On Saturday, TODAY ran an interesting commentary – “Overhauling Education, With Everyone’s Input” (September 15, 2012) – about how the Canadian province of Alberta, with the common aim of improving its education system, got together as a community to provide feedback to the Education Ministry. Whereas the present National Conversation in Singapore is plagued by scepticism and accusations over the lack of representation, the “Inspiring Education: A Dialogue With Albertans” movement chugged along in inspiring fashion.
As the Ministry of Education (MOE) in Singapore attempts run a parallel initiative, I reckoned it would be constructive to share three strategies adopted by the movement which intrigued me. More importantly, the administrators could even explore an expansion of these undertakings, so as to reach out more proactively to students, parents and teachers.
Three Lessons From A Canadian Province
“Do-it-yourself-conversation resource kits were posted online, which people could download and use to guide their own small-group discussions. Some 850 of these were held.”
I think such an initiative epitomises the spirit of “ground-up” approaches, in which individuals – with the assistance of broad topics or guidelines – spontaneously engage in small-group discussions about what they think should be addressed within the education system. The general populace would be happy to join in the conversation, if they are assured that they would be heard, and their views taken into consideration.
The resource kits could outline overarching themes – such as pre-school education, examinations, community service and volunteerism et cetera – to guide participants. At the same time, dialogue sessions concerning education in Singapore could adopt such a framework, given that many of these events do not go beyond the rhetorical dimension, and perspectives articulated are often not followed up upon (here, here and here).
“Ten larger community forums, the core of the process, were held across the province. These full-day sessions each saw a turnout of 100 to 120 participants, who were split up into groups of up to six and encouraged to share their own school experiences and dreams for the future.”
Community forums should be interactive; more often than not, in Singapore, sessions are reduced to lengthy monologues, in which the guest spends a disproportionate amount of time justifying his or her propositions. The spotlight should not be on our parliamentarians and ministers, because they should be there to facilitate the engagements, not dominate. For me, these sessions would be more productive if participants are actually allowed to interact, to exchange opinions amongst one another. This is especially poignant when it comes to education concerns, because every one has something meaningful to share.
“Moving towards inclusive education is another item on Alberta Education’s agenda that involves getting schools, teachers and parents of special needs children to learn from one another’s experiences by sharing their stories. The conversation online too has expanded … a pool of students, social organisation leaders and educators blog regularly. There are forum boards for the general public and specific ones for parents and for students.”
At the present moment, too much information is streaming through the mainstream media, which does not allow for the level of interactivity and accessibility that the Internet provides. The web presence for the National Conversation in Singapore is virtually non-existent; and in the situation that there is a significant one, it should be managed collectively by representatives – students, parents, and teachers – not updated robotically by bureaucrats.
More importantly, such a National Conversation on education also allows for more attention to be diversified (beyond the traditional assortment of worries): on special-needs education (here), on the need to integrate students from dissimilar types of education institutions in Singapore (here and here), on community service in schools (here).