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Sunday, September 25, 2011

Reviewing the System of Assessing Schools

Not too long ago, I wrote a petition to the Education Minister. See here. Around that time, hundreds (or maybe thousands) of other parents also wrote in to give their views to the Education Minister. Some initiatives on Facebook even went viral. Then, nothing happened for a few months...

Till yesterday.

The MOE has unveiled plans to set up a Character & Citizenship Unit, an extra rudder to reposition the attention of educators on character building. Also, the MOE will review the manner in which schools are assessed. There were few details but I understood that the crux of this review would be to (1) reduce inter-school competition and, (2) free up Teachers' time from doing all the administrative work required to apply and qualify for MOE awards, just so that they could get more funding for school activities.

At present, teaching is inadequate in many schools. Little Boy's Chinese Language Teacher does not provide model compositions, nor any substantial materials on tackling Chinese Oral. I don't see any attempt to TEACH Chinese compo writing because I don't see any notes, glossary lists nor model compositions. Worse still, compo writing is a skill. It can only be learnt through skills practice, and it is not often that the Teacher requires Little Boy to do Chinese compos for practice. It seemed to me that the CL Teacher's role was to teach to the CL textbook (wherein the language used is way easier than what Little Boy has to write to even pass his compo writing tests)... mark and grade for gap diagnosis. It was then up to parents to analyze the gaps and then to - see my valiant efforts here (1) source for adequate learning materials (since the school textbooks are useless - see blogpost here), (2) source for external teaching professionals or (3) attend parent workshops to learn how to teach.

So, I was bitterly amused when I read in today's papers that parents nowadays have to resort to paying hundreds of dollars to learn how to teach their children. Of course, no one disputes that parents need to be partners in a child's education. But any partnership can turn exploitative if one is not careful. The way I see it, whilst schools were busy chasing MOE awards, deploying and promoting teaching talent adept at the tasks of refining school processes and writing award application reports... the schools forgot to teach, and they looked to their parent partners and gave over to the parent partners more and more of the teaching load. Desperate parents with full-time jobs turned to the tuition industry. Desperate parents without fulltime jobs went to class to learn how to teach.

Schools partner parents. Whilst schools used Teacher time to chase awards... parent partners are left to do the teaching? Hopefully, in reviewing the way schools are assessed, schools will begin to deploy teacher time to teaching, and no more award chasing.

Now, it is untrue to say that all schools don't teach adequately. I have seen Chongfu Primary's excellent resources (1cm thick just for CL Oral alone). I have seen another 1cm stack from Qihua Primary. I have seen model Chinese compositions from Nanyang Primary School - 54 different ones. I need to activate personal relationships or pay for these materials. And I have been told NOT to share them in order to respect the copyright of the schools. And I won't share them for fear that these very same people will refuse in future to further share their resources with me.

I have become a sort of educational material drug addict waiting for my next fix of needed educational materials, and afraid they won't come... even if I had the money to buy them. I'm not selfish, but I WILL NOT share the materials I have because I WON'T RISK offending my supplier.

This makes salient another disadvantage of the MOE awards and assessment system. Schools try to outcompete each other. School developed materials are sometimes marked Confidential (Not to Be Shared). This is terrible because when textbooks are useless, the children need something else to learn from. A bright and motivated child in a school that DOES NOT develop any educational aids cannot do well.

Little Boy has a mother who goes to great lengths to procure high quality materials. Else, Little Boy too would fail too, even though he has more than the average aptitude for scholastic achievement. How much talent are we wasting across the nation... children whose parents have not the resources (time and money) to procure such materials.

Clearly, the cut-throat competition for funding (tied to MOE awards) has resulted in what management speak terms "Sub-Unit Optimisation causing Whole Unit Sub-Optimisation". This is another way of saying that when your liver competes with and outperforms your stomach, your whole person experiences the discomfort of heartburn. When the different components of a whole organisation compete instead of collaborate, then the whole organisation can underperform. Can you imagine if every Police Division competed with each other to solve crime? If info were needed from another Police Division to solve crime in this one, and the other denied access to such info to win over the first... how effective would the whole Police Force be at solving crime?

The way I see it, it is absolutely WONDERFUL that someone in MOE put his/her finger on a high leverage point of change - review the way schools are assessed so as to (1) reduce inter-school competition and (2) free up Teachers' time. Press this one button, and MANY things will happen. No one but someone really smart, very insightful and very familiar with MOE would have been able to find this point of high leverage. The challenge now is to press this button right, so that the right behaviors are incentivised and at the right dosage too... 'cos it wouldn't do to NOT have any competition at all.

All in all, I feel listened to... and heard. My very first attempt at giving feedback coherently, cogently and passionately to the government has been a largely positive one. MOE got in touch with me, talked to me and still keeps in touch. And this only goes to show that our government is sincere about understanding the needs of the commonfolk.

However, I still worry. I am worried that Teachers have got a taste of how good it feels to divest their teaching responsibilities onto parent shoulders... and that this habit will be hard to break? What the MOE unveiled in this year's MOE Work Plan Seminar is a good plan. But the implementation is still what counts.

I do wonder too... if it would be a good idea to have an MOE online freeware resource. Teachers upload the materials they write. MOE pays them a little extra for each download. Those who write good and excellent materials will get more rewards because the market is discerning and word of mouth is powerful and quick to respond to changes. In this way, the useless textbooks can be altogether retired (because most of them look like chick lit magazines anyway - glossy pictures and little content) and the whole educational materials resources system is responsive to exam requirements. Also, Teachers don't need to resign to make more money as private assessment book writers... and private tutors. More importantly, bright students across the nation have EQUAL access to high quality educational resources. The problem of unequal access to high quality teaching and learning resources is important to fix. Else, there will be talent wastage. Bright and hardworking children like Little Boy (without parents or parents with resources) will fail like my son did before I intervened... and the nation will see more and more talent wastage.

Just an idea.


Fresh Fry aka 福星 said...

tis resource-sharing loophole was highlighted after 9-11.

it appeared that various intelligence agencies in US failed to work together when there're many indicators of terrorist attacks on that day surfaced. they're too busy safe-guarding THEIR info instead of sharing and working together to prevent the blow-out.

which it did blew.

then a few heads rolled and the whole system overhauled (as reported in the papers) but we dunno. men-on-the-streets won't know if things really changed, but only those in the web.....

petunialee said...

Ah Fry! Thanks for sharing! I did read something about that in Time Magazine or somewhere... but it completely slipped my mind. You seem to have some interest in Police... security work?

Fresh Fry aka 福星 said...

i was in the police force. hehehe.....but got myself discharged when i got injured in training. dislocated knee. got free medical + physio from our gahmen for half a year, while not training (impact ones) + drawing a salary.

not bad at all. hehehehe.....

and my 15-year pre-u buddy is in the force too. heh. oh, my old man is a small police dude also, been one for about 40 years. he was at 1 time, the bodyguard of LKY in istana + knows the kids very well. hehehe.....when he went for the wake of mrs LKY, he went up to LHL, asked if he remembers him.

(my old man can be rather gungho sometimes)

LHL remembers him! hahahahahahahahahahahahaha.....

petunialee said...

Whoa Ah Fry has friends in high places!!

Fresh Fry aka 福星 said...

not at all! my old man + LHL only chatted briefly in the wake, he ain't a sociable dude at all. my old man, i meant. hahahahaha.....

Felice said...

very interesting 'sharing' lesson to share !! years ago, my kid's tuition teacher made her promise 3 times NOT to share
the notes that he gave her for revision..and she did not understand
WHY and asked her mum. Her mum being non-local also did not understand WHY
can not share the notes with others ..
Her mother asked the tuition teacher
and he could not understand WHY she
she did not understand WHY because he
said since i paid for a master degree Maths teacher like him, his
notes were different, if my kid shared with others (who did not pay) that would be a disadvantage to her when others can perform better than her !!!!!!!!!!!!
He thought i would be MOST APPRECIATIVE and thank him for being enlighten by such common sense as he put it..that i was lacking..?? hahaha..He felt most
embarrassed when my reaction was;
" oh, GOOD FOR THEM if the others can get better marks than my kids..
that is alright for US..."
when i went back to my Ulu home town and shared this with my mum who
read "CONFUCIOUS' advised me to CHANGE the tuition teacher..She did
not like this TEACHER to corrupt the mind of my young kid.
Until NOW, i still can not get over
the fact that a TEACHER 'EDUCATE' a kid the'SELFISH' lesson at my HOME...well, he was given an extra
month- bonus but his service was no
longer required !!

petunialee said...

Felice - Wow! Hats off to you!! I dare not offend the Teacher. I might need her services again.

Felice said...

well, i do not wish my kid to read the eulogy in my funeral that her mother taught her'selfish' lesson..
that others blasted her for lack of good upbringing/teachings from her ..Remember the chinese saying' mie chio yang !' Malay say' kurang ajar'.
My late mother always told this ironic story of a child who landed in jail .. bit off his old mother's nipple and she screamed ' why? son, i love you SO MUCH..why do you do this to me...' The poor son replied'oh, mum, YOU DID NOT LOVE ME, IF YOU REALLY HAVE LOVED ME, YOU WILL TEACH ME THE GOOD VALUES..
when i was young.. otherwise, i will not be in jail.. you did not right the wrongs i did, I DID NOT
LEARN what is right from wrong..
see, the next door ah seng whose mum always beat him up whenever we both were naughty but you always told me it is ok, it is ok...
oh, mum, i hate you for LOVING me wrongly..i wish you had beaten me like ah seng mum did..'
any comment ??


petunialee said...

Felice - Hats off to you again!! Well done!!