Friday, October 20, 2006

And now a report on education in the UK!

This week has been a gold mine for the release of annual studies on Education as it is implemented around the world! And yet, all these reports do is to just add statistical credibility to what we already know about education systems in general via casual observation, experience and common sense.

Britain's annual Nuffield Review now tells us that kids don't appreciate what they're studying because neither curricula learning objectives nor the manner in which they are being taught match their aspirations. Moreover, there is so much emphasis on tests and exams that kids are just studying to pass exams instead of finding real value in applying their lessons to real-life.

Further compounding the kids' misery is the number of new policy initiatives stemming from their government's continuous tweaking of their education system. So schools are just struggling along, trying to follow all the different policies as best they can, though the results show no value-addedness in any real sense.

And the school environment is still too competitive between the various institutions -- and therefore by inference, between students -- to be able to create for them a more holistic, cooperative learning experience that they can benefit more from.

Wow. Poor Brit kids.

As usual, you can download the ST summary here.
The full Nuffield Review 05-06 doesn't look like it's been uploaded yet, but it should be soon. Give it a day or two. You should be able to find it on their homepage, along with several other articles on UK education.

Such has been my life this week. Nothing more exciting than reading the papers, print periodicals, online journals... If I'm not careful, I might actually become a teacher one day! Grumblegrumble...

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Happy students don't necessarily do well in math, according to a study by the Brookings Institution's Brown Centre on Education Policy.

"Real student engagement is not about keeping students happy, boosting their self-esteem, or convincing them that what they are learning is relevant; it's about acquiring new knowledge and skills and pursuing the activities that contribute to that attainment," the report said.

Instead, the Center's Director (the aptly-named Mr Loveless) suggests in the report that an over-emphasis on trying to make students happy in class could actually distract the students from their core learning objectives.

The report bases its conclusions on math test scores taken from around the world and a correlating questionnaire relating to students' confidence in, enjoyment of, etc. the subject. American children claim to be very confident in math and enjoy math a lot, but still score below the International Average in their tests.

The results shouldn't be surprising, though. You can give a kid the best, most comfortable, most entertaining environment to learn in hoping to enhance the kid's motivation in a subject, but if the kid enjoys the environment too much and doesn't study, the result is still a foregone conclusion.

So, regardless of how entertained or how bored you are in class, there is only 1 secret to academic success: study hard. No two ways about it. Sorry.

Read a summary of the report ("koped" from ST) here.

The full report (a large 1mb .pdf file) here. Check out page 12 onwards for its findings on the happiness factor, and page 18-20 for a direct comparison between American and Singaporean student responses.
Former Speaker of the House, Newt Gingrich, is proposing some radical changes in Education in the US:

I've advocated, for example, paying kids in the 7th through 12th grade the equivalent of what they would make working at McDonald's if they take math and science and get a B or better. Overnight you would change the culture of poor neighborhoods in America. We ought to be honest and say math and science are harder. They're extraordinarily valuable to the country as national security and economic matters. Cultures get what they pay for. We currently pay for rock stars, movie stars, and football and basketball players. Shouldn't being a child prodigy in math be at least as important as being a child prodigy in basketball? Also, I'd allow anyone with substantive knowledge to participate. If you're a retired Ph.D. in physics and you'd like to come in one hour a day to teach physics, I'd let you. No union dues. No credentialing. And I'd argue that if you let everyone in the country who knows physics teach physics, with no credentialing, you'd have a better outcome. Finally, there's no reason to believe that an 1820 school model has any relevance to the 21st century. It's terrific only if you think kids today are going to work in a textile mill. School should mimic reality, not defy it. Almost everyone you know who wants to learn either learns part-time or by immersing themselves for three to five days. They don't go and sit for one hour a day ad nauseam.
Discover, October 2006.

These few days and over the next couple of weeks, we staff are all stressed out worrying about our kids' performance in the end-of-year exams. We worry if they are motivated enough to study their materials, and if they really do value their learning enough to do their best in their tests. This annual hand-wringing ritual is a time-honoured tradition, but that's probably what Gingrich is suggesting putting an end to.

The school Gingrich envisions turns secondary school students into state employees, being paid to study. Their main subjects are math and science and they don't sit in school all day for a year. Instead, they have a much reduced time table, are paid for their time on condition of their maintaining good results, and by "part-time" I guess he means that for the rest of the day the kids are actually off-campus applying themselves in the real-world on some corporate attachment or apprenticeship programme.

This idea pretty much opens up Education to market forces. It's practical and pragmatic. It's so crazy out-of-the-box it just might work to raise the level of competency in not only math and science but also in entrepreneurial and corporate survival skills.

It also means the end of a centrally controlled education system, but let's be realistic: it's the free market, not the bureaucracy that rules the 21st century.

So far, the ideas look good on paper. Wonder what it would be like to actually live under this new system though?

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

All the movies are about sex and violence. Time for censors to act

I turned to the cinema pages of the Life! Section in the Straits Times last Saturday and noted the sort of movies being shown in town. (Why? Did you actually intend to go watch a movie? Or do you have fun conducting meaningless surveys)?

The main themes focussed on violence, crime, death and sex. Here are some of the movies:

. The Black Dahlia - about Hollywood's most infamous sex murders; (it's got Scarlett Johansson in it!)

. Dead man's shoes - about revenge; (dunno, not on my must-watch list)

. Silk - about spirits; (the critics ravaged this one)

. Death Note - about death; (duh)

. The Departed - a crime drama; (based on the critically-acclaimed HK movie, "Infernal Affairs")

. Wet hot sake - about sex, sleaze and sensuality; (if you insist on watching this movie in THAT cinema, please remember to keep your umbrella handy)

. My Summer of Love - more sex and sleaze. (do some research before passing such judgement, please)

The other movies are about inconsequential events. These are time-wasters and sad to watch:

. Talladega Nights - about brainless and crazy people with fast cars; (talk about Cinéma Vérité)!

. World Trade Centre - a disaster; (well, it was a bit long and draggy)

. Rob -B-Hood - no theme. (gambling gangsters having to care for a baby and being reformed by the experience. Gross.)

These movies do not provide any wholesome and meaningful lessons in life. (Since when did we ever rely on Hollywood to teach us the ways of enlightenment)? The more a person watches them, the more he would be made to feel that life is hopeless and meaningless. (The more we read your article the more we are made to feel that you judge books by their covers).

Movie directors are happily ripping off the public by giving (Giving? Where do you get your free tickets from?) us worthless movies that harm us. It is useless to bar only children and those below 18 from watching these movies as the tasteless pictures in the media continue to defile good sense and morals. (We do too bar adults who are succeptible to being morally corrupted by watching movies! It's called, "being selective because cinema tix for ordinary folks are so bloody expensive!").

Where are our educators? (I'm off-duty). Why are they silent on this sad state of affairs? (You haven't been reading my blog). What does our conscience tell us about such movies being screened in public? (That we can exercise personal judgement and discretion in the choices we make for ourselves)? Do we have a conscience at all? (Flawed logic: appealing to authority).

One may argue that we have a choice not to watch these shows. (Exactament!) But if it [is] Hobson's choice everyday with such low quality movies, where is the freedom for one to choose a wholesome and good movie when none is available? (Um, you tend to set your bar a teensy bit high).

What about the public's right to see good movies? (Bad movies are more fun to review). And why do we create for ourselves a famine of morally enriching shows? (We create? What was the last morally uplifting movie you produced)?

A movie that is worthwhile watching would give hope to the viewer about the meaning of life and its purpose. (There's a Monty Python movie with that title).

A good movie should result in stirring a person's mind and heart to do good for society. (People programmed to do good by watching movies. I dunno, that seems a tad worrisome. "A Clockwork Orange" anyone?) It should focus on wholesome family values of love and care, and respect for the elders and the government. (Wow! There's a concept for a new Peter Jackson fantasy movie)!

How should we rate a movie for its value? We should not give ratings to reflect its popularity based on violence, crime and sex, but instead focus on good values such as kindness, gentleness, love, peace, goodness, faithfulness, self-control and joy. (We don't appreciate good values unless we see them against a suitable counterfoil. Good stories are about conflict. Or you could just watch Sesame Street every day instead).

Unfortunately, none of these good values can be found in the movies mentioned above. (One only finds what one looks for, Grasshopper).

Movies that espouse the desirable values are rare. These are 'Chariots of Fire' (It's now become the standard musical sountrack for every slo-mo running sequence) and 'Akeelah and the Bee' (and how we do value kids who can spel difikult wudz). I particularly enjoy watching Jack Neo's portrayal of our primary school system in 'I not stupid'. (Guess you could identify with the characters of the pushy parents).

Yet if it remains only a portrayal of our country's meritocratic education system, it alone would not be able to help us make further progress. (Boy, you don't ask for much, do you)?

It is not enough just to point out society's ills. The movie's director should have concluded the show with lessons on corrective measures for the public. (I've got your "corrective measures" for irrelevance right here! Now, bend over!)

I would like the Board of Film Censors to critically review and evaluate the quality of the movies currently being screened in public. (You would like to be appointed Head Censor).

The guiding principle of the authority should always be driven by good and responsible values that promote hope, compassion and love. (If you look closely enough, you'll find that such values are key factors in conflict resolution in most narratives, regardless of genre and subject material).

And it should not be influenced by the public's lust for sex (but we're not having enough babies as it is), violence (movies don't make us violent; other people who are jerks make us violent) and death ("lust for death" sounds a bit oxymoronic) that leads to a sense of hopelessness for the viewer. (You're right. You'd better stay at home, a safe distance from any cinema).

George Lim Heng Chye

Online Forum letter in the ST, 17/10/06.

Monday, October 16, 2006

For once, a relief staff got a send-off in style. We bought CQ high-tea at the Goodwood Park Coffee Lounge and bade him farewell as he takes up a new job in the banking sector. Guess the boy was destined for greater things. Heh.

High-tea here comprises a spread of local hawker foods of which I enjoyed the laksa best (no hum, unfortunately). A surprise find was the apom with caramelized banana gravy -- I haven't seen this dessert for a while. And though June's assessment was that the actual cost of the spread was quite cheap -- she knows the f&b market pretty well -- at least they provided us with ice-cream from Mövenpick. Undisputed quality there, according to Baggy.

But amidst the face stuffing, the shop-talk and the vacation-planning, we also had to remember that the guy who hung out with us for several lunches, a couple of dinners and a 4-day road-trip is on his way out and up, and hope that we have left him some good memories to take with him.

See you around, CQ, and good luck!

Sunday, October 15, 2006

I'm tired of Lady Croft's company. Yeah, I am playing "TR:Legend" 'cos it came bundled with one or the other of my recent hardware purchases. But cool, smart and jiggly as Lara is, I need a dose of the real world once in a while.

As it happens, I'm running around unsupervised today (June had to go work) and in times like this, I usually end up spending money. I decided to spoil myself lunching at Corduroy & Finch along Bt Timah Road, just before Sixth Ave. Always wanted to go there since the treasure hunt of last year (we thought it was a checkpoint for one of the clues) but never got around to it.

The place reminds me of a New York deli, except it's spotlessly clean and the staff are polite, service with a smile, y'know, and look like they're happy to work there.

French onion soup topped with emmenthal was nice, but even better when on request they provided a generous portion of shaved parmesan which I happily dumped into the tureen. Parmesan thickens the soup and gives it a kick, which otherwise tends to be quite bland.

The chix sandwich was more like a chix salad served between 2 thick slices of bread. It came with sliced hard-boiled egg and a thin sheet of emmenthal. Mmmm... beautiful. I made the mistake of asking for the sandwich to be toasted though. I never learn. Toasted bread -- particularly around the crust -- causes mouth lacerations. My upper palate and tongue have been nicely scraped raw and have gone temporarily numb. Hopefully, I'll get my tastebuds back by dinnertime.

Washed it all down with ginger beer, Bunderberg, I think. It was cool and soothing, just the thing for when you feel like you've been Frenching a cactus.

Grand total: $31 for a lunch for 1. Consider myself well and truly spoiled!