More interesting education stuff

Two more thought-provoking articles on telegraph.co.uk.

1) Teachers will never keep up with the Internet

This article points out the fundamental misconceptions about how to use technology in the classroom and how technology can enhance education.

The author, Radford, sees integrating technology in education simply as ‘teaching’ students how to join a twitter account or Facebook account or how to make a podcast. This only touches the surface of technology integration is about. Technology integration is not about teaching the youth how to use a technology, but how to use this technology to deliver the skills and content knowledge you want to deliver.

Further down in one of the comments, Dave S writes that “IT is simply a tool, a means of processing and transferring information.” While that is indeed true, this view does not take into consideration how technology has become a means through which people live and see the world around them too. It does not take into consideration the nature of our digital natives, choosing to see IT simply as something external which we use rather than becoming a means thru which we now perceive our world.

I do agree though with what is said about teaching our students about the pitfalls of technology.

I am currently experimenting with the use of Wikis in my language classroom. I have much to say on this, but I’ll leave it for another entry.

 

2) Here’s a really right-wing idea: Learn Poetry

Though this article has a more British national pride ‘slant’ to it, I particularly liked what it said about the value of poetry.

As anyone who loves poetry will testify, when you learn a good poem, you make a good friend. You have a voice that will pop up in your head, whenever you want it, and say something beautiful and consoling and true. A poem can keep you going when you are driving on a lonely motorway, or when you are trapped on some freezing ledge in the Alps, or when you are engaged in any kind of arduous and repetitive physical activity, and need to keep concentration. When some disaster overwhelms you, or when you are feeling unusually cheerful – or when you are experiencing any human feeling whatever – it is amazing how often some line or phrase will swim to the surface and help to articulate your emotions, to intensify them or to console.

I must say that I am not a great consumer of poetry myself, preferring prose to poetry. I admit that I cannot recite any full poem by heart, though fragments from Owens, Shakespeare and Wordsworth and the Bible (also poetry), do resonate from time to time. 

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Was catching up on my Google reader feeds when I chanced upon this article from Telegraph Education: Reading ‘can help reduce stress’.

Apparently, the best way to reduce stress is to lose yourself in the world of a book, which can reduce stress by up to 68%.

I am planning to show this article to my students. Just last week, I asked a random question in class – “Who in this class reads for leisure?” and only 3 hands came up – this is out of a class of 21, so it’s definitely not too bad.

I remember my lit teacher in JC telling us that if we leave JC not having read another book other than our A’ Level literature texts, he would consider himself a failed literature teacher. Just like him, I strongly believe in the importance and value of reading. If only all students read, many of the problems they face with language would be resolved.

Educating the Nation

During my aimless surfing last night, I somehow pounced onto a very interesting topic, which then led me to spend almost 2 hours just reading related articles and concepts. The topic was on the education system in Finland – touted to be the best in the world.

I visited a few websites, but the most valuable resource I felt was this 22 minute audio streaming on BBC’s News Program – “Top of the Class”. It’s rather dated (first broadcast September 2007), but arguably a lot of the ideas inside are still relevant to our school systems now.

The school system has been touted to be the best because more than 60% of the population have a university degree (I went hunting around for statistics at the MOE website and Singapore’s percentage is about 23.6%). The Finns are leading the charts in literacy rates. They have achieved all this while only starting formal schooling only at the age of 7 and kids only spend 4-5 hours to school each day.

Finland – 60% of the population is university educated

All the above statistics did not wow me that much – the most amazing fact for me was the fact that there is only a 4% difference in achievement between the students at the country’s best and worst school. Arguably though, from what I understand, they do not ‘stream’ students into different schools based on their grades,  unlike what happens in Singapore. Singapore could easily reduce the gap between the best and the worst schools if we did not “group” students in schools based on PSLE scores.

A few success factors were highlighted in the BBC audio:

  • Learning through play. Although students do not enter formal education until 7, many of them enter nursery as early as 9 months old. These years are apparently formative for them as they build much of their foundation through nursery and most importantly – they build up confidence. One of the teachers interview remarked that kids leave nurseries with a great sense of self-worth – indeed something lacking in many of our students in Singapore and I can see why there’s a buzz in the past few months over upgrading our preschool education.
  • High quality of teachers. All teachers in Finland have a Masters degree. They do not have a teachers’ training college in Finland. Teachers all have to go through five years at the University to get a Masters degree. Many would argue of course that it’s the passion that counts, but a great case can be made for educating your teachers at a higher level so that they gain greater intellectual independence and creativity, which is ultimately more important than any knowledge gained. Also, unlike Singapore where teaching is frequently seen as a ‘back-up’ job for many, teaching is the most popular job in Finland with only one out of thirty applicants getting the job. I have no idea about the statistics in Singapore, but if someone has them, I would really love to know.
  • Education about individuals, not about the country. Now, this is the point which I found to be the most interesting. At the end of the video, one of the teachers interviewed said that education in Finland is all about the individual – it is about how education can best benefit the individual and grow him. She added, “It is about the individual, not about the country. It is not about getting the best on to develop the country.” There is just something so pure and simple in the kind of education mentioned and something that I can’t really imagine in Singapore too. How this actually takes place in Finnish schools I have no idea, but there is a certain truth that resonated. Need to find out more about this.
  • Expenditure on education. Amazingly – even though the nation’s education is top-ranked, it spends less on education than other nations, including the US and South Korea, which apparently also have one of the better education systems.

After I listened to the audio clip, I was left with more questions than answers, in a very good way. Here are just some:

  1. Measuring an education system by the percentage of the nation entering University. Is this the best measurement of the education system of a nation?
  2. The idea of learning by play. Something we touched on briefly in NIE through game-based learning – how can I bring this into my classroom? Is this effective only for younger learners and not adult learners?
  3. Are our kids spending too much time in school? Given that many top schools are going in the direction of boarding schools – a holistic educational experience – we seem to be driving towards the belief that “more time in school = better education”?
  4. Does education really have to be tied in with nation-building goals or other ‘bigger goals’?

Questions I hope one day I will have the answer to.….

The Voice of Truth

I purchased the DVD for Facing the Giants with KT three weeks ago, but never got down to watching it.

Finally decided it was time to watch it yesterday. I did enjoy the movie and there were many moments which conveyed genuine faith and the journey of a Christian to me. I felt, however, that the movie catered more to a Christian audience than a non-Christian one.

One of the story’s featured characters is a boy named David. He’s someone who loves to play soccer, but the school only has a football (American football) team. He’s much smaller sized than most. His dad encourages him to go on the team to be a kicker – the one responsible for kicking field goals, extra points and kickoffs. He is continually plagued by a sense of inadequacy, feeling that he is unable to kick a goal even before he does it.

His dad tells him – Your beliefs influence your actions.

The movie ended off with this song from Casting Crowns (whom I love) – Voice of Truth and somehow the lyrics just resonated so strongly in my heart after watching the movie and listening to the song.

May the words bring conviction to our hearts that we will learn to listen to the right voice and let that voice influence our actions. 🙂

 

 

Oh, what I would do to have
the kind of faith it takes
To climb out of this boat I’m in
Onto the crashing waves
To step out of my comfort zone
Into the realm of the unknown
Where Jesus is,
And he’s holding out his hand

But the waves are calling out my name
and they laugh at me
Reminding me of all the times
I’ve tried before and failed
The waves they keep on telling me
time and time again
"Boy, you’ll never win,
you’ll never win."

But the voice of truth tells me a different story
the voice of truth says "Do not be afraid!"
and the voice of truth says "This is for my glory"
Out of all the voices calling out to me
I will choose to listen and believe the voice of truth

The Lost Sheep

Rev. Paul Scanlon came down to our church this weekend to share the Word with us.

Rev Paul Scanlon (Abundant Life Ministries)

Photo courtesy of http://alm.org.uk

This name did not strike a chord in me at all and I never realised how ‘close-related’ we were until Pastor Derek shared yesterday that he was from Abundant Life Church, which was in Bradford! It then struck me that this was the church which I really wanted to visit when I was in Leeds, having heard testimonies of its growth and also the programmes that it had. I never had a chance to do so due to my own church commitments there, and to think God arranged it in such a way that I still got a chance to meet him all the way back here in Singapore! God is good indeed.

In his message, which was more like an extended testimony of his church-growth, the main point he was trying to drive home is this –

God is an all-inclusive God; and yet as a church, we are not always an all-inclusive church!

Amen to that indeed!

He shared with us about how his church was experiencing stagnancy because all the people were too comfortable in church. The church consisted of people who were all white and middle-class, with secure jobs and for a long time, it never reached out to those in the community who were ‘different’ from them.

God laid upon Paul Scanlon a desire to reach out to others in his community, in the inner-city. Now, I know what kind of city Bradford is like – and I have heard numerous stories about the kind of people who are there, so I knew perfectly well what he meant when he described the kind of people he was eventually bringing to the church.

He started a bus ministry, where there would be people driving buses around the neighbourhood, bringing those who wanted to come to church to his church. When that began, it started to attract many from the inner-city who were different from the usual church congregation to his church. Many blacks started to attend the church – big-sized, burly looking blacks who looked intimidating, criminals on probation started to come and even transvestites started to come here. The church congregation began to feel uncomfortable – and many started to complain to the pastor about how these people were corrupting ‘our church’ – making it no longer a safe place to be in. Yet Rev. Scanlon held firm in his conviction that the church needs to be an all-inclusive one – it needs to reach out to those who are different, and not just similar to us. We need not be so concerned about protecting our church and truly go out and bring these people who are different into our church.

What an simple yet revelatory message this was to me, and I believe it is a message that speaks to all our church members too.

At the end of the message, Ps. Derek ‘admonished’ the church a little, telling us of incidents where newcomers come and are unable to find a seat because of cell groups booking seats. These newcomers walk around, unable to find a seat, because all have been reserved. When I was on usher duty too, I experienced an unhappy member of the congregation too – who came personally to me to complain about this in a very severe manner, telling me that we really have to change this system of ‘booking seats’ in our church.

However, I felt that this booking of seats matter is simply just touching on the tip of the iceberg of an even more deeply rooted problems in the church. Without going into any details, I have had encounters too, of people being ‘rejected’ in the name of protecting the church. And it has been discouraging.

What Rev. Paul Scanlon shared was so true – Jesus abandoned the 99, to go in search of that 1 – to find that lost sheep, and bring him back.

I took a look again at the parable of the lost sheep and it brought more revelation to me – Luke 15:4-7.

Searching for the lost sheep 

The parable in Luke 15 emphasizes that the man leaves the 99 in the wilderness to go in pursuit of that one which is lost until he finds it. These were the two points that really stood out to me.

The first point is that the man left the 99, well aware of the potential dangers of him going in search of that one. Jesus did not huddle the 99 away safely in a nice pen, ensuring that these 99 sheep will not go astray and then go in search of that one – he left them in the wilderness.

This emphasized to me was the immediacy of Jesus’s action – He sees one sheep lost and in his one minded-focus on that lost sheep, he goes in pursuit of it. His focus was not on ‘protecting’ the ninety-nine sheep, ensuring their safety and preserving them, before finally going out to find that one.

Something else I believe – and this is my own interpretation of the parable and the counsel of God’s word – is that the man was secure that, however astray these 99 sheep went, they would not go as far off as that one which had no direction. In v. 7, it mentions that the 99 had ‘no need for repentance’ – meaning they had turned away from their own ways and were now following God. Regardless of how lost the 99 might have gotten in the wilderness, they now had the Lord to direct them and watch over them, whereas the one did not.

Furthermore, the shepherd not only left the 99 to search for the lost sheep. He went to search for it until it was found. Who knows how long that might have taken? The only thing the man knew was that his effort was immensely worth it. It brought him joy overflowing, such that he went out to the streets to proclaim to all to rejoice with him!

Now it just strikes me – how much of us really have that kind of heart for the lost? How many of us really have that firm conviction that the lost is what God calls us to pursue and how many of us have that similar joy too – that when we find someone lost, our joy overflows.

I need that heart of the shepherd for his lost sheep – that heart of ownership, that heart that celebrates together with Heaven over the finding of the lost sheep – a joy that supersedes anything that the world can give me. This Easter shall indeed be a breakthrough for me!

Building People

Cell group meetings are indeed going from glory to glory. 🙂

Last night, we spoke about the importance of being a people builder – one who takes concrete actions and constructive steps to build those around me. This is indeed a very practical and relevant message for myself, especially as I enter the school – especially as I was faced with that struggle yesterday when one of my students from Vietnam spoke more to me and shared a lot about what he wanted to achieve in life.

 

Building lives

A person who is a people builder has to do the following things:

  1. Give them a personal challenge: Let people know that there is more to life than living for yourself.
  2. Give people complete confidence: Show others that you believe in them. Affirm them with words of encouragement which are real (not phony and contrived), regular (give encouragement all the time), and recognizable (be specific and precise in your affirmation.)
  3. Give them honest counsel: Give people honest feedback which will help them to improve on themselves. Correction done in the right way can build people up.
  4. Give them full credit: Share the credit for any good job done.

Just listening to this message brought conviction to my heart that this is what I need to be doing as a teacher, especially challenging others. Thinking back on my school days, it was really the challenges and affirmations that my teachers gave, that pushed me to become who I was today. I want to be that same kind of teacher to my students.

Similarly in the area of my ministry, I am currently taking charge of a team, as my team leader is now on ministry break. However, I have ended up seeing my role more as an administrator rather than as a leader. I see my job simply as collecting the required forecast and updating the web and when that’s done well, I sit back and relax – but surely there’s more to that! Surely God has placed me in that position not simply to do admin work, but more importantly to build lives. I must take more concrete actions to encourage my ushers, especially to challenge them – as many of them are now in their comfort zone. And I truly hope to see them move one step ahead during my time with them. I shall start by doing something tomorrow!

Let this practice of building people really become something that I integrate into my life such that I become that person of influence to those around me. 🙂

‘Trying’ with the Holy Spirit

The Christians on my dad’s side of the family have banded together recently to have family prayer meetings on the first Thursday of every month. This was something that has been on my heart (the importance of praying) – but it was only when Esther suggested it, that we finally got it moving!

My sister shared a great testimony about her health – about how Pastor Tan shared a month ago that we do need to pray persistently to see breakthrough and ever since she did that, she has been seeing miraculous, dramatic improvements in her monthly check-ups (and I can testify to that too!). Praise the Lord!

The power of persistent prayer

I was supposed to lead the prayer meeting this time, hence I sought the Lord for a Word. As I was reading the Word, these verses just jumped out at me from Acts 16, where the missionaries tried to spread the gospel in different places, but were forbidden by the Holy Spirit. The emphasis for me was on the word tried in Acts 16:7

“After they had come to Mysia, they tried to go into Bithynia, but the Spirit did not permit them.”

They tried, but the Holy Spirit did not permit them.

How many times do we not even reach the trying stage?

How many times do we stop because we claim it’s not the right time? Of course a certain amount of wisdom has to be exercised, but there are times when the Holy Spirit only guides us and moves us after we have tried and there is indeed a value in that trying.

When it comes to reaching out to our families, many of us have tried so many things, done so many things for so many years that there might come a time where we even stop praying, or stop ‘trying’ anymore. Just like what my sister shared, we lose hope, we lose courage because we do not feel that trying is worth it anymore.

Yet as the missionaries of Acts moved with the Holy Spirit. They tried, tried and eventually – a vision appeared to Paul, as they moved by Mysia to Troas, moving down to Phillippi, leading him to meet a woman whose heart the Lord had opened. The Lord brought him to a specific person, through a vision.

There were two important things the Lord impressed on me –

1) We need the Holy Spirit.

2) We need to continue to try.

We need to be BOLD to try, because the Holy Spirit will stop us when we have made a mis-step. This is something I too have experienced in a few areas of my life. It is only when I moved out to try, then I realised which was the wrong path for me and what my next step should be. If I never tried, I would never have known.

This was a word indeed for us in the family prayer meeting. We need to continue reaching out to our families, showing them the love of God, not holding back when we feel we can do more for them to show them the reality of God. And one day, God will bring us that vision, that specific direction, which will lead us to and open up the doors to a great breakthrough. God is good!