The Big Picture

The Straits Times featured two articles yesterday which pointed towards positive trends regarding the adoption of technology in Singapore schools.

I’m not a cynic, but I’m highly skeptical about the tone of great optimism in both articles.

In the first article, Students Relish Life in the Cutting Edge, the journalist writes:

SUBMITTING assignments in the form of blogs, podcasts and videos and the use of tablet PCs are now commonplace in many classrooms here.

The widespread use of such technology among students is in part a result of the Education Ministry’s Future Schools programme.

One basic argumentative flaw lies in the fact that while the article begins by claiming that submitting different forms of assignments is ‘commonplace in many classrooms’ and promoting our ‘widespread use of technology’, the rest of the article only goes on to talk about a special pilot test programme targeted at five schools in Singapore.

The second article, which makes an even bolder claim, is headlined, “Singapore schools lead the way in tech use.”

This claim is not, of course, groundless as it actually comes from Microsoft vice-president Anthony Salcito. It cites many examples of how schools were supplied with tablet PCs and a whole year’s worth of lessons were uploaded online, allowing for differentiated learning. Most importantly, students involved in the project did well in their examinations and became “confident, self-directed learners”.

Going beyond the obvious flaw of extreme generalisation in both articles (I mean, how many schools actually have school portals enhanced with live messaging features), the articles failed to point out that the examples they cited were primarily pilot test schools, which have a huge amount of support from the Ministry downwards and in a way, they have a vested interest to make the use of technology work and ensure that the money spent on them is not wasted. The results from pilot tests schools are hardly reflective of nation-wide trends of technology use.

From the perspective of an educator, there are too many loopholes or pieces of missing information in these two articles to convince me that Singapore is a leader in technology use for education in our world today.

I’m concerned too that these accolades we earn might result in nation-wide implementation of these technological ‘tools’ without specific consideration of the extremely varying profiles of different schools.

For example, how did the schools measure the correlation between technology use and exam results? Could the improvement be merely because of the use of more engaging methods of learning? What are the profile of these students on whom the pilot test was done? What kind of support and guidelines were given to teachers in their use of technology?

I did find one source of encouragement in these two articles though. It seems to me that technology use is emerging in these schools from sound pedagogical approaches and driven towards helping students cultivate ‘21-st century skills’, like collaborative learning and creativity.

There is mention in second article about how MOE is going to cut down on pen and paper examinations in favour of those which teach team work and creativity. Another encouraging trend and a good idea on paper, but the execution must be carefully thought out and integrated, not added-on, to our current Education system.

I’m all for the use of technology in the classroom and I do want to use some of these tools meaningfully in my classroom next year. Let’s hope I’ll have some positive news to report from my own experiences in school.


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