Thursday, June 09, 2016

Cut off

What the cutting off of civil service computers from the Interwebs really means is that the Gahmen is tired of providing free surfing privileges for us. Now if we want to surf, we have to pay for it from our own pockets. We buy our own workstations and subscribe to our own mobile hotspots. Guess the era of free Internet is over.

Edit 01:
Except for us in the education fraternity. Phew!

Saturday, May 28, 2016

Standards and expectations

Thankfully, good sense prevails once again. Old Man Cambridge is still front and centre with his guidelines for grading GP essays. We just have be more specific about our expectations per question and grade accordingly. Ok, I can live with that.

Thursday, May 26, 2016

Life got no standard

My thoughts on the 'standardization' of grading GP. Old Man Cambridge has already given us a fine set of guidelines that are a broad-based, flexible instrument that easily scales up and down as the need requires. Any tightening of these guidelines second-guesses the original intentions of the source and ultimately turns our subject into an assembly-line grading system, as the sciences and math have been for a very long time already.

If what we are grading is purely information content, then sure, an assembly-line makes the grading process quick and efficient. A tick here, a cross there, a rubber-stamped numerical assessment made assigning a piece of work into one quality band or another. Answers that are either right or wrong, without wiggle-room for interpretation, with the use of the appropriate formula applied correctly lend themselves to be graded via an algorithm. The math and sciences reign supreme here, some papers being done on an optical sheet and graded by computer even. If it can be done by them, then why can't it be done by us, goes the common sneery criticism.

Very simply, in GP we don't just grade for information content. The bulk of our attention goes into each student's ability to communicate their ideas to us, and communication is by nature a subjective thing. If I, the reader, am able to understand what is being communicated, then great! But that does not mean that my colleague will understand the same piece of work in the same way, or at all. That's because our medium of communication, the English language, is a slippery, imprecise means of transacting ideas, with lots of different interpretations and connotations complicating matters. And Old Man Cambridge's original guidelines are made broad enough to accommodate a general sort-of categorizing. But when we have to decide how 12 marks is different from 13, the endless quibbling effectively renders the point difference moot.

One concern that's been buzzing around is that the kids compare their scores now and wail when they got a particular grade while another who wrote the same thing got another.  We got this whole grading thing wrong. It's because we made every assignment a high-stakes life-or-death survival Hunger Games type deal, so every kid is desperately scrambling for any point he or she can scrape from the bottom of any available empty barrel. When we stop making every assignment such a mercenary concern, the comparisons will stop. Problem solved. But by standardizing GP grading, we are making each assignment even more high-stakes than ever. Promise equality and we will have to live up to it.

Standardizing GP grading goes by the assumption that we are going to get a lot of similar answers. That could very well happen when we emphasize practicing past exam questions ad nauseum; when we base content knowledge on the same set of 'content packages'; and when we prescribe formulaic approaches in response to identified 'question types'. But if I encounter two or more similar answers in GP, my first concern would not be whether they get the same marks or not. My first concern would be that we have a plagiarism issue. Replicating one another's work is not a trait to be encouraged in JC as the kids will get into serious trouble for it when they get to the Uni. So let's please not start a process that will eventually teach the kids the wrongest of values to bring with them to the Uni.

Besides, it's good to have at least one subject graded on a subjective basis. That's life.

Monday, May 16, 2016

Reminiscence 2016

Drama Night 2016 marks the close of performing season. A wild ride, taking on big risks and braving every possibility of a crash 'n burn. But I will continue to say, everyone pitched in and gave their all. I am humbled by and grateful for the amount of faith that carried us through to a successful finale. NYeDC, staff, coach, kids, and alumni, hat's off to you all! Thanks for such a fantastic run!

Friday, April 29, 2016

"The myth of the universality of human rights"

In today's IPS lecture, Ambassador Bilahari Kausikan discussed the myth of the universality of human rights. That is to say, the concept of 'human rights' exists as an ideal we aspire to, but because it is also a mental construct, its application and implementation are very much dependent on context and wide open to interpretation.

I think we know what 'rights' means. The problem is that we can't define 'human' satisfactorily enough because we are too close to the subject matter. Human rights are easier to conceive of when we think of it in terms of the very broadest ways in which we humans differ from one another: the physical, the psychological, and the identity of self. For example, in our national pledge we are all equal 'regardless of race, language or religion'. Whomever we are, we can be identified as human despite of our race, language or religion, and no one is likely to dispute that -- unless our society totally breaks down and we become paranoid and insular.

But when human beings begin to define themselves by increasingly narrow criteria, they run the risk of defining themselves outside of what the majority can roughly agree is identifiably human. If you define your needs as so particular that I don't identify your needs as my needs, then we are going to have a problem agreeing that you have a right to meet those needs of yours.

Minority groups have this problem of getting their particular needs met and recognized by mainstream society. Paradoxically, perhaps the best way to help minorities is to not recognize minority differences at all. Recognizing minority groups legitimizes and therefore draws attention to characteristics of those groups that make them different from everyone else. The more marginal the difference, the less mainstream society is likely to sympathize as whatever need arises from that difference, it really isn't mainstream society's problem to deal with.

It's a two-way street, of course. Mainstream society is just as likely to identify minor differences in certain groups of people and exclude them from the mainstream and the privileges therein, like legal protection, education, opportunities and otherwise a decent way to make a living for oneself. In which case, if mainstream society sees itself as being overrun by minorities, it usually is a self-fulfilling prophecy. Where we see difference, there is difference.

What is a democratically-elected government to do when the people are fractious and tense because differences are everywhere? I guess you start with doing right by the majority of the voters, since your mandate comes from the majority, but make policy such that people are treated fairly across the board within the broad definitions of what we can agree are what makes us all 'human' -- such that we no longer see the differences between 'us' and 'them', and 'they' no longer see how different they are from 'us'.

Too idealistic? Too naive? If we leave dealing with difference at policy level, it means the ground isn't ready to make any meaningful progress where it matters the most. Complying with policy is not the same as making a personal choice at the individual level to extend understanding and support to the people among us.

In the end, perhaps rights can be defined as the privileges we are willing to give up in favour of doing right by the other person. What could make us more human than that?

Thursday, April 28, 2016


Finally, after 8 attempts since I've been with NYeDC, we have achieved a coveted Certificate of Distinction from the big bi-annual youth drama festival.

I shouldn't feel this elated because theatre shouldn't be a competition between productions, but I've learned that it's ok to celebrate an achievement, especially one this long in coming. Every other year I've been cool just to meet expectations, but there's no stopping the rush to have for once exceeded them.

This year's entry was a true collaboration from start to finish. Beginning with a self-written script by one of our members, it was workshopped, tweaked, rewritten and polished in bits and pieces. Everyone helped out, whether onstage, backstage, admin. With Sirius directing and delivering the final script (her first ever!) we were in good hands the whole time.

Feeling very grateful to everyone who pitched in. It's nice to be on top for once. XD

Wednesday, April 27, 2016


Nice to know that I didn't get shredded this morning. It was a presentation to an audience of very experienced cross-department colleagues on a perspective that could have come across as heretical if taken the wrong way. Instead, the audience asked the right kind of questions during the Q&A and was very kind with its feedback. Perhaps the ground is ready for some new ways of thinking?

Personal insight gained: I can diagnose problems and prescribe workable treatments, and maybe I can make a convincing case to my fellow physicians. But what I haven't yet learned is how to make the patients take their medicine.