-curricula commitments, then the figures did not capture the extent of work.

Even if we assume that there was a valid and reliable way of collecting outside school work across various OECD countries, how meaningful is an average for each country?

Consider how much more time a language teacher takes on grading and feedback than would a teacher who relies on online quizzes and scanned bubble sheets.

Consider how one teacher might be able to enjoy practically the whole of the June vacation while another has to chaperone students on an overseas trip, stay in touch with school leadership and parents, or prepare university admissions materials for graduating students during the same period.

I revisited my second question after reading both articles: Did these working hours include work done outside school?

The CNA article claimed that the working hours included “those spent working out of school” while the Today article did not. Both articles mentioned time spent marking and efforts to reduce administrative work. However, they did not stipulate whether this was marking and administration done in school or outside it.

Consider this anecdote from the Today article (I emphasised the key finding):

Four teachers teaching the lower secondary level, who spoke to TODAY on the condition of anonymity as they were not supposed to speak to the media, said that they did not feel their working hours have been reduced.

Most of their time is spent on administrative work, planning lessons as well as co-curricular activities and other school activities, they added.

Those interviewed said that they clock from 47 hours to more than 52 hours a week, taking into account the hours spent on some Saturdays due to co-curricular activities.

This did not clarify the hours of in-school work and outside school work. Both teachers and administrators probably did not see a need for such a distinction. But a data collector and analyser should. That is lesson number 1 on research.
 

 
Lesson 2 on research: When the quantitative and qualitative findings paint different pictures, we should give pause. Both might not wrong. Instead, both might be spotlights on a larger and more complex picture. We should embrace nuance instead of simplicity.

In “olds” made news, this report tells us what we already know: Singapore teachers are paid very well and they are overworked.

So instead of focusing on established fact, I concentrate on how the latest facts were established. In the process, I illustrate principles of Skepticism 101.

First, were the 200 teachers from each country representative of the teacher population?

A sample of 200 might be statistically sound, but there was no information about how the sampling was conducted. For example, were the numbers garnered from a convenience sampling of respondents, e.g., from a limited set of schools or a captive audience?

We’re all 200 beginning teachers or was there a proportionate mix? If there was a mix of teacher experience, how many beginning teachers were used to determine their average starting salaries?

Second, the starting salaries of beginning teachers in Singapore was very high. The amount was equivalent to what a local assistant professor might make a decade ago.

Even taking into account salaries that keep pace with the rising cost of living, there was no information on whether the sampled teachers here were mid-career switchers, hired by independent/private schools, and/or Masters or Ph.D. holders. All these teachers typically command higher starting salaries.

It was entirely clear if the salaries were relative or absolute. If they were relative, they would be scaled to the cost of living in each country. If the numbers were absolute, then you would have to make comparisons of salaries from different Jon’s within each country and not between teachers of different countries.

Third, the definition of work hours was not clear. Were these official or unofficial work hours? Was the average over term time or over the entire calendar year? What if some teachers reported office hours but not weekend marking?

Were the salaries and work hours compared against data that the Ministry of Education here might have? This was not the job of the producers of the report; this was something the newspaper could have done to add meaning and value.
 

 
I do not doubt that teachers here are well-paid and work-stressed. But as long as the processes (i.e., data sampling and analyses) were murky, I do not trust the product (the report). When a news article further simplified the report, this muddied the water even more.

Ask adults what school is for and a common response will likely be “To prepare our kids for work.”

I have been consistent in railing against notions of schooling. Long story made short: Schools evolve too slowly to respond to what work currently is and will become. It is also not the full responsibility of school to prepare kids for work. Work prepares kids and workers for work.

All that said, there are some forms of work and some types of workers that take their schooling seriously. Whatever they did in school and on paper, they transfer and entrench in work.

I make this claim based on something I experienced this week. I made my way to an insurance company building to settle an administrative matter.

I had called the day before and took about a decade’s worth of paper I had filed away. Despite doing this, I was surprised to learn that I would be issued a cheque. I was told then that I had to bring needed paper copies of banking information (e.g., bank book, bank statement) if I wanted an e-transfer of funds.

I was surprised because 1) I paid premiums by e-banking, 2) the transactions were recorded electronically, 3) I went fully electronic years ago and did not have paper copies of banking documents.

I was told politely but summarily that I would have to bring a bank book or bank statement. When I said that I had electronic versions on my phone, I was told that they needed to be printouts.

This was strange given how the customer service representative was using a laptop and its camera to facilitate all our transactions. Even stranger: I said that I could send an electronic copy over for printing, but I was told that there was no way to receive it.

No way to receive it? Not by wifi or bluetooth or 4G? Not on our personal or work devices? Not to a wireless printer?

I am not alone with this experience. If we stop to think about this, we face this behaviour and detect this mindset every day.

Some work behaviours might change, e.g., retrieving and recording information with mobile devices instead of on paper. But some mindsets do not change, e.g., refusing to think outside the paper box.

So school does prepare kids — and eventually adults — for work. If we do not learn from incidents like the one I shared, it prepares students for the past and increasingly irrelevant forms of work.

We might think of schooling as teaching the prior generation's knowledge so that youth are prepared to communicate on an equal footing with those they are about to join in the economic and civic spheres. -- Robert Pondiscio

Ah, project work in school. High on ideals, low on returns. So low that the tweet below is humorous version of a common response of students.

Good educators also focus on the social skills and metacognition of learners, not just the timelines and final products. But not enough do and that is why this response will persist.

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I am a consultant. If you want my services and we cut to the chase, you need to exchange my time and effort for a fee because that is how I make a living.

Groupie after a talk.

One thing I do quite often is conduct seminars or deliver keynotes. However, the people who try to engage me do not know how much work that entails. They often offer a low honorarium that is suitable for, say, university faculty who already draw regular salaries.

How much is my time and effort worth? To answer that question, you need to know how much time and effort I put into something as basic as a talk.

Here are some things I do just to prepare for a talk:

  • I meet with the organisers to clarify goals and align strategies for the event.
  • I find out about my audience by designing and conducting online polls, conducting focus group interviews, and/or visiting and observing work environments.
  • I jump through administrative hoops and navigate the policy-riddled waters that each opportunity brings.
  • I do my usual daily readings courtesy of RSS feeds and Twitter, but I focus on articles that are serendipitously relevant to the topic.
  • I connect the loose threads that arise from my readings; the results of my polls, interviews, and observations; previous events I have facilitated; and my overall experience.
  • I consolidate and distill wisdoms into an outline for the talk.
  • I fill in information gaps in the content and of the audience by doing more reading and research.
  • I design visually pleasing and provocative slides for sharing online.
  • I create one or more online spaces for my audience to become participants instead.
  • I iteratively reflect and revise the content and method.
  • I rehearse. Over and over. If I make something look effortless, it is only because of the practice.

I do all these three to six months before the event.

On stage.

I take what I do seriously and professionally. The talk is not a hobby or an interesting distraction.

I share this to provide insights into what my time and effort are worth. I will not shortchange you, so please do not shortchange me.

 
It has been a hot month of April in more ways than one. 

I rarely rely on air-conditioning, but I have had to use it several times this month to get a decent night’s sleep. 

I have also enjoyed the most varied work ever since striking out on my own as an education consultant since August 2014. 

In early April, I evaluated the ability of future faculty to facilitate modern learning. Last week I sat with colleagues in what might be called a Board of Examiners meeting. We were bored of examining because the series of learning experiences is unlike anything I have ever been involved in. 

In the middle of April, I delivered a keynote and participated in a panel for the Social Services Institute, the professional development arm of the National Council of Social Services, Singapore. It was wonderful to see a major player wanting to shrug off the shackles of traditional education. 

Not long after that I flew to a conference overseas to facilitate conversations on the flipped classroom vs flipped learning. The strange thing is connecting with Singaporeans there that I could more easily meet at home. 

After returning from my trip, I met with a passionate edu-preneur and professor after we connected via my blog.

Another connection was a result of my keynote. It will take place via one of two Google Hangouts that will bring April to a close. I hope that it will bring more opportunities in the months to come.  

The other Hangout is a result of my flipped learning talk last January at Bett 2015. I am tempted to call it remote mentoring and hope to repeat a strategy I tried at the more recent conference. 

The exceptionally warm weather here is not the norm at this time of year. The variety of work I have had is not the norm either. While I hope the muggy days and nights go away, I do what I can to keep the sizzling work in play.

When Bloomberg posted an article titled Singapore wants kids to skip university: Good luck with that, it was click bait.

How could you not want to find out what Singapore was up to and wonder if such a socio-economic experiment could work?

It has worked elsewhere (i.e., Germany), so the question is not why (we have gone past that thanks to forecasting) and have moved on to how (albeit a bit late).

Bloomberg cited Pasi Sahlberg, who was in Singapore recently for a leadership conference.

“There is a clear international trend in the developed world to make vocational education a true choice for more young people,” said Pasi Sahlberg, a visiting professor at Harvard University’s Graduate School of Education in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

The larger trend among developed countries is a glut in degree holders (too many graduates, not enough jobs) and/or poor fit (universities were not providing what industries needed).

If the USA is any indication, thought leaders are fond of pointing out that we might see the first generation of kids that will not be as well-employed or as financially well off as their parents.

The question is not “Can the non-degree strategy work?” but “How can we make it work?”.

Some changes to the system have already taken root.

Right here in Singapore, I learnt over closed conversations what initially seemed to be a surprising statistic. A top school here revealed that about 60% of its graduating cohort was entering polytechnics by choice instead of by circumstance.

Skills Future was launched this year as was an earn-and-learn programme. The civil service will provide equal opportunities for non-degree and degree holders alike [example].

We are not going to abandon the pursuit of degrees, but the charm offensive of promoting vocational and non-degree jobs has gone beyond rhetoric to implementation.

So far these designs and implementations are the domain of systems designers like politicians and economists. What can parents and teachers do?

Most parents are unlikely to let up on wanting degrees for their kids regardless of whether their offspring need degrees. Parental concern is what they are familiar with: A degree commands a higher starting salary. The thing to realize is that a degree no longer guarantees a job, much less a career.

The other thing to realize is that parental concerns are not their childrens’ concerns. Not immature children, but adults who grow up with more opportunities than their parents and look forward to finding themselves, social enterprise, or doing good for larger causes. And finding realistic answers to the question “Is money really that important?”

The expectations and pressures of the employee today and tomorrow are different from those of yesterday.

Teachers need to take heed and learn to operate outside their bubbles. There are no more single-trajectory careers and no more iron rice bowls.

Curricula are less important than nurturing flexible, adaptable thinkers. Assessment that ultimately leads to a strong degree printed on fancy paper is less important than a portfolio of experiences.

I shared these two images I created with #eduality recently as messages to teachers.

Teachers are in a unique position to shape the mindset of the next generation. But teachers sometimes view the world through the distorted lens that is their classroom bubble.

Teachers cannot afford to teach the way they were taught. If they persist, they do their students a disservice and they sabotage the plans of a nation needing to go forward.


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