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Taylor, Peter G.
Lee, Chu Keong
The missions and roles of post-secondary institutions are expanding and changing. This is especially critical in the context of Singapore, a nation reliant on knowledge work and organised around knowledge for its economic growth and development, social control, institutional creativity and innovation. Yet despite the essential contribution that post-secondary schools make to the society, the issues of how participants in these institutions understand and make meaning of knowledge and their knowledge work have received relatively little attention in the literature.
This qualitative multi-case study sought to elucidate educators and students identification on knowledge, knowledge work, and the problems and challenges confronting their knowledge work in three widely diverse post-secondary institution settings in Singapore, hereby named OrgPoly, OrgJC and VocInst. The findings from this research are based on 56 interviews conducted during the 2004-2005 academic years (26 staff teaching Year 1 students and 30 Year 1 students), supplemented by surveys, fields notes and reflections obtained from classroom observations, and document records obtained from educators and students.
The literature review provided the conceptual platform for the interrogation of that data. Specifically, the review led to the identification of three epistemic positions in relation to the nature of knowledge: knowledge as object, represented as K1; knowledge as personal, resulting from a process of interpretations and meaning making, represented as K2; and, knowledge as cultural, resulting from the framing of personal interpretations by cultural worldviews that are largely implicit, represented as K3.
The three single case studies provided an opportunity to identify and differentiate institutional factors that influence the nature of knowledge work within each setting. The findings clearly indicate the ways in which the values and related educational practices in each site both enable and constrain thinking about and engagement in knowledge work. Specifically, it is apparent that the epistemic positions are embedded in institutional cultures, and hence can only be understood adequately only if they are studied in the context of its carriers (the teachers and students themselves and the processes in the schools) and the interaction of those carriers with the larger social environment.
Two major implications flow from this study. First, Singapore’s post-secondary institutions have a substantial impact on their graduates’ readiness for knowledge work, and that impact is well aligned with the mission of the institutions represented in this study. For example, Junior Colleges prepare their students for a receptive type of knowledge work, characterised by K1 epistemic positions, while Polytechnics are more likely to prepare students for learning that relies on K2 epistemic positions that involve personal experience and meaning-making. Second, the strength of the relationship between the mission and culture of institutions and the readiness for knowledge work that graduates achieve, implies that Singapore’s government policies and institutional responses to those policies need to promote both an awareness of this alignment, and a continuous monitoring of the alignment of the socio-economic requirements for different types of knowledge workers and missions and practices of the various education sectors.
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