Saturday, January 19, 2008

Our industry is still getting criticism for someone's poor choice of words in advising some kids about their academic options. Now it's about the tone adopted in conveying the message as being demoralizing, discouraging and disparaging, instead of being encouraging and uplifting. The kids should have been inspired to work harder to achieve their 'O's, they say, not crushed underfoot at the beginning of the year, fresh after their success at the 'N's.

It's a dilemma, really. In our profession, we know that the next level is a tremendous leap from the previous. To paint a rose-tinted picture of what lies ahead for our kids can be misleading, especially if the kids, in their post-challenge euphoric state, choose to hear only the good stuff. To point out frankly the risks, dangers and pitfalls of the road ahead can, as seems to be the case, make the way forward insurmountable. And to try to balance between the two sort of waters down the message, and an unskilled orator will just appear to be babbling contradictory nonsense of the kind I spout all the time.

But, honestly, when taking up a new challenge, we don't usually expect to breeze through it easily. Taking up a new challenge is an informed decision on our part, not simply a matter of process. It takes a struggle and a fight to overcome our latest challenge, and though it would be nice, our previous success seldom adequately prepares us for the task at hand. It's best to know what we're in for rather than just jumping in blindly thinking it'll be no problem. After all, being forewarned is being forearmed.

We learn on the job while we're doing it, not while we're resting on our laurels. And on the job, whatever the job, the reality is that people won't always say what we want to hear. So if we're going to become so easily "shattered" at the first obstacle, say a vocal Supervisor who may be more draconian than inspirational, that's not a very strong indication of our commitment to the cause, is it?

As for the kids affected, I'd say they showed some gumption -- enough to cause a ruckus amidst kopitiam talk about how the education system is going to the pits -- but I'd respect them more if they'd just had enough gumption to determine to prove their advice wrong. Instead of hitting the books, they hit the streets, making a Roman spectacle of their situation. I'm sure that'll help their 'O' level ambitions no end.

The key questions everyone's missing are these:
Are they still enrolled to take the 'O's? If they still are, then their wishes are being respected.
Have they been advised of their options and the consequences of their choice? Evidently. Pretty much the whole newspaper-reading population of S'pore also knows now.
Are they prepared to bear the consequences of their decision? Ah, that's up to them, isn't it?

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Our industry has tried to open many more routes to "success" today than was available to me when I took my 'O' Levels. Our people, however, are still locked into the view that the traditional Cambridge route is the only acceptable one.

Our ITEs still have a horrible rep among our parents and concerned constituents. This despite the makeovers these vocational institutions have undergone in recent years. As I've observed before, their campuses have facilities comparable to our current JCs. Their curricula are just as rigorous, even if the content focus is more practically tuned. If ITE students don't study they flunk out, just as students in other institutions do. Trust me, I know about this first hand -- and that was before the makeovers.

The P who "advised" her Sec 5 cohort to apply directly to ITE instead may have been insensitive in her delivery, but the real damage to the kids' morale has been done by all the people who wrote in to the press to complain how wrong she was to give such advice. As unwilling as the P seemed to give her kids a chance at the 'O's, the public is just as unwilling to give the ITE path a chance to succeed as a viable alternative route to education. Thus, instead of having more doors opened to them, all the more the kids will feel that they've been hung out to dry in a society that gives no respect to ITE grads.

We have to wonder what exactly the people who have had their gripes published in the news really want. They tear down the scholars who did well in school for not understanding the plight of their less able compatriots, but they are also tearing down the systems that at least try to do something for the underachievers as well. Perhaps mediocrity really does crave company.

Check out the comments of people who have an axe to grind here. Don't know how long the link will last, so get it while it's hot!

Looks like the argument has balanced itself a little since I last looked... a little.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

My seniors are overwhelmingly interested in my next level of career development. I've been getting advice, encouragement, portfolio samplers and additional materials from them in the last few weeks, ever since I inquired about what's next.

Lazy slob that I am, I'm not really inclined to much thought beyond my next meal. But knowing that people believe in me and are supporting me in this, the prospect has become a lot more exciting. In gaming, we call this process "levelling up"; in reality, forward movement actually does mean something more than just a bunch of pixel enhancements on an LCD screen.

Let's get something clear. It isn't about mo' clout or mo' money, though they're nice too. What gets my juices flowing is that I can define on my own terms what area of specialization I want to develop in. By so doing, I could find myself right on the cutting edge of the industry where all the exciting things are happening, where few people understand precisely what is going on and what it all means.

Here's my problem: the above paragraph is probably gibberish to anyone living outside my brain. I know what I want, but I haven't yet found the words to describe it to anyone else. Well, that doesn't mean I won't try. Here goes:

This afternoon, I was sourcing materials for use in class. I was looking for video clips about future technology to inspire the kids in their small group research project. Many of the clips I looked at posed questions about the adequacy of our current education system in meeting the needs of the 21st century. Other clips showed off the capabilities of current developments in technology and projected their applications in the years ahead.

I realized that what the future promised was already what I was doing, only faster, more streamlined, seamless, portable and invisible. Gathering a wealth of information today is already quite easy. Search engines are fast and getting more reliable, streaming video is comparatively lo-res but already quite watchable. Information is still manipulated through mediated interface i/o systems (i.e., physical keyboard-mouse-monitor combinations), but we have solid platforms for social and collaborative networking.

The capabilities of intelligence wizardry we have already. A 'net search yields material we ask for, plus other possibly related material as well. A video clip contains expert opinions and projections from named interviewees. If we pause the video and search the names onscreen, we easily find information about them; their credentials; other works they have done; the organization they work for and its field of business/research... ad infinitum, almost. Depending on how curious we are, our minds can wander as far as our fingers are able to type and click.

The learning potential of our existing everyday technology is aready quite awesome, if we know how to use it properly. The future promises learning that will be a lot more intuitive, perhaps even unconscious, in the way that the individual mind and our collective human consciousness will be able to intertwine and interact with each other.

I think I know what I want now. My niche will not be for any particular subject. I want to teach people to use the technology of the day to teach themselves according to their own needs and interests. Perhaps I might have to phrase that in more academic terms if I want to be taken seriously.

Other than that, there's the mundane stuff of having to put together a portfolio spanning the last three years (current year inclusive) of stuff I've been doing as a JC tutor. Now, that will deserve an entry or more on its own.

Somewhere in here is the closest thing I'll ever get to a new year's resolution. Wish me fair winds and good fortune!

Monday, January 14, 2008

Just read about Oscar Peterson's passing (which happened in mid-December). He was Chancellor of York U when I graduated in 1991. At my convocation ceremony, I discovered to my horror that underneath my gown I was the most inappropriately dressed of my fellow grads. Everyone else was in a suit and tie, proper shoes; or in a dress gown if female. I was in a t-shirt and jeans, sneakers, and for the occasion, a light jacket. Apparently, I didn't get the memo.

As I stepped up on stage to receive my scroll, the Chancellor, seated on his throne or whatever they call that big chair reserved for the big kahuna, made eye-contact with me. His eyebrows shot up. Immediately, he rose and strode briskly over, intercepting me at the point where I had the scroll placed in my clammy, nervous hands. He gave me a firm handshake and with a broad smile on his face, returned to his seat like as if I had made his day. More likely, I won him a bet.

I think that incident had a lot to do with my educational philosophy as it stands today. Thanks, Oscar. We made contact for just a second or two, but I'll miss you.

The music in heaven has just got better! Yahoo! video clip here.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

That we aren't neighbourly to our neighbours kinda' hits home in today's ST article. Our front door is locked tight, though it would seriously improve the air flow in our flat if it were kept open. When I come home, I try to make it a point not to share the lift with anyone, and all the more so when I go out. Neighbour makes for the lift, I make for the stairs; anything to avoid making contact with anyone I should at least be familiar with. (Note that I'm speaking for myself 'cos I don't think June is as pathologically paranoid as me).

"A man's home is his castle". It's where we feel safest, freest to indulge in our own excesses without having to keep up appearances for the sake of harmonious living with the rest of humanity. Outside the home, it's all propriety, sobriety, and hard work pretending that I know what's going on and what I'm doing at all times. The social fraud shows through the cracks sometimes, although generally, we're quite good at the cover up game. But at home, I can be the lazy slob that I am, watchin' too much TV, gaming, surfin' and attempting the other 6 deadly sins. Honestly, who's to say I can't?

Being neighbourly literally opens the door to much unwelcome intrusion. The social masks come on again and while I'm grinning and making small talk, my eyeballs are anchored in place, doing their darndnest not to roll, and the little voice in the back of my mind is going, "C'mon! Heroes is starting already!"

It's easier to be friendly with people outside. It's quite legitimate to get rid of them by saying I have to go home. What excuse is there to toss out the neighbour since we're both technically at "home" already? And usually, there isn't just one neighbour, their kids are part of the package too. I don't want to be a meanie, so I avoid situations that may potentially force my hand.

That's not to say I won't help out in the neighbourhood if there is a real need. If there's an emergency or something, then of course making contact is the necessary and humane thing to do. But other than that, I'll be in my room.

So if I died in my own house, would anyone know? Would anyone care? Perhaps not among the neighbours, but hopefully, my friends outside will call the cops before the smell gets too bad.