Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Education, education, education: Lewisham College’s disregard for the past part 1 of 2
Robin Ghurbhurun Lewisham College's director of e-learning says that his students live in a digital world and `… the last thing they want to do is walk into a classroom that looks like it's from the 18th century.’ Why is it that when people speak about educational reform they dismiss the past as if it is something to be embarrassed about? The truth is that we ignore the successes of old at our peril.

Tony Crosland, the education secretary of the 1960s said `If it’s the last thing I do, I’m going to destroy every f**king grammar school in England, Wales and Northern Ireland’. There has been a war on traditional teaching for many years and while Mr. Crosland was quite colourful in his intent to overhaul education, it didn’t start there. The Government has been tinkering away at education for the past 170 years. What has it given us? In the year 2000, seven million functional illiterates: That’s one in five of all UK adults. In January of this year, the rate across the UK is said to be between 10 and 15 per cent. In poorer areas, it is a lot higher. How can you acquire knowledge if you can’t even read? Was it always this way? In his excellent book `The Welfare State We’re In’, James Bartholomew looks at the past. In 1803, Thomas Paine’s `The Rights of Man’ sold one and a half million copies while William Cobbett’s Address to the Journeymen and Labourers sold 200,000 copies in two months. Samuel Bamford `the weaver poet’ said that Cobbett’s writings `were read on nearly every cottage hearth in the manufacturing districts of South Lancashire’. This was achieved in the schools that Lewisham College is now trying to rubbish in favour of elearning. And what has been the track record of elearning at institutions of higher learning like Lewisham College? UKeUniversities Worldwide (UKeU), an online university for the British higher education sector, was launched in 2000 by then Secretary of State for Education, David Blunkett. The UK government gave it £55 million and expected additional private sector investment. The first online courses were launched in March 2003, and by November 900 students had been recruited. It was predicted that there would be enrolment of one million students by UKeU’s tenth year of operation but actual student take-up proved disappointing. The private sector investment never materialised. Finally, the Higher Education Funding Council for England said UKeU was unviable in April 2004 and closed the venture.

It seems to me that before Lewisham College attempts to promote e-Learning as some kind of cure-all while dismissing tried and tested methods of teaching, it ought to pause for thought. British schools were once the envy of the world. Former colonies like Hong Kong and Singapore are places where education techniques originating from the reviled 18th century are still present. They teach maths much better than the UK these days. How did it go so wrong? Who’s to blame? I point my finger at the Government.

26 comments:

Anonymous said...

Dear Mr Winton

My frustration with your comments is borne out of your ignorance and poorly judged assumptions on the use of technology in teaching. I dare say the same comments were heralded when the book was introduced as a pedagogic tool.
Teaching and more importantly learning are highly effective at Lewisham College, infact graded outstanding(Ofsted). Our use of technology to enhance the learner experience is highly effective in a blended model of delivery. Your UKeU analogy bears no relevance to our institutional use of technology. To see the transformation follow this weblink:
http://www.rsc-london.ac.uk/cms/1046/
To see for yourself do not hesitate to contact me. At this point a valued and learned commentary could then be given.

Yours Sincerely

Robin Ghurbhurun

Jens Winton said...

Your frustration is well deserved. How on earth can you ridicule 18th century schooling while extolling an educational methodology that has been abandoned by the Government when implemented on a larger scale? This is the same Government that praises the faith schools of which many can hark back 200 years to a time you despise.

What proof have you got that the introduction of books was ridiculed in terms of teaching? I cannot believe you could even think of such a claim, much less make it.

Why is your fancy technology being used on cooking, beauty and construction courses when young people are leaving educational institutions functionally illiterate? Sort out the basics before you try and bedazzle them with bells and whistles for fluffy topics.

Anonymous said...

The same fluffy topics for which there is a National skills shortage, particularly in London. Your knowledge and experience of vocational education is somewhat limited as I can assure our learners leave this institution skilled, work ready and functionally literate. I think you will find that 18th Century schooling i.e. learning by rote and delivered didactically fails to meet the needs of individuals in a our modern society, many of who are disengaged from learning when they arrive at our doors.
I certainly extol the virtues of a good teacher who is able to use 21st Century technologies alongside sound pedagogic practice. This is not a question of one or the other.
The same fancy technology provides for simulation, communication and immersive experiences in realistic working environments that learners would not be able to access elsewhere. Should pilots not use simulators and fly by-wire alongside actual flying or would you have them trained by the Wright brothers. The same fancy technology that allows learners to work across boundaries, collaboratively, socially lest we forget that learning is a social activity too. The same fancy technologies which provide access to learners in the work place or who are housebound not by choice but often necessity.
What does it say of an 18th Century teacher who is able to ply their trade in today's classroom and yet a surgeon from the same era or a 19th C train driver cannot.

For many learners, life is dynamic, digital and in technicolor why should the classroom be grey.

Jens Winton said...

If there is a shortage of vocationally-skilled people in this country then it will worsen, not improve, as long as your technology-based teaching methodology sticks around.

If your approach was to be broadened to other institutions then it will slow down the passage of trained people into the economy:

The first obstacle is for students to be technology-literate enough to use your equipment as well as being functionally literate enough to cope with your methodology. Many who pursue vocational training suffer from under-achievement in this area.

The second obstacle is to fight for a limited number of course places that are restricted by technology and funding.

The third obstacle is that they will have to go to your classroom to learn as against being trained in the field under an old-fashioned and trusty apprenticeship. A lot of industry experience is at best, delayed, at worst, lost, in your approach.

The fourth obstacle is that if you have your way, the Government would seek to `certify' your graduates while rubbishing those who learn their trade on the job, if only to justify their latest policy wheeze. This would be equivalent to the State attack on vibrant independent schools in the 1800s.

Your arrogance in saying I have limited knowledge and experience in vocational education (without offering evidence to back it up) is only exceeded by your incorrect assertion that I was criticising institutions of higher learning alone in graduating functional illiterates. My condemnation was against educational organisations in total, and I would single out State schools in particular.

People are not disengaged from learning because of teaching practices you incorrectly identify as being didactic. They are turned off especially in the State sector because the teachers are not allowed to teach with tried and tested methods (that you abhor) but instead use whatever fashionable lesson plan and socially fluffy approach that catches the political flavour of the day. Not to mention the endless paperwork and assessment by inspectors while labouring under a diluted leadership from a head teacher with little real power. This has cost schools the ability to teach, discipline and inspire properly. You cannot blame methods that have been imitated by former British colonies and who now exceed us educationally.

You distort your comparisons to fit your argument: An English teacher in an 18th century classroom is hardly much different in terms of knowledge of subject and ability to teach than someone teaching English today. Using teaching methods from the Wright brothers era would make sense if we were still flying about in crude bi-planes today. But we're not, and there is no mileage in you relying on a fatuous argument when technology in industry improves, pulling the training required behind it, and not the other way round.

Show me how your computer technology, and this country has had a good twenty odd years of trying, improved grades in Mathematics and English. And don't refer me to GCSE passes as they are increasingly discredited especially when so-called A grade passees struggle with 1950s O level papers.

Give me the grey that was in the 1950s than the colourful poppycock you support today.

Pink Shirt, Blue Suit said...

Mr Winton, very late for me tyo join this argument I know. However I am somewhat perturbed by your nostalgia for the grey of the 50s. Apart form the fact that educationally, the 50s were an era of priviledge and discrimination, the world we live in is now very different. There cannot be any doubt that nationally we are now better educated, as a whole, than we were in the 1950s. You might argue that the calibre of graduates is not what it was 'in the old days'. Nevertheless, we have many more of our youth completing more education to a higher level than we ever have.

The naure of the world and the workplace is now very different to that, even 10 years ago. Given the easy availabilty of technologies such as the Web and related communication technololgies, children (and adults) interact in different ways than we used to. The nature of what is worth knowing has changed. In pre-literate societies, those with great memories were highly valued, the could recite the law and the lore. The arrival of books overturned that order. Literacy became important and powerful. The abilty to learn from book was also a useful skill. We are once again in transition. The knowledge of large numbers of facts, is no longer useful. Such information can be easily gained from the Web. What has become important in this age is the ability to critically evaluate the information and to synthesise the various ideas from various sources. Given that them most popular jobs in ten years time don't yet exist. Learning in itself is less useful than the ability to learn. Higher order skills such as problem solving cannot be be learned via the old 'chalk and talk' techniques. Whilst there may be some merit in the teaching styles of the 50s, you must realise that times have changed,the way people interact with each other is very different now. Communication and co-construction of knowledge are the current techniques of choice amongst the majority of kids. We have new educational goals and we need to use new technologies to meet these new goals. Of course we need to use technology in teaching, if only to align education with the workplace

Jens Winton said...

Pink shirt, blue suit,

I am not nostalgic for the 1950s. I was born in 1968 so I cannot claim any emotional tug to that decade. What I am emotional about is a method of teaching that helped countless people to be ready for the world while instilling discipline along the way, is no longer with us. Nowadays, it is more important to be fashionable than relevant.

There is no proof that computers in schools has lifted educational standards in Maths and English. Despite the massive investment in education technology, we are still pouring out scores of functional illiterates every year.

With the increase in quantity of degree graduates comes a decline in quality graduates. Degrees no longer have the credibility of the past. Standards have declined as they have with A levels, and employers have little use for the modern grading of many qualifications of applicants.

I totally disagree with your claim that problem solving cannot be taught via "chalk and talk" as you describe it. This is how problem solving is taught in schools, universities, and organisations the world over. While a blackboard may now look like an electronic easel, the principles are still the same: Interaction between a teacher and class who can engage each other face to face with the means to record the dialogue has long been recognised as the ideal educational format. Notions of self-learning in front of a computer screen, no matter how whizzy the graphics will never surpass the effectiveness of this.

Pink Shirt, Blue Suit said...

Yes, problem solving can be taught with 'chalk and talk' but interactivity and simulation make this easier and better. Also, technology allows alot of the repetetive laborious work, which is sometimes associatged with problem solving exercises, to be reduced, thus allowing greater engagement with the core skill being developed.

I have some sympathy with your opinion that degrees no longer have the credibility of the past, though would wish to qualify that. Nevertheless, it seems clear that the top 50% of the population, say, are better qualified, with more credible and useful qualifications, than they were 50 years ago.

Perhaps there may be little proof of the effectiveness of use of ICT improving English and Mathematics literacy, though it no doubt increases computer literacy, equally important in much of the work place. We don't want to add another discipline in which school leavers are functionally illiterate do we?

You end your comments with some very bold statements, which need to be substantiated. A blackborad may look like an electronic easel, however it can do much more than an easel, it allows alll the interactivity previously mentioned, it allows access to the Web and with it a wide range of resources, dicussions and opinions, children are learning to discriminate between information sources, to evaluate, synthesise and analyse this information and its source, skills which in the past, we would only require of undergraduate historians or English students. The principles are not the same, unless you refuse to use your imagination. Pupils and teachers now co-construct the knowledge, the access which children have to information and learning is now so wide and diverse that the teacher-pupil realtionship needs to change. It's no longer the situation that the teacher up at the front holds all the knowledge. We are not talking about self-learning in front of computer screen, though some prefer that mode. This is a red herring.
Furthermore, face to face with a means to record the dialogue may have once been the only educational format. It does not mean that it has long been recognised as ideal! That is a grand claim. Look at the OU, look at the extensive resources produced by places like MIT. Yes interaction is important, but the nature of that interaction need not be so one-dimensional any more. If you feel that the technology is imprvoing education, then the technology is being used poorly, that is what needs to be fixed. Baby, bathwater etc. There are cases of technology being used well. If this is an issue which matters to you you need to identify these cases and see what you can do to generalise them. Do not trivialise the work that has been put into edcational technologies by referring to them as 'whizzy graphics' if that is your perception of them, then this is culpable ignorance. The nature of knowledge has changed,the rules of the didactic contract need to change too.

Pink Shirt, Blue Suit said...

Edit:


If you feel that the technology is not imprvoing education, then the technology is being used poorly, that is what needs to be fixed. Baby, bathwater etc.

Jens Winton said...

Pink shirt, blue suit, you say:

"I have some sympathy with your opinion that degrees no longer have the credibility of the past, though would wish to qualify that. Nevertheless, it seems clear that the top 50% of the population, say, are better qualified, with more credible and useful qualifications, than they were 50 years ago.

Perhaps there may be little proof of the effectiveness of use of ICT improving English and Mathematics literacy, though it no doubt increases computer literacy, equally important in much of the work place. We don't want to add another discipline in which school leavers are functionally illiterate do we?"

Comparing the environment of fifty years ago with today is unfair when you decide to criticise the relevancy of qualifications today. The overall economy was weaker, information exchange was much slower, technology vastly inferior, research methodology less rigorous etc. Yet when children of today - many of whom were predicted to get A grades in GCSE - take exams from the 1950s, they flounder. More credible? More useful? I don't think so. And where on earth do you get your figure of the top 50% of the population being better qualified?

And when you undermine your argument by stating that ICT has yet to demonstrate an ability to improve learning in Maths and English, aside from agreeing with me that it is overrated as a learning aid, you go on to say literacy with the tool is an end to itself! By all means, train people to become accomplished with computing if it is a necessary workplace tool. But don't confuse this as educational achievement on a par with numeracy and literacy attainment.

I take issue that the teacher has always been seen as the holder of knowledge alone. Motivated pupils in a class headed by a good teacher are more inclined to complete homework assignments and fast track their learning. They are going to be more receptive to the principles being taught in applied scenarios outside of school, and acquire more knowledge related to that topic. This virtuous cycle is what happens when education really works: Committed teachers that are passionate about their subject and eager to share it with their classes who in turn get just as excited. Give me this scenario more than any of the Computer-Aided-Education you are enthusiastic about.

As for your comments on fixing the technology if it is not working in the classroom (and I note that despite your re-edit of your post, you still misspell `improving' (What? No SpellChecker?)), you fail to account that perhaps there is no need for the technology in the classroom at all.

Pink Shirt, Blue Suit said...

Mr Winton

You say

"Yet when children of today - many of whom were predicted to get A grades in GCSE - take exams from the 1950s, they flounder. More credible? More useful? I don't think so."


Of course kids who were taught a particular syllabus, 'flounder' when given a test on a different one. For years, yes even in the fifties, kids have been taught to the test. Do you really believe that the syllabus of the 1950s would be more credible and useful in today's environment than what is being taught currently?

As you say, the environment was very different back then, of course kids educated for today's environment will not do well in exams tuned to a syllabus designed for that environment.


And where on earth do you get your figure of the top 50% of the population being better qualified?

It's freely available, look at the percentage of people achieving degrees and A' levels now, and compare that with the same in the past.

Do you really question this?


And when you undermine your argument by stating that ICT has yet to demonstrate an ability to improve learning in Maths and English, aside from agreeing with me that it is overrated as a learning aid,


I didn't quite say this did I?

By all means, train people to become accomplished with computing if it is a necessary workplace tool. But don't confuse this as educational achievement on a par with numeracy and literacy attainment.

It is a necessary workplace tool. Could you clarify why you think it does not have parity with literacy and numeracy?

I take issue that the teacher has always been seen as the holder of knowledge alone

But this is the philosophy of the didactic arrangement you promote, regardless of homework etc.


Committed teachers that are passionate about their subject and eager to share it with their classes who in turn get just as excited. Give me this scenario more than any of the Computer-Aided-Education you are enthusiastic about.


The two are not mutually exclusive.

As for your comments on fixing the technology if it is not working in the classroom

You seem to have missed the point, I was talking about fixing the pedagogy, not the technology.



(and I note that despite your re-edit of your post, you still misspell `improving' (What? No SpellChecker?))


1) ad hominem, 2)No,Your comments block does not have a spell checker.3)You too have made spelling and grammatical errors, I did not seek to trivialise your argument, nor patronise you by pointing them out.


you fail to account that perhaps there is no need for the technology in the classroom at all.


It depends what you mean by 'need'. Yes, schools can continue without technology, can learning be improved with technology? I think so. I have already pointed out some examples, but of course there are many more, which you are no doubt aware of. I wonder why you choose to ignore them.

Jens Winton said...

At the risk of going over previous points with you, despite some twenty-odd years of trying, technology in the classroom has yet to have a proportionate benefit in traditional lessons in classrooms. To justify its inclusion by saying it prepares pupils for computer usage in the work environment, is a poor one. There are far more vital things in the workplace than computer technology that we do not prepare children for such as personal finance or dispute resolution. These are skillsets that are valuable, transferable and highly relevant. Yet we seem to think that people will "get them in the end" in some undefined manner.

The imposition of fashion upon A levels that place more emphasis on coursework than straight exam tests, have arguably tilted educational success towards a softer learning curve that wilts under pressure. None of the current talk of tweaking the A level examinations to make them harder is being said about the International Baccalaureate. Now that is a true gold standard and one that Sevenoaks in Kent embraces. Seven of the 72 students worldwide who achieved the top IB score of 45 points this year – out of more than 35,000 entrants – studied at Sevenoaks. They no longer do A levels at Sevenoaks.

Meanwhile, our domestic examinations are dumbing down our children as Chris Woodhead writes (http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/news/uk/education/article2326707.ece): Last year 45.8% of students achieved five A*-C grades including English and mathematics in the GCSE examination: 54.2% did not...The schools minister Jim Knight, who, with a commendably straight face, announced... that “GCSEs are robust, rigorous and respected. The steady improvement over the last 10 years is unarguable evidence of rising achievement and the benefits of sustained investment in teaching and resources”...The Confederation of British Industry, which laments that employers have to lay on remedial English classes for the teen-agers they recruit, and the British Chambers of Commerce, which refers to these results as a “national scandal”, beg to differ.

I still struggle to see how anyone can say technology in the classroom will solve these issues. The evidence clearly shows it does not. What better example could I refer to than this example of misguided hope in the face of plain failure in dealing with your arguments?

Anonymous said...

I still struggle to see how anyone can say technology in the classroom will solve these issues.

From this i can only surmise that you are unfamiliar with the Research and Development in this area. Look at The work of Richard Kimble(sp?) at Goldsmiths, The Word Class Arena developments. The work of Steve Higgins at Newcastle. There are many agencies we can blame for the failure large scale educational change with technology. However, this is not he fault of the technology. In much the same way as a 'good idea' such as the IB has been rejected, despite being advocated by many people closely involved with education, innovative and pedagogically sound uses of ICT in the classroom have not been embraced and rolled out in more schools. Instead we have IWBs being used with little thought about the pedagogical interacton. Of course, poor use of the technology will yield poor returns.


Perhaps the crux of our disagreement is about potential. Do you believe that the correct use of technology in the classroom will yield positive results?

Jens Winton said...

Your loaded question of "Do you believe that the correct use of technology in the classroom will yield positive results?", suggests the argument has been won, even theoretically, that technology can improve learning.

Which begs the question why has it not translated into smarter people coming out of schools in the last decade? In terms of examination results, the reverse is true. The more cynically minded may even say that the culture of technology-dependence in schools has caused this decline. I wouldn't be so extreme, although I think there is a lot of truth that Government obsession to be trendy has kept us back. It fears dilution of its influence so views the independent school sector with suspicion. This, more than any issue with technology, I fear is the real issue: State control of education must go.

pink blue etc. said...

Is that a yes?

Jens Winton said...

You ask is that a yes to your question "Do you believe that the correct use of technology in the classroom will yield positive results?"

My answer is that in the context of improving exam passes that actually have real worth and helping our children become better educated, then no, I do not believe in the use of technology in the classroom.

The immersive benefits of integrating technology with the user, no matter how well you refashion a PlayStation game as a class lesson, will never match that of simple reading.

pink blue said...

Ok. But this is in sharp contrast to most of the current research. And so we have an impasse, nevertheless it has been interesting to hear your opinions.

Jens Winton said...

Say what you like about the research, but millions of pounds have been spent on kitting our classrooms on technology yet we still await the payback. More tweaking you say, a return to basics I say.

Pink blue etc. said...

I did not say 'more tweaking' and I am well aware of what you say, my concern is that you are unaware of the research and demonstrate little knowledge of education or technology, furthermore you seem resistant to finding about more about either, yet you are quite prepared top criticise educational techniques with which you are clearly unfamiliar. Throughout this discussion, you have asked both Robin and me for proof or evidence. Yet you have not provided any of this to substantiate your claims, like for example. The immersive benefits of integrating technology with the user, ... will never match that of simple reading.

You make such statements with no regard for the general body of undersatnding which supports, e.g. VAK theories of learning.

Phrases like Say what you like about the research are insular and yes, ignorant. It implies that you think you are better placed to make judgements about education, education technology and the work environment, than the large body of academics and experts who work in this area. The research is the evidence, the proof which you continually ask for.

Jens Winton said...

I am not resistant to research nor am I misrepresenting you by my usage of the word tweaking. You have stated that the baby should not be thrown out with the bath water in a previous post. You clearly feel we haven't got the "technology in class" worked out yet even though you are persuaded by the research that it is achievable. You feel we should refine the approach taken so far.

My contention, and one that is unassailable by you or any of your contemporaries, is that technology in schools has FAILED to get our children better educated in Maths and English. Despite increasing grade passes, we are turning out more functional illiterates than ever before, our schools are rejecting the A level exam, and some of our degrees are under suspicion by ex-colonies like Singapore. While you might take delight in research for the sake of it, I prefer to see it applied with success in the real world otherwise it has no use. And you dare say that I'm ignorant!

blue pink said...

I am not resistant to research
then why do you not believe it when it shows that technology in the class room can improve education?
nor am I misrepresenting you by my usage of the word tweaking. You have stated that the baby should not be thrown out with the bath water in a previous post. You clearly feel we haven't got the "technology in class" worked out yet even though you are persuaded by the research that it is achievable. You feel we should refine the approach taken so far.

I would do more than refine it. I would like to see large scale change in its use.


My contention, and one that is unassailable by you or any of your contemporaries, is that technology in schools has FAILED to get our children better educated in Maths and English.


If this is 'unassailable' show me the evidence.



Despite increasing grade passes, we are turning out more functional illiterates than ever before, our schools are rejecting the A level exam, and some of our degrees are under suspicion by ex-colonies like Singapore.

In Singapore there is a very high level of technology use in the classroom. Also, some of our degree are held in very high regard. Do you believe that a country as technologically immersed as Singapore would be more accepting of or education systems if we used less technology?


While you might take delight in research for the sake of it,



where did I say this?

I prefer to see it applied with success in the real world otherwise it has no use.

On this, we are in agreement. The problem is not in application it is in investment, financial and philosophical.

And you dare say that I'm ignorant!


I didn't call you ignorant. I said the phrase you used was an ignorant one. It ignores the evidence.

Jens Winton said...

I'm glad you raised Singapore. According to Professor Alan Smithers of Liverpool University, our degrees are so devalued that Singapore will only recognise these qualifications from a limited number of British universities. Why aren't people like you hankering for these other institutions to close down?

Singapore's education is not where it is because of technology - it routinely scores top marks in TIMSS testing for Maths, leaving Britain far behind. Singapore schools are where it is in spite of technology.

Why? (with thanks to James Bartholomew's excellent work in `The Welfare State We're In'.)

1) Singapore schools have higher autonomy than British ones. Up to 2003, 36% of children there were at `aided', `autonomous' or `independent' schools.

2) All schools charge the parents. Yet they are affordable. Even Raffles Institution asks for just £100 per month. There's something about the financial committment that focuses the minds of the parents.

3) Singapore rejected GCSEs and still uses the old O levels, as set by the Cambridge Overseas Examination Board.

4) Testing is frequent.

5) Elitism is encouraged. Not everyone gets a prize.

6) Homework starts at the age of 6 and lasts for half an hour. By the age of 9, it goes up to an hour. Private tutoring and cramming is normal.

7) Teachers are well-paid and widely respected.

These are the elements that make Singapore well-educated. Not technology. And I daresay if we had these conditions in Britain, then we would see massive improvements in education in a far shorter time than has been given to technology to make a mark of significance. Will it ever happen in the UK? Not a chance with the big three parties.

pinky blue said...

I'm glad you raised Singapore.

You raised Singapore.


According to Professor Alan Smithers of Liverpool University, our degrees are so devalued that Singapore will only recognise these qualifications from a limited number of British universities.

This is true

Why aren't people like you hankering for these other institutions to close down?
Who are the people like me???
and why might I want the other institutions to close down?

Singapore's education is not where it is because of technology - it routinely scores top marks in TIMSS testing for Maths, leaving Britain far behind.
>

All True
Singapore schools are where it is in spite of technology.
What is your evidence for this?

Why? (with thanks to James Bartholomew's excellent work in `The Welfare State We're In'.)



1) Singapore schools have higher autonomy than British ones. Up to 2003, 36% of children there were at `aided', `autonomous' or `independent' schools.

2) All schools charge the parents. Yet they are affordable. Even Raffles Institution asks for just £100 per month. There's something about the financial committment that focuses the minds of the parents.

3) Singapore rejected GCSEs and still uses the old O levels, as set by the Cambridge Overseas Examination Board.

4) Testing is frequent.

5) Elitism is encouraged. Not everyone gets a prize.

6) Homework starts at the age of 6 and lasts for half an hour. By the age of 9, it goes up to an hour. Private tutoring and cramming is normal.

7) Teachers are well-paid and widely respected.


These are the elements that make Singapore well-educated. Not technology.

Where is your evidence of the effect of technology in this complex environment?

And I daresay if we had these conditions in Britain, then we would see massive improvements in education in a far shorter time than has been given to technology to make a mark of significance.

Can I just clarify that you would advocate, more independent schools,all schools to be fee paying,CIE to be the examing body for the UK, more testing, more elitism / streaming. Exam cramming and more private tutoring (obviously paid for by parents)and more pay for teachers?
Also that you think all these things would improve education in the UK. I would be interested to you include all these points in your next manifesto.



Will it ever happen in the UK? Not a chance with the big three parties.


Not relevant, not really talking about Party politics here.

Besides which, you've side stepped the issue of technology by saying that Singaporean education would probably be better if the used less technology in their classrooms, with no evidence or support. Yes, the Singaporean attitude to education is very different to that in this country and that will be a strong effect on why they out perform the UK. But the use of technology is part of that.

Jens Winton said...

You come across to me as an education activist: Well-meaning, although not necessarily relevant but I think your heart is in the right place. I would like to think you and your ilk would have a real problem with young people being misled into thinking their sub-standard degrees will make a meaningful difference in their lives. I would hope it would prompt your activism to stop such a charade from continuing.

I dispute your point about Singapore's educational success owing a lot to the use of technology. For a start, Britain spends more per capita than Singapore on education: 5.3% of GDP as against 3.8% (Source: Economist Intelligence Unit) yet Singapore achieves better educational results. It's not that Singapore is a more `wired' nation than Britain either: While Singapore has marginally more PCs than Britain per 100 people (62.2 versus 60), Britain has significantly more telephone lines per 100 people (56.4 versus 43.2) and more mobile phones per 100 people (102.2 versus 89.5).

On these 2006 figures, The Economist placed Britain fifth overall in terms of e-readiness: A measure of how amenable a country is to internet-based business (based on broadband and mobile penetration, as well as Government regulation). Singapore? It came 13th in the world.

Considering that the Internet is deemed the Information SuperHighway, one would expect to see some kind of relationship between educational spending, school performance and Internet access. I don't see it in Singapore's case. But I surely can see a more strict educational system in that country paying dividends, not unlike what we used to have in Britain. And this is without heavy investment in IT in schools to make it happen. I fear you would wish to make the case we need to spend even more money on education technology in British schools. I wonder if that would put us in further behind Singapore?

And for the avoidance of doubt, I certainly wish we could adopt much of the Singaporean educational model in Britain, and I would love to see it as part of a future educational manifesto for my party.

Pink Shirt, Blue Suit said...

I have a mild discomfort at being associated with an 'ilk' unless of course you too "have a real problem with young people being misled into thinking their sub-standard degrees will make a meaningful difference in their lives". In which case you and I would be of the same ''ilk' and I would at least be in good company.

In truth, I don't think students are so naive as to think all degrees have parity. Generally they are aware of the currency of degrees from different institutions and tkae this into consideration when making degree choices.

I didn't say that Singapore owes a lot of it's educational success to it's use of technology. I'm sure Singaporean schools have been outperforming ours for many years. I was saying that it is one of the factors which results in some very good educational practices. Of course, the cultural attitude to education in Singapore is a strong factor as it is in all countries of a 'Confucian Culture'. However, to suggest, as you do, that the Singaporean education system could be improved by removing the technology from the classrooms seems a very bold claim indeed.

one would expect to see some kind of relationship between educational spending, school performance and Internet access. I could that the first two of these are goals though not so directly related, though their realtionship to the third is less apparent to me. Perhaps you could clarify.

I do not wish to spend more money, just on the technology, i would rather spend the money on making sure that the technology is used properly, an interactive whitboard is a powerful tool, however, when it is not used properly, it is only a whiteboard.

Your finaly statement only increases doubt in my case, you have not clarified which or all of the Singaporean policies listed, you would advocate.

Jens Winton said...

As I have stated before, there is nothing that demonstrates educational success is improved because of technology in the classroom. You may say it brings a different experience that many could possibly enjoy because it incorporates an outside tool within the sterile environment of a classroom. I would compare this effect to like having a guest speaker come to a class or a viewing of a documentary in a history class. It's a novelty. But over the long haul, this interest fades and the class will need to buckle down to real work or another `event' will be needed to engage and `lift' them again.

I was present at school, both in this country and overseas, at the dawn of the introduction of computers into secondaries. All kinds of bold predictions were made about how the technology would revolutionise education. It didn't. There has been no appreciable improvement in the real educational calibre of pupils passing into the workforce. And there is an argument to suggest that it has in fact worsened. I think the over-reliance on technology has a lot to answer for. Budgets that have been spent on computers could have been used on extra classes with smaller groups of pupils to get them over difficult patches in the syllabus. And I suspect that resouces no longer spent on technology could be better used to help pupils struggling.

As for Singapore, there is a lot to be said about how it has strived to be a leading IT resource. The country has done well in rolling out technology to its people. I mentioned the ratios of British and Singapore internet and telecoms penetration to demonstrate that technology-at-large in the society is no guarantee of educational attainment nor is per capita spending on education. You think Singapore excels due to some Confucian factor. I disagree. It relies heavily on an educational model that is largely British in origin, and can be seen to a large extent operating today in our own independent school sector.

Singapore has an awful lot to recommend. I wouldn't slavishly copy their policies but I would certainly support a system that places parents at the centre of their children's education. And what better way than a voucher scheme paid by their taxes and used to spend on a school of their choice?

Pink, Blue & True!! said...

I agree that often educational technology relies on its novelty and i too am not a proponent of this. However, I also believe that the technology enables a different kind of learning, more aligned with the modern environment. Thigs like hypothesis testing, scientific simulation, variability and understanding public data can be investigated and learned much more easily using technology than without. These are important life skills which students are lacking.

I think we are in agreement that current educational technologies are not very good. The problem is that often teachers use the new technology with old pedagogy. The difference is that I think they could be better, this is supported by the research (realistic, large-scale and relevant). I also think it is essential as I have said before, the nature of what is useful has changed because of tech nology, education has to reflect this.

I too am aware of the bold predictions of what technology could do, unfortunately some people are still focussing on 'the way things will be' rather than on how to move the ambition into reality. But there is a shift, the education community is increasingly disillusioned with the 'visionaries' and are starting to demand realistic applications. This should drive the improvement in educational technology, but it will not be a revolution.

To remove technology from the classroom would show a lack of vision, larger than the current governments backward step from e-assessment. It can be good, but we need to focus on how.


As far as Singapore and its educational success is concerened this is a side issue, clearly it is not just a case of throwing money at technology, hower the idea of Confucian Cultures and their attitude to education is a well established educational principle which is generally beyond doubt.

It is a myth that Singaporean classrooms are modelled on those here during the sixities. They are in fact very dynamic, interactive environments.

School Vouchers? Well, this is just policy stuff. I'm not well versed in the effects of such a policy. Clearly putting parents at the centre of the educational process is a nice idea, though i have my doubts about how this might work in reality where parents are uninterested in education or worse still, see it as having a negative effect on children. But that's all beside the point