Archive for the ‘Education’ Category

According to Professor Gerard Postiglione, the higher education system in China has expanded to widen student access and hence, the next step is to focus on the reformation of university governance and alignment of university teaching to the needs of the workplace .Whilst it is important to up the ante and ensure a high-quality education system in China, we must continue to be mindful,  lest we forget, that the road to granting more student access to a formal education (albeit standardized and not customized and differentiated) is laden with many potholes that require repair even before one should start discussing about paving a new road for a better quality type of higher education.

As recently reported in Channel News Asia on 6 Dec 2011, even in trying to bring universal education and ensuring that every child is given an opportunity to be co-opted into the rat race, the one-size fits all education in China seems to be bringing with it a slew of problems that needs to be addressed urgently. We are talking about the pre-mature loss of lives of young individuals who cannot cope under the strain of the present education system and as a result, many have succumbed to the stress by taking their own lives. While a differentiated kind of learning as suggested by Professor Postiglione seems attractive enough on paper, I doubt it will be high on the agenda of the Chinese government education officials as they may already have too much on their hands to cope.

And granted that certain top universities in China are already setting themselves apart from the rest of the country to build a great system of higher education where freedom and autonomy are their modi operandi, being able to sustain their operations in a very bureaucratic system will certainly pave the way for the second and third tier universities to follow suit. And Professor Postiglione seemed to suggest that fostering quality in this quantity (heavily composed of second and third tier universities) will be the key to turning China’s universities into a driving force of economic development and maintaining the country’s economic ascent and beating the middle-income trap.

Whilst it is all neat and nice on paper, I am questioning the workability of this suggestion as many other issues have not been taken into account when using education as a means to beat the middle-income trap. First of, beating the trap requires not just a quality education system but a complete overhaul of the economic growth model most often used by emerging economies, Second, aspects of equity, equality of access and opportunity, generation of employment and provision of protection to the vulnerable need to be enforced. In a country teeming with a population of 1.4 billion, how does one eradicate or even reduce inequalities along the rich/poor, rural/urban, literate/illiterate, gender and ethnic lines? 

Finally, to plant a foreign institution into home ground to kick start a quality education system is equivalent to allowing a ship to set sail into the horizon without a captain on board, especially in the context of China where academic freedom is curtailed and democracy is unheard of. Since the dictates of running the university on the host ground is governed very much by the culture and political ideology of the host country with the foreign institution pandering to the host since the unspoken but nonetheless real purpose of its existence in the host country is a money-making venture – period, it is indeed an uphill task to build a great education system through these foreign institutions.

With so much talk centred on China and its enviable economic rise, I feel that having a quality education system there only serves to widen the existing gaps, not bridged them. And the repercussions of focusing too much on education as a means to an end will be felt most by the unwilling recipients – the already very tensed, stressed and pressurized students. 


This newspaper is a compilation of all the tweets (#edtech) related to education technology using


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Posted: November 18, 2011 in Education

Research has shown that teacher’s talk dominates 70% of classroom talk (Cook, 2000 ; Chaudron, 1988). Hence, I guess the question is not so much as what is the use of teacher’s talk as is what kind of teacher’s talk is useful. I surmise that it is the kind of talk that makes for comprehensible (not comprehensive) input, the kind that enhances (not controls) learning, and the kind that engages (not disengages) learners.

Comprehensible input from the teacher means that the teacher’s talk is not going over the heads of the students. It means starting at where the students are (could be ground zero for some) and working one’s way to building a schema that is meaningful for and representative of the class.  This is in direct opposition to a comprehensive talk where the teacher wants to finish the curriculum and is moving at ultra-fast speed, leaving the learners far behind.

The kind of teacher’s input that enhances learning would be one where the teacher questions, queries, challenges and displaces the learners’ pre-conceived knowledge of the subject and places them in a position whereby they are forced to think critically and commit themselves to the rigour of searching for and arriving at their own answers. Ironically, the concept of ‘silence’ could be essential here; being silent over a certain issue and not imposing his/her views, the teacher could be inculcating a culture of independent learning. 

Teacher’s talk that engages the learner’s attention are the ones that allow learners to interrupt, comment, ask for clarification, and so on.  Hence, a teacher’s talk is more than mere input from the teacher alone; it is also the distinct art of eliciting open-ended responses from the students, of getting them to talk so that comprehension can be checked and understanding of the subject assessed.

Research has shown that teacher’s talk has a recurring IRF pattern and it is in the F-strand (Nassaji and Wells, 2000) that teachers can exercise the kind of talk that will not only instruct but enhance, engage and expand the students’ space of learning (Tsui 2004).  All in all, I personally feel that a teacher’s talk is of paramount importance since a teacher’s voice is his/her essential realia – an extension of his/her authenticity as a knowledge expert wanting to share, his/her humanity as a communicative being wanting to relate and his/her role as a learner wanting to learn meaningfully in the classroom context. 

In this reflection, I’m not going to take sides. Rather, I would like to start from the end with the beginning in mind and hope to give a different take on this controversial topic by looking at roles, rights and responsibilities.

Clearly, the view that ‘students are customers’ has crept in surreptitiously into the education sector, much to the chagrin of educators. There has been much contempt and dismissal of this notion, especially amongst senior academic staff (Lomas, 2007), to treat ‘students as customers’ since education is viewed as an unique service activity that is markedly different from both business and government.

As I see it, the reluctance to adopt this view is evident of educators’ unwillingless to relinquish power and control in the domains of learning and put the ball back into the court of the students. In quite a myopic way, viewing ‘students as customers’ would mean treating the students as they themselves would like to have been treated as customers – their rights acknowledged and satisfaction fulfilled.

Whilst educators in schools and universities tend to look upon themselves pompously as personalities of free inquiry, free expression, open discovery and dissent, they are often not prepared to walk the talk in real life. In his article, Macfarlane (2011) distinguishes between negative and positive rights vis-à-vis the role of students and academic freedom. If we are prepared to dig a little deeper and ask ourselves honestly how much of the former rights associated with academic freedom have we really accorded to the role of students, the answer would be, not surprisingly, little: Do students really have the freedom of speech to speak up against a curriculum that is shoved down their throat? Can they partake in the decision making process of time-tabling, assessments, review and attendance matters? Are they able to find their own voice in a ‘market’ that constantly drowns theirs with politicized notions of being a globally and environmentally responsible citizen?

In short, the bottom line is that even when students are viewed in their roles as students themselves (as opposed to the role of customers) do the education institutions really provide the conducive environment for them to fulfill the responsibilities that such a student role entails?

And if we look carefully again at the above questions, we would find implicitly embedded within them are the roles, rights and responsibilities of customers. In other words, no, students are not treated as customers even though we would like to think that way. It seems that students are treated more as passive consumers of the information and not as customers of the education process since most of the time, most of them would imbibe whatever is taught to them as gospel truths, unquestioningly follow rules and regulations and unthinkingly accepts their place in the education sector.

So, to conclude, this topic has opened up a Pandora box for me as an educator and I wonder how much of the role, rights and responsibilities of a student would I want to champion and advocate without rocking the boat too much since I myself am now at both ends of the education spectrum – an educator and a student.

This is a great animation video tracing the development of technology since bygone eras. What is telling is that technology has existed since time immemorial, its ubiquity more pronounced now than ever, its influence seeping in and blurring the lines between what is personal and professional.


Whilst its inroad into education remains an indisputable fact, we cannot allow the tool to displace (or replace) the teacher. The teacher resides in the control tower in which he/she is the guide by the side, dispenses instructions and stimulates thinking as the guru, not to the ‘goondu‘ but to a more evolved group of students and shapes learning as the sage on the stage by drawing on the relevance of learning theories from behaviourism, cognitivism and constructivism theorists in the like of Skinner, Briggs, Piaget & Vygotsky. To that end, a teacher’s role in this era is to keep asking these pertinent questions: How did I learn before? How am I learning now? How do my students learn? And when we, as educators, can take a step back from our pre-conceptions and delve deeply into these questions, we may just cross the threshold of the great divide and find ourselves on the other side.

Whilst I fully and wholeheartedly agree with the first three writers’ views and propositions, I envisage one problem that may arise when readers view these articles as ingratiating themselves with the use of technology in the classroom, i.e. seeing humans as beholden to technology. Such interpretations has spawned opinions from people like Marshall (in Hayes, 2004) denouncing technology as hype and many teachers giving technology ‘blanket denials of relevance’. With such titles like “Learning with Technology or Learning from Technology”, the great divide is made more pronounced, the differences perpetuated further. I personally think that we have missed the woods for the trees when we keep segregating technology and education that way. 

Technology has been present since time immemorial – from Stone Age to Print (thanks to Gutenberg) to the more recent ‘Pencil to Pixels’ – and it is ubiquitous. Technology has evolved and progressed but with the kind of debates we’ve been raising about the use of technology in education, it seems, we humans have devolved and regressed.  The onus, on us as educators, is not to ask the question ‘Where is education heading with technology?’ but rather, embrace the question with the answer, ‘With technology, we’ve been going somewhere and now, with emerging technologies, we can start to see where we’re headed.”

Underlying this antagonistic perspective is, perhaps, fear – the fear that technology will take away what was once ours – our jobs as educators, our relationships with students, colleagues, family and friends; the fear that power is wrested from our hands and the computer, not the educator, is in control.  Hence, I feel that technology needs to be put in its rightful place so that we, as educators, can re-claim our rightful roles in the education arena. When one confronts the subject that is feared head on, one’s fear, hopefully, dissipates. What is this rightful place for us educators with regards to technology? Well, I would like to use the terms hardware, headware and heartware to exemplify this.

Grabinger and Dunlap (1995) gravitate to the use of Rich Environments for Active Learning (REALs) that are information-rich, imbued with interactive-learning in order to spur students to dive into the waters of deep learning to discover the gems hidden in their field of enquiry and not tread on the surface of shallowness. Johassen et al (1998) proposed the use of computers as Mindtools to engage learners meaningfully as designers in knowledge production, not reproduction. Churchill (2006), drawing on the constructivism fundamentals espoused by Vygotsky and Piaget proposed a holistic student-centred learning design with technology embedded in its framework. 

All three writers agree that students are knowledge builders and technology facilitates this process of knowledge construction. Hence, technology is seen as the ‘hardware’ that dispenses the information. For the students to assimilate this information and convert the data to knowledge, the set of instructional designs needs to be given thorough ‘headware’ from the person designing it (the educator). To take the writers’ point even further, I might add that with the correct ‘heartware’ input from the educators, students will hopefully be able to convert the knowledge into priceless wisdom – taking what he/she has learned within the boundaries of the school to the borderless world beyond. 

Hence, the relationship between technology and the educator in the 21st century is symbiotic. And when we can embrace technology as an extension of our voice and intelligence in the classroom and evaluate honestly and fearlessly its influence in both our personal and professional lives, then we will be able to effectively harness the limitless potential of this (UN)intelligent tool.