The Way of the New World

Posted: January 28, 2012 in Life

The onslaught of the digital revolution has its fair share of bloodbath. The most recent victim is Eastman Kodak company, founded on a simple slogan, “you press the button, we do the rest,”. George Eastman put the first simple handheld camera into the hands of consumers in 1888, simplifying a cumbersome and complicated process, making it easy to use and accessible to nearly everyone. Yet, it’s with profound sadness that we have to witness the very digital world that have ridden on the crest of success of its forefathers and that should have at least stayed gratuitously beholden to Kodak for having paved the way in the world of photography, has helped to hasten its demise. Indeed, in the pursuit of another technological breakthrough, the new world order is relentless and merciless in threshing the harvest. The chaff must be sifted from the wheat; the irrelevant cast aside; the value-less buried.

I remember my Kodak photos with fondness – the distinctive gold backprint that is an embossment of pride that my Kodak moments are made of Kodak paper. I remember too the advertising campaign that Kodak released in the mid-70s, receiving a lot of air time and catapulting to fame the song ‘Times of Your Life’ and reviving Paul Anka’s career in the process. I guess that tells the tale. It’s not a picture-perfect tale that will be remembered for the inroads that Kodak has made for the world of photography; nor will it be the poignant Kodak moment tale that will be remembered for its 130 years of contribution in the history of photography. Sadly, in the way of the new world, it will be a tale of ‘Gone in a flash’, ‘Kodak pays for missing the digital moment’ and ‘The last Kodak moment’.

For all that’s worth and in an almost ironic way, I’m immortalising those Kodak moments in a digital archive to help me savour the inexplicably beautiful moments that film photography has contributed to my life.

Acknowledgements: The video is created by a friend of a friend, Robert Wesley Seng.

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. 

Reading Kwo’s and Bray’s article, I’m of the opinion that the formal education system has unwittingly brought upon itself this parasitic shadow of private supplementary tutoring. When the focus of learning has heavily relied on examinations and assessments, can we blame the parents for turning to private tuition to ensure their children pass and advance to the next level? When the focus in education has shifted from providing quality, higher order critical and creative thinking skills to one in which teachers are teaching to test, can we blame the parents for perpetuating the trend of sending their children to tuition centers because they do not want their children to fail and be left behind?

Hence, as they so accurately concluded in their article, ‘schools need to consider why parents are sending their children to tutorial institutions’. I believe that schools (or even higher institutions of learning) in its quest to progress and innovate, has lost sight of its primary mandate and thus, has to re-think again its primary role so as to justify its existence. Perhaps, going back to basics needn’t be so bad after all if clarity of purpose as to what we are educating for is attained.

Additionally, I am also of the view that schools should study ‘what the pupils gain in those institutions that the schools themselves are not providing’ or in my opinion, over-providing (e.g. the constant stress on achieving certain learning outcomes and attaining a certain Grade Point Average, the constant droning of chalk and board talk by not very inspiring teachers etc.).

While schools have caught up with the use of technology and introduce it to the classrooms, I am not too sure if this will tame the beast of ‘private and supplementary tuition’. Students enjoy socializing with their peers via social media like Facebook, gaming in various formats, and even reading and blogging when done for personal, communicative effects. But, typically, when these tools of learning are introduced into the lessons, they often fail to invigorate the interest of the students with the latter often becoming indifferent and skeptical, as though their only private space outside of school has been invaded.

I believe a deeper analysis of why students like and do not like schools should be carried out to better inform decisions on whether learning can be reinvigorated to align with their likes and dislikes.

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

 

The Men, They Don’t Get it!

Posted: November 19, 2011 in Life

Ashton Kutcher probably didn’t appreciate it. And the truth of the matter is that many men probably don’t. No matter because by the time a woman matures and comes of age, she doesn’t really need the endorsement of man, or anyone, for that matter!

What she needs is the confidence that she has something special to contribute that younger women don’t. She has the years to show, not on her face but on the lines of well-crafted words coated with pearls of wisdom that only age and experience can afford. As a woman gets older and rests more in the confidence that her gifts are unique, she radiates a more alluring attractiveness, not by slapping on dollops of La Prairie, but by standing on her convictions as a mother, daughter, wife, woman and friend.

As a woman gets older, she comes as a wholesome package where her mental, physical and emotional states are integrated holistically and where she takes time to triangulate the three, dividing her attention equally to nurture the trio. And in so doing, she exudes charm not only in the physical realm but in her mental and emotional faculties as well. Her appeal is where beauty, brawn and brains converge.

As a woman gets older she becomes sexier. She becomes a better lover as she learns to accept herself, becomes comfortable with her sexuality and much freer in her expression of it. She internalizes this belief and allows the more erotic attractiveness to manifest from within. When she embraces her midlife sexuality, becomes fully available to herself, she can then soak in the unexpected pleasure and joys that come along with it.

But alas, in a stereotypical ageist sexist society, very few men appreciate ‘the older, the better’ axiom: Ashton Kutcher didn’t get it and neither would scores of other men!

Prezify your Powerpoint Slides

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.