Saturday, September 04, 2010

Integrated Programmes (Part I): We Had Lift-Off Or So We Thought

Integration is the opposite of differentiation. What then can we make of a system that creates integrated programmes for students while claiming to differentiate students? Analogically, it would seem that the programme is designed to reduce the amount of information by letting students go through more years of undifferentiating education.

In Atlantis, an 'integrated programme' is one which removes high-stakes examinations between primary school and university, so that only two main examinations remain: a primary school streaming examination and a senior high terminal examination such as the A-levels or IB Diploma. The results of the former examination are now often circumvented by something called the DSA (Direct School Admissions, not to be confused with the ISA, which does not stand for Indirect School Admissions), which are criteria cooked up by individual schools to allow them to admit students they like and exclude students they don't.

Three integrated programmes were launched at the end of 2003. The Citadel of the Wyverns, the Gryphon Academy, and the Temple of Flaming Books (recalling a certain Chinese Emperor) all started off with their own quaint notions of what they could do with time not spent preparing for a third main examination at the end of the 10th grade. I say quaint, because not much was new about these new programmes—some of their features were Victorian and some even more antiquarian than that.

Perhaps the most interesting thing was the degree to which educators, given free rein and liberty to be creative, failed to do much that was extraordinary or novel. Rather, a lot of stuff was lifted from other sources, repackaged, and smushed (for want of a better, more aptly onomatopoeic word) together to create something very much like existing Grade 10 programmes with a few extra bells and whistles but not so many tassels and hassles.

The second most interesting thing was the research that came out of it. The Citadel was dead against having any research done (especially by its own people), but the Hierarchs of Atlantean Learning had decreed that some research should be — and so, some was. The Academy was just as resistant, but quietly did some of their own. The Temple did a lot of their own, and made sure every one of their students could recite the key information points (KIPs) when asked.

This research had not been released to the public yet, when it was claimed by the Hierarchs that such programmes were all brilliant, exciting, stimulating, good for the youth of Athens Atlantis and so on. And because they were so good, all remaining major high schools should be made to do the same thing.

The resultant Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairies, a jerky and discombobulating affair (and a true Nutcracker Suite) which is still unfolding, has been (and will continue to be) affording educational observers with much amusement.

But I would like to point out one very important finding: people who have gone through an Integrated Programme do not show significant superiority (and that's putting it mildly) over those who have not when they sit for their terminal qualification examinations. The superiority of Integrated Programmes must therefore be in non-academic areas, but that is even more difficult to prove — perhaps almost as difficult to prove as the contention that having a programme specially for Gifted and Talented Atlanteans will prevent some final catastrophic crisis.

Only time will tell. And Khronos, unlike Kronos, is a very quiet and subtle Power.

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