White Elephants in the Education Sector

It is an understatement to say that the Education sector in Singapore, together with the technologies used in education institutions have changed drastically in the last few decades. When I was in primary school (grade school), Blackboards and Over Head Projectors (OHPs) were the standard classroom equipment. My generation was well-acquainted with class-room duty that involved dusting the blackboard after every lesson and creating shadows on the OHP in between classes or during the recess. Our bags also got heavier over the academic year, with our multiple files struggling to contain the burgeoning number of assignments we had accumulated over time. This was the case even as our blackboards turned to whiteboards in secondary school and pre-university days and projectors slowly replaced OHPs. Today, projectors, which used to be reserved for lecture theatres and special rooms, are taken for granted in every class room. In fact, some schools have already fully retrofitted every classroom with an interactive whiteboard and even given a tablet to every child. 

These are just a few simple technologies that have become more common place in schools. This left me wondering: How have the different stakeholders been coping with sudden explosion of so many technologies (with many more to come) in this short time frame? 

Let's start with teachers. There was a time when the vast majority of a teacher's work day consisted of teaching and little else. However, school projects, involvement in Co-Curricular Activities (CCAs), inter-school dialogues and even international exchange programs have made their way into their Job Descriptions (JD). An 
article from earlier in the year about Singapore teachers being the most hard-working in the world says it all. With so many responsibilities to juggle, do they see technology as a friend or a foe? There are widely varying responses - those who bemoan the underutilization of technologies like the interactive whiteboard in every classroom and those who jump at every opportunity to use these tools. How, then, can schools find that balance? How can they eliminate the white elephant looming in the classroom of the 21st century?

A recent visit to a reputable school in Singapore shed some light on what might be the way forward. This school has an Education Technology Department (ETD) that operates an experimental studio where teachers come to use some of these new technologies on a voluntary basis. Each time a teacher approaches the ETD to hold a lesson there, the ETD staff would jointly determine the objective for each lesson and how they would measure the success of the lesson. Feedback was also required from both the teachers and students for them to be able to use the facility again. This feedback, gathered over a long period of time, helped the ETD determine which technologies should be implemented on a greater scale and the kind of application it should be implemented for. 

Another important aspect is that of professional development. ETD staff would work together to plan the lesson and use of technologies before the lesson. ETD staff would also observe the lesson and together with the feedback from students, determine how to better train each teaching staff for the different technologies. 

This objective and outcome-based approach is something FXS identifies deeply with. Many enterprises purchase more and more copy, print, scan and fax devices as their organization grows, resulting in wasted electricity, space, and maintenance issues - in other words, White Elephants. By determining the objective of customers, whether it is better productivity, cost savings, or going green, among others, Fuji Xerox Global Services uses a 
three-step approach for the implementation of its services, especially that of its industry leading Managed Print Services.

Fuji Xerox also collects user data on printing usage and feedback from users and administrators alike. Only after the current state of the organization has been identified, does Fuji Xerox consultations design a future state to be implemented. After the implementation, Operation Executives continue to work with customers to identify areas of improvement.  

In the next part of this series, we would be sharing some intriguing observations the ETD has made, through the sharing of some lessons they have conducted. 

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