Tag Archives: instruction

José Weinstein on systemic change in Chile

This month, the Lead the Change Series features an interview with José Weinstein, professor at Universidad Diego Portales and formerly Deputy Minister of Education and then Minister of Culture in Chile. Weinstein talks about the need to engage the entire system in Chile in focusing on improving practice in the classroom. In the process, he expands on many of the issues we touched on last October including the recent proposals for system-wide change in Chile and efforts to strengthen teacher education and the teaching profession. Weinstein describes as well the key role that principals may play in this transformation, arguing that the Latin American context requires an “orchestrating leader” whose responsibilities include but go beyond those of the “instructional leader” that is the focus of work on educational leadership in the US and the UK. He also offers several different hypotheses that help to explain some of the positive developments in the Chilean education system and the significant dissatisfaction that has contributed to violent protests. As he concludes: “Chile will have to create its own path to continue its educational progress, taking ownership of the dark sides of its development but without losing sight of what has been accomplished. In the coming years, teachers and principals will have to be the key protagonists of education improvement in Chile.”

Thomas Hatch

How does one of the top-performing countries in the world think about technology?

The following post was written by Sarah Butrymowicz and originally published on The Hechinger Report.

Going ‘at your own pace’ isn’t part of the equation in Singapore

SINGAPORE—Forty students in bright yellow shirts hunched over their computers in Singapore’s Crescent Girls School as they raced against their teacher’s digital stopwatch. They had just a few minutes to add their thoughts about a short film on discrimination into a shared Google Doc and browse the opinions of their classmates.

When the time was up, their teacher led a discussion about the meaning of discrimination and how to judge the credibility of an argument. The computers sat mostly forgotten.

“The technology just fades away, and that’s what we hope for it to do,” said principal Ng Chen Kee.

crescent21

Students at Crescent Girls School in Singapore discuss conflict and discrimination in groups while working on a shared Google Doc. (Photo: Sarah Butrymowicz)

Crescent Girls has plenty of flashy gadgets, but balances those with these more subtle exercises in a way that’s emblematic of how Singapore tries to approach education technology. Glitzy tech that serves no purpose other than being cool is frowned upon. In classrooms in Singapore, digital devices are increasingly viewed as a means to bring students together in collaboration, rather than separate them further.

In contrast, American students who have tools like tablets and computers in the classroom often use them in isolation, powering through interactive worksheets and online quizzes. Indeed, technology’s main purpose often seems to be giving students personalized learning paths and a way to progress at their own pace.

In part, it’s because online learning in America grew out of a push to move away from rigid requirements of the number of hours a student should spend on a subject in favor of allowing them to move on once a concept is mastered. “That’s where the conversation started within the U.S.,” said Allison Powell, a vice president at the International Association for K-12 Online Learning (iNacol). “In a lot of other places, it wasn’t about taking an individual online course. It was ‘Let’s integrate it into the classroom.’”

Singapore has been one of the highest performing countries on international assessments for decades, while the United States remains stuck below the top performers. Investments in education technology have been a key part of Singapore’s national plan for two decades and have been cited by some experts as a reason that the country has so much academic success.

Singapore, South Korea and Uruguay were praised by Richard Culatta, director of the United States Department of Education office of educational technology, as global leaders in technology in the classroom. “These are impressive places and they didn’t get there because they randomly decided to do it. These are countries that have not taken their eye off the ball,” he said. “There’s a point where if we’re going to remain competitive globally, we need to make sure we’re keeping up.”

In the late 1990s, the Singapore Ministry of Education unveiled its master plan for technology. The first phase was spent building up infrastructure and getting computers into schools. In the 2000s, in phases two and three, the ministry focused on training teachers in how to use gadgets and identifying schools to experiment with new innovations.

The Ministry of Education would not provide information on how much money it had spent on these initiatives, but in a presentation for the World Bank, said phase one had cost $2 billion over five years and phase two $600 million over three years. In 2010, the Ministry of Education committed another $610 million over eight years for technology in schools, according to the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO).

Crescent Girls School was selected in 2008 to be one of these so-called FutureSchools. With extra money from the Ministry and support from the National Institute of Education (NIE), Singapore’s teacher training university, these eight schools must develop and trial new types of technology. If they work, the plan is to spread them to other schools.

History teachers at Hwa Chong Institution are working to create new social media platforms for students to share reflections. Students at Canberra Primary School visit a 4D immersive lab in groups to learn about different environments, like the rainforest.  Crescent Girls has developed the “digital trails” platform, where students and teachers make interactive maps by adding text, photos and videos. The school also has a room full of touch-screen tables, loaded with games and applications to prompt discussion and teamwork. In one, four students, each with a different responsibility, must use geometry concepts to protect a submarine from enemies.

A student at Marsling Secondary School in Singapore navigates around a virtual environment for the first time. His teachers plan to make a digital gallery for the students to show case designs and comment on each other’s work. (Photo: Sarah Butrymowicz)

A student at Marsling Secondary School in Singapore navigates around a virtual environment for the first time. His teachers plan to make a digital gallery for the students to show case designs and comment on each other’s work. (Photo: Sarah Butrymowicz)

Beyond the FutureSchools, the Ministry is also bankrolling other tech endeavors for schools. Researcher Kenneth Lim has set up a lab at the NIE where he’ll design custom immersive virtual environments for any lesson teachers want, such as a lesson on perspective in an art class or one on water shortages in geography.

The worlds are designed to be incomplete and act as a virtual workbook, where students can try to fill in the blanks. They wander around with their avatars, talking to classmates in person and online. “Their whole threat level is lowered,” Lim said. “They make mistakes.”

Singapore is trying to move beyond the much-criticized culture of high-pressure testing and studying by memorization here and in many other Asian countries. That’s why officials are focusing on soft skills, like collaboration and confidence. Technology, like Lim’s work, is becoming a popular way to allow students to learn by exploring without worrying about the consequences of failure.

On a January morning, Lim and his team helped eighth graders in a Design and Technology class at Marsiling Secondary School enter their virtual world for the first time and practice drawing basic shapes. The end goal was create a gallery that would allow students to comment and help each other on their work.

It’s the first major technological project the school has undertaken, and as Principal Foong Lai Leong stood in the corner watching, she was trying to think of other courses that might benefit from some digital lessons. Science and art, definitely, she decided. Maybe even certain topics in math.

There’s no pressure from the Ministry of Education to use technology for any particular subject or in any way. It is encouraged, but always with a reminder to “be wise, be judicious,” said Ng Pak Tee, an associate dean at the NIE. “It should not be a teacher looking at a technology saying, ‘Wow.’”

This careful and deliberate introduction of digital devices into the classroom sets Singapore apart from many places in America. While some districts or schools have rolled out programs thoughtfully, they’re still the minority, Powell said. “I get calls from superintendents and principals on a daily basis [saying], ‘I went out and bought 500 iPads. Now what do I do?”

Scanning the globe

Photo by Dao Ngoc Thach

Photo by Dao Ngoc Thach

Several reports over the past month highlight the variety of causes that are blamed for failures to improve educational performance around the world. This short scan of reports focusing on issues like school quality and test-score performance, reveals typical concerns about teacher training and teacher quality, questions about the language of instruction and equality of education, as well as questions about the choices policymakers have made and the “policy churn” that can undermine implementation.
 

School Quality

Earlier this year in Sweden, 11,000 students were left without a school to attend when the private education firm that operated it went bankrupt. According to an article published online by Reuters, additional concerns raised about the quality of education in these schools led the opposition Green Party, a long-term proponent of school choice, to issue a public apology in a Swedish newspaper, with the headline: “Forgive us, our policy led our schools astray.”

In Vietnam, concerns have been expressed over the quality of care and education children receive in privately operated preschools. Referring to the government policy to privatize education as a failure, thanhniennews.com writes that limits placed on the growth of public preschool facilities has allowed private preschools “of dubious quality to mushroom.” Another article, posted on Vietnam.net, points out the additional problem of inadequate teacher training in provincial and privately operated preschools.

Test-Score Performance

In Malaysia, we see a debate over the cause of the decline of TIMSS scores. The World Bank released a report that found the decline to be caused by the switch in the language of instruction from Bahasa Malaysia to English. However, an article in The Malay Mail online cites the Parent Action Group for Education (PAGE), for pointing out that in 2007 (the year scores declined sharply), the students had yet to receive their instruction in English. Instead, PAGE attributed the decline to the poor quality of teachers and insufficient teaching hours. The Education Ministry announced plans to form a panel to investigate Malaysian students’ decline in performance.

Finnbay.com reports that Krista Kiuru, Finland‘s Minister of Education and Science, has allocated €22.5 million in state aid to promote equality in education for the period 2014-2015 to regain Finland’s top seat in PISA. “Success of Finnish education in international comparisons must be regained by having educational equality and non-discrimination,” said Kiuru.

Educational Improvement and “Policy Churn”

Despite declines in New Zealand students’ test scores, The Otago Daily Times reports that Education Minister Hekia Parata will not do anything differently. Parata attributes the slide to 10 years of a changing education system and not its controversial National Standards assessments, or a lack of school funding. According to Parata, Andreas Schleicher, Deputy Director for Education and Skills and Special Advisor on Education Policy to the OECD’s Secretary-General, has assured her that the country is already doing “what they recommend should be done when you want a whole of system change.”

The Nation has reported that the recent political upheaval in Thailand could mean that the sweeping curriculum-based overhaul of the education system might not come to fruition. The country had planned radical changes, such as decreasing the number of school hours for primary students from 800 to 600 per year, and requiring that students learn outside of the classroom for up to 400 hours per year. In addition, the Pheu Thai party’s controversial, yet “much-touted election policy” called the One Tablet PC Per Child Project, might not be implemented. Other policies at risk of being shelved include changes to the university admission system, promotion of vocational education, and the ongoing effort to improve Thailand’s international educational ranking.