Friday, August 24, 2012

Teaching Theory - Behaviorism

Teaching Theory: Behaviorism.

Keywords: Classical conditioning (Pavlov), Operant conditioning (Skinner), Stimulus-response (S-R)

Behaviorism is a worldview that operates on a principle of “stimulus-response.” All behavior caused by external stimuli (operant conditioning). All behavior can be explained without the need to consider internal mental states or consciousness.Behaviorism is a worldview that assumes a learner is essentially passive, responding to environmental stimuli. The learner starts off as a clean slate (i.e. tabula rasa) and behavior is shaped through positive reinforcement or negative reinforcement. Both positive reinforcement and negative reinforcement increase the probability that the antecedent behavior will happen again. In contrast, punishment (both positive and negative) decreases the likelihood that the antecedent behavior will happen again. Positive indicates the application of a stimulus; Negative indicates the withholding of a stimulus. Learning is therefore defined as a change in behavior in the learner. Lots of (early) behaviorist work was done with animals (e.g. Pavlov’s dogs) and generalized to humans. Behaviorism precedes the cognitivist worldview. It rejects structuralism and is an extension of Logical Positivism.


Sunday, August 19, 2012

Linguistic Imperialism Alive and Kicking

Linguistic Imperialism Alive and Kicking.

Topics reported on recently in Learning English give me grounds for concern about internationally driven efforts to strengthen the learning of English. They suggest strongly that TESOL/ELT is part of the problem rather than the solution. There is increasing evidence that what is on offer may in fact cause educational failure.

My worries were triggered by two shocking headlines (Learning English, 13 January). One reports on the massive failure in Namibia of English as the main medium of education: "Language policy 'poisoning' children". This was the conclusion of a recent NGO study. The second was "Language myth cripples Pakistan's schools". The myth is the belief that studying English is all you need for success in life. Policies influenced by this myth prevent most children from accessing relevant education.

I am also strongly concerned about a third story, "US launches global push to share ELT skills". The background is that in November 2011 the US state department and Tesol International Association (recently renamed) announced a partnership to meet the global demand for English and to "Work in co-ordination with US companies, universities, publishers, and other ELT stakeholders to enhance their international outreach and operations". This drive is modelled on the success of the British Council in expanding British influence worldwide. There are examples in the 17 February issue of Learning English: Tony Blair promoting British ELT in Thailand; the UK taking a "role in Ukraine primary push".

Is Anglo-American expertise really relevant in all such contexts? In fact educational "aid" worldwide does not have a strong record of success. There is scholarly evidence, for instance from Spain, that primary English is not an unmitigated success story: quite the opposite.

For Namibia a great deal of educational language planning was undertaken at the United Nations Institute for Namibia prior to independence. I summarised this in my book Linguistic Imperialism (OUP, 1992), quoting solid evidence that an over-reliance on English was inappropriate. Yet this is what British Council "advisers" in independent Namibia were instrumental in implementing.

British policies in Africa and Asia have aimed at strengthening English rather than promoting multilingualism, which is the social reality. Underlying British ELT have been key tenets – monolingualism, the native speaker as the ideal teacher, the earlier the better etc – which the same book diagnoses as fundamentally false. They underpin linguistic imperialism.

British goals both in the colonial period and today are primarily political and commercial. The British Council's Annual Report 2009-10 states that for the equivalent of every $1.60 of taxpayer's money it receives, it earns $4 through its English teaching and examining worldwide. ELT is of massive importance for the British economy. This underlies expansion efforts in India and China, where it has had very mixed success, except perhaps in commercial terms. David Graddol's 2010 report English Next India, commissioned by the British Council, uses similar arguments to those articulated 180 years earlier by Thomas Babington Macaulay, a senior British administrator, in making a case for British involvement in Indian education. Influence on the learning of English may be as ineffectual as in Namibia, in this very different context.

Unesco has stressed the significance of the mother tongue for over 50 years. Save the Children's 2009 report for the CfBT education trust, Language and Education: The Missing Link, hammers home this message. But why is it that an NGO and a private consortium "discover" facts that have been known in many scholarly circles for 40 years but that ELT has failed to effectively engage with?

The research evidence on mother tongue-based multilingual education is unambiguous. English-medium education in postcolonial contexts that neglects mother tongues and local cultural values is clearly inappropriate and ineffective.

There are ELT voices calling for a paradigm shift. A report for the British Council by Hywel Coleman on Pakistan points clearly in this direction. So does a 2011 book that he has edited, also for the British Council, Dreams and Realities: Developing Countries and the English Language. But if ELT professionals lead monolingual lives, or if they have no experience of becoming proficient in languages other than English, are they ever likely to understand the complexity of the learning tasks that they are committed to?

One of the intriguing aspects of globalising Anglo-American expertise is that ELT is not a high-prestige profession in either the US or the UK. In both countries there are unmet English language needs for children and adults. In addition, foreign language learning is much less widespread and effective than in many countries.

It is true that there is a massive demand for English worldwide, to which many factors, from trade and tourism to regional integration, contribute. Maintaining the value of western investments and influence in the decolonisation period led to the mushrooming of departments of Tesol and applied linguistics from the 1950s. The demand for English has been orchestrated by western governments and their allies worldwide, and key bodies such as the World Bank. The "supply" of expertise dovetails with demand.

Governments have tended to clutch at a quick fix, such as importing native speakers, or starting English ever earlier, either as a subject or as the medium of instruction, in the hope that this will make the learning of English more effective. Such demands should be challenged by ELT when both the demand and the response are unlikely to be educationally, culturally or linguistically well-informed.


Saturday, August 18, 2012

Teaching Theory - Anchored Instruction

Teaching Theory: Anchored Instruction.

Anchored instruction is a major paradigm for technology-based learning that has been developed by the Cognition & Technology Group at Vanderbilt (CTGV) under the leadership of John Bransford. While many people have contributed to the theory and research of anchored instruction, Bransford is the principal spokesperson and hence the theory is attributed to him.

The initial focus of the work was on the development of interactive videodisc tools that encouraged students and teachers to pose and solve complex, realistic problems. The video materials serve as "anchors" (macro-contexts) for all subsequent learning and instruction. As explained by CTGV (1993, p52): "The design of these anchors was quite different from the design of videos that were typically used in education...our goal was to create interesting, realistic contexts that encouraged the active construction of knowledge by learners. Our anchors were stories rather than lectures and were designed to be explored by students and teachers. " The use of interactive videodisc technology makes it possible for students to easily explore the content.

Anchored instruction is close ly related to the situated learning framework (see CTGV, 1990, 1993) and also to the Cognitive Flexibility theory in its emphasis on the use of technology-based learning.


The primary application of anchored instruction has been to elementary reading, language arts and mathematics skills. The CLGV has developed a set of interactive videodisc programs called the "Jasper Woodbury Problem Solving Series". These programs involve adventures in which mathematical concepts are used to solve problems . However, the anchored instruction paradigm is based upon a general model of problem-solving (Bransford & Stein, 1993).


One of the early anchored instruction activities involved the use of the film, "Young Sherlock Holmes" in interactive videodisc form. Students were asked to examine the film in terms of causal connections, motives of the characters, and authenticity of the settings in order to understand the nature of life in Victorian England. The film provides the anchor for an understanding of story-telling and a particular historical era.


1. Learning and teaching activities should be designed around a "anchor" which should be some sort of case-study or problem situation.

2. Curriculum materials should allow exploration by the learner (e.g., interactive videodisc programs).

For more about anchored instruction, visit the web site of John Bransford or the Jasper Woodbury project at Vanderbilt University.


Bransford, J.D. et al. (1990). Anchored instruction: Why we need it and how technology can help. In D. Nix & R. Sprio (Eds), Cognition, education and multimedia. Hillsdale, NJ: Erlbaum Associates.

Bransford, J.D. & Stein, B.S. (1993). The Ideal Problem Solver (2nd Ed). New York: Freeman.

CTGV (1990). Anchored instruction and its relationship to situated cognition. Educational Researcher, 19 (6), 2-10.

CTGV (1993). Anchored instruction and situated cognition revisted. Educational Technology, 33 (3), 52- 70.


Friday, August 17, 2012

Humour in Teaching

Humour in Teaching.

If by any chance you are reading this outside the UK: "humour" has a "u" in it, in proper English!

Humour is an important spice to use in teaching—but like any spice, you don't want too much of it. Many teachers, like myself, will have found their jokes being solemnly repeated back to them in assignments and particularly in exams. There is something about the culture of dependence characteristic of the classroom group which diminishes the ability to discriminate between the serious and the humorous.

Nevertheless, gentle humour—never at the expense of anybody, except perhaps yourself (and then only occasionally and in an atmosphere of trust)—leavens the session wonderfully, and can rouse students from mid-lecture torpor. If it fails to do so, they are too far gone to be learning anything, either, so you might as well give up on that session.

Rules of Thumb

* The best kind of humour is not the discrete joke, but humour integrated into the main substance of the material, so that it is not merely a contribution to the maintenance needs of the group, but aids memory and understanding.    

* Even when it is integrated, humour is an optional extra, and so there is no excuse for any kind of humour which is potentially offensive to anyone, whether represented within the group or not. See the pages on equal opportunities.  

* If your jokes always fall flat in ordinary social conversation, they probably will in class. You may for some bizarre reason wish to acquire a reputation as a groan-monger rather than laughter-monger, but otherwise leave it to others.          

* If you can't remember whether you have told this joke to this class before—don't tell it. If you have told it before, it also sends the message to the class that they are not that memorable to you, and therefore diminishes their importance, which is likely to inhibit that fragile frame of mind in which they can really learn. 

A colleague of mind in my first job used to tick off the jokes he had used on his scheme of work.

Keep humorous interludes short, but identifiable. Classes are not places for one-liners: comedy requires a particular frame of mind, which is different from that for learning. Students need to be able to frame an utterance as a joke—or else they'll take it down in their notes (and possibly resent the wasted effort when the punch-line arrives).      

* The exception is the humorous anecdote which nevertheless makes a teaching point.        

Natural banter between the students and yourself is the best kind of humour in the classroom:             

* It signals an appropriate, comfortable relationship—as long as you are comfortable with it, and you don't feel that they are “taking the mickey”.   
* Take your cue from the students: banter which you initiate can be experienced as a put-down and an abuse of your power.          

Beware of inter-student joking behaviour which is at the expense of a member of the group. It may be wise to be careful about sanctioning against it too heavily (unless it is clearly abusive), because there may also be an agenda about "winding you up", but make your disapproval clear, and do not collude with it, however seductive it may be. Ask yourself why they need to do this in this class—it could tell you something about the group.


Thursday, August 16, 2012

The Largest Source of Teacher Stress?

The Largest Source of Teacher Stress? Students.

Although things like paperwork, homework grading and the rapidly changing academic landscape combine to make teaching one of the most stressful jobs, some teachers are saying that their main source of stress are the students themselves. Debbie Fite, a sixth-grade teacher at Three Oaks Middle School in San Carlos Park, who has been standing in front of classrooms for more than 17 years, says that when she goes home at night she worries less about what kind of an impact the latest education reform proposal will have on her job and more about problems facing this or that student in her class.

Fite says that she particularly worries about the student performance on standardized exams, which now has a significant bearing on her own career.

“I feel it’s a reflection on me,” said Fite. “I can only do so much in the time I see them and I can’t control what goes on outside my door. I can’t control if their parents encourage them or value them. I can’t control if there is fighting in the home. Or if their parents don’t care what time they go to bed. But when I have them for 83 minutes, that’s my only time and I can’t get everything done in the classroom.”

Some teachers in Fite’s district blame their increasing levels of stress on the new evaluation system currently being developed jointly by the Lee County School District and the teachers union that will count standardized test results and other objective student performance metrics for 50% of the overall teacher rating. Julie Smith, who teaches mathematics to 5th-graders in Pinewoods Elementary School, says that she is worried that once the new assessment system is deployed, her evaluation scores will be even further out of her control. Teacher quality is only a part of what determines if a student will be successful or not, she explains, so her pay — and her career — could depend on factors outside of her sphere of responsibility.

“One thing that is stressful is dealing with the kids themselves,” said Mike Nowlin, a former high school math teacher. “As far as them not having a good work ethic, lack of personal responsibility and being able to take care of simple things on their own.”

Before teachers can get to helping students understand the material with a textbook, they have to convince the student to bring the book to class, said Nowlin, who returned to teaching in 2010 for a year and a half at South Fort Myers High before leaving last school year over Christmas break for a new job.

Nowlin added that no amount of instructional skill can improve outcomes for students who aren’t willing to do their part. Even a top-notch teacher in front of the classroom will not make a difference to kids who refuse to do homework, don’t pay attention, and treat lessons as an opportunity to socialize with their peers.


Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Five Practices for Building Positive Relationships With Students

Five Practices for Building Positive Relationships With Students.

The objective is posted. The Do Now is ready to go. Your well-planned lesson is aligned with state standards, includes a variety of instructional methods, and offers opportunities for both summative and formative assessments.

What might still be missing? A strong positive relationship with your students, the kind of connection that makes them want to go above and beyond in your class.

Can you have a good lesson without having a positive relationship with your students? Yes. But can a strong relationship lead to an even higher level of academic success? Absolutely!

As education researcher Robert Marzano has pointed out, "Positive relationships between teachers and students are among the most commonly cited variables associated with effective instruction … A weak or negative relationship will mute or even negate the benefits of even the most effective instructional strategies."

Most of us have a general sense of what "positive relationships" means in the classroom context. We learned in our teacher preparation classes that we need to encourage our students to achieve the high goals we've set, treat all students equally, and always show them respect.

But how this looks on a daily basis depends on us—our personalities, but also our strategic efforts to make sure we're building relationships.

Here are five practices that have helped me develop positive relationships with my students:

1) Leave yourself reminders on your laptop.

I only see my doctor once a year, but every time I go in, he asks about each of my children by name. Of course, I know he checks my file before he walks into the room, but it still shows me he cares and makes me want to treat him with respect.

We need to do the same for our students. That's why I often have post-it memos stuck to my laptop with reminders, such as "ask Ari about her sister" or "check on Kristi’s tennis match." I wish I could say that I am capable of remembering everything without writing it down, but those days are gone!

Recently, I casually asked Brandon, one of my sophomore students, if his father was feeling better after his accident. On his way out of class, in typical high school boy fashion, Brandon gave me a nod and quietly said, "Thanks for remembering about my dad." No matter how many times I had told the class that I cared, that one simple gesture proved it to Brandon. If I had not followed up with Brandon about his dad's accident, I would have indirectly told him that I didn't care.

2) Never let the other students see you react inappropriately to a student's comment.

I'll never forget the moment when I realized that this was a critical part of forming a positive relationship with the students in my class.

Andrew, a junior who definitely marched to the beat of his own drum and had trouble fitting in, raised his hand to answer a question. His response was not only incorrect—it was something he should have known. The room became silent. Students began glancing around and grinning awkwardly. Every eye in that classroom was on me.

In that moment, I knew that I could not let my eyes veer even slightly from Andrew's, nor could I allow the merest hint of a smile to show. Yes, by looking at the other students with a smirk, a pitiful face, or a confused look, I could have "bonded" with the class. I could have been part of the group that "got it" and knew Andrew's answer was off. Instead, I looked only at Andrew, thanked him for answering, responded quickly, and moved on.

In a single moment, all 26 kids in that class learned three important things: 1) No matter how foolish your answer is, you will not be ridiculed in this class; 2) All of my students are equally important to me; and 3) While I want to have a close relationship with you, it will never be at the expense of another student.

3) Actually use the information you receive from a first-day student survey.

While this seems obvious, I must admit that I didn't always do it. I spent years developing what I think is a pretty great first day information sheet for my high school students. Certainly I would read and reread the surveys throughout the semester—but it was only last year that I found some concrete ways to use that information.

I now make a list of the hobbies, interests, and extra-curricular activities that they write about on their surveys. I also write down their responses to such questions as, "Do you prefer to work alone or with a partner?" and "Do you like doing math?"

As a reminder to myself (I've already established that I need reminders and post-it notes!), I keep all of this information on my desk throughout the semester so I remember to use it as I group students, plan lessons, or arrange seats.

Almost every semester, some brave student asks if I'm really going to read their responses. It's a fair question.

Think about it: What does it say to a student if she writes that she doesn't like sitting in the back or working with a partner, but I seat her in the back and assign partner work without so much as a comment?

4) Schedule "bonding" time.

Before you dismiss this one, hear me out. I must admit, I'm not a fan of using icebreakers or getting-to-know-you activities at the high school level. Students work hard in my class, and I need to make sure they are learning during every available minute. In addition, with 25 to 30 students in a class, it can be a challenge to find time to bond with each one who walks through my door.

I've realized that I can get to know students effectively while they are doing problem-solving activities or small-group work. There's really no need for extra activities.

For example, while small groups of students did practice work on functions last semester, I remember walking around the class very purposefully and connecting with certain students. I used that time as an opportunity to ask about their activities or lives outside of school.

If I notice that the dynamics are off in a particular class, I will schedule an activity that does not require much guidance from me just so that I can use the time to reconnect.

5) Finally, and most simply, learn your students' names immediately.

This has been, by far, the best first-day-of-school advice I've ever received. I know it may seem like a tired old saw, but this strategy is effective. I always know my kids' names by the time they leave my classroom on the first day. In their eyes, it's a very impressive feat to learn so many names in 90 minutes. I just have to make sure they never find out that I have access to their photos and names before they ever enter the room!

If you're like me, you may sometimes get so caught up in the act of teaching that you forget the heart of teaching. Many teacher-preparation programs for secondary teachers tend to focus on content knowledge, which is obviously critical. But, in the process of mastering what I'm teaching, I don't ever want to forget whom I'm teaching.


Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Lessons from the Global Classroom: Supporting Girls Through School Can Transform Communities

Lessons from the global classroom: Supporting girls through school can transform communities.

As a poor girl in rural Zimbabwe, Bridget Moyo padded barefoot behind her friends to the school gate "just to see what it was like". Then a charity stepped in to pay her school fees. She worked hard, went on to study business at university, and when she graduated last year, so many people in her home district gathered to cheer her success "that I could not believe that they were all there for me".

Now she's setting up a business selling airbeds, while devoting her free time to working as a mentor and community volunteer, encouraging other girls to aim high. And the Cambridge-based organisation that picked up the tab for her seven years ago is fast moving on to the global stage as the go-to agency for governments and funders in search of educational development that really works.

This year it out-bid UN agencies and major international charities to win £12m of new British aid money to extend its work in Zimbabwe and, with funding from the MasterCard Foundation and Google, is setting up a training programme in Ghana that will benefit a million people. It is consolidating a new schools programme in Malawi and fielding a growing number of requests from African governments to work in their countries.

It has caught the attention of world leaders like Bill Clinton, gained the backing of Hollywood superstars such as Morgan Freeman, won awards for social entrepreneurship and reeled in top bankers and lawyers as supporters. Yet the unsexily titled Camfed (the Campaign for Female Education) International does nothing unusual. It pays for girls in poor rural areas in Africa to go to secondary school and gives them training to set up small businesses afterwards, aiming to give girls the same chances as boys, and to foster the multiplier "girl effect" (girls who finish secondary school earn more, delay childbirth, avoid Aids and have fewer children and keep them healthier and send them to school, thereby creating a better future for everyone).

It is how it does it that makes the difference – and after 20 years working in rural Africa it can show that its unique model prompts transformational changes even in the most disadvantaged areas on earth.

The organisation has few UK staff and runs through national offices in the countries in which it works: Zimbabwe, Zambia, Ghana, Tanzania and Malawi. These set up committees of local leaders to decide which students most need bursaries, often orphans living in dire poverty. "It's easy to work with children who have potential," Angeline Murimirwa, executive director of Camfed Zimbabwe, says. "But we take on the downtrodden, disliked and disowned."

Groups of community volunteers support these girls through secondary school, after which the girls join an alumnae network – Cama – which offers training, support and friendship. As a result, 90,000 teachers, parents, students and local officials are actively working together to help vulnerable local children. Camfed doesn't work with the community. It is the community itself. Then ripples spread. Cama women set up small businesses, farm their fields better, volunteer in their communities and club together to support more poor students in school.

"I buy and sell clothes and have many plans," says Tambudzai Kashoti, who lives a two-hours drive east of Zimbabwe's capital, Harare. "People now see what I am doing and come to me for ideas, and I also help pay my husband's fees while he is training as a teacher."

Older mothers and grandmothers, spurred on by their example, set up their own support groups. "In my district they work in the fields all day, come home and clean themselves, and then go to school to clean the boarding house and the toilets," Rosemary Mukwenya, a mothers' leader from northern Zimbabwe, says. "They also pay for soap, sanitary towels and footwear for students."

This prompts the men to make classroom furniture, dig latrines and build school dormitories. "We were challenged by what the mothers were doing," admits Lovemore Chiriga, from a fathers' group in eastern Zimbabwe. "What I learned from Camfed is that you can help children who are not your own."

Attitudes change, skills develop, solidarity grows and even in the face of great difficulty these changes hold. In the darkest days of Zimbabwean political upheaval and hyperinflation, villages with Camfed programmes kept their schools open by banding together to pay and feed the teachers who worked in them.

"We are funding girls' education in a way that builds a community's power and social capital," says Ann Cotton, an executive director and a former teacher who founded Camfed after working in Zimbabwe as an educational researcher. "When people get involved like this they learn about their rights and responsibilities, and realise what they can do."

But even this does not fully explain Camfed's impact – other organisations have copied its model without success. "It's because everything we do is based on personal relationships and respectful partnerships," Lucy Lake, CEO of Camfed International, says.

"Camfed treats us as partners, not as problems to be fixed or crooks to be avoided," says Lawford Palani, a district commissioner in Malawi, where the programme is being nurtured by Camfed activists from Zimbabwe. "We are not micro-managed. We are supported and challenged to do more and better all the time. Camfed really consults us and listens to us."

"And in Camfed we value a child as a child," Faith Nkala, deputy executive director of Camfed Zimbabwe, says. "We deal with every child, not with all children." Bursary recipients are individually tracked and are given clothes, toiletries, books and stationery while in school. They are checked on regularly, coaxed back if they drop out, and allocated a teacher mentor to protect them from bullying and sexual abuse.

As a result, young lives are transformed. "Cama is full of amazing women," Melody Jori, who has launched a business magazine in Harare, says. "We respect ourselves, our families and our communities. We give strength to each other, defy the odds and break through barriers, because where people think something is not possible, we believe it is and we do something to make it happen."

But involvement with Camfed appears to prompt personal journeys for everyone. "In our culture we used to pay for things with girls," Chief Hata, a traditional tribal leader from eastern Zimbabwe, says. "I myself would settle cases by awarding someone a girl. But through Camfed I saw that girls are human beings, too. We were doing the wrong thing, and must support them. Now many fewer girls drop out from school because of pregnancy. And I too am supporting a child through school."

The organisation has helped 1.5 million girls and vulnerable boys in school, put 60,000 girls through secondary school and trained 5,000 teacher mentors; 1,000 girls have been helped through college – including women who are now doctors, lawyers and community leaders – and 7,700 businesses have been helped; 17,500 young women belong to Cama and last year they helped support 96,000 students through school with their own money.

And research shows Camfed's work has a wider general influence on civic standards, lowering school drop-out rates and encouraging local philanthropy. The organisation is now looking to help raise school standards and foster job opportunities, knowing that fledgling ambitions must not be thwarted. "We have to keep moving forward," Cotton says, "always bearing in mind what is best for the child."


Sunday, August 12, 2012

Universities Reshaping Education on the Web

Universities Reshaping Education on the Web.

As part of a seismic shift in online learning that is reshaping higher education, Coursera, a year-old company founded by two Stanford University computer scientists, will announce on Tuesday that a dozen major research universities are joining the venture. In the fall, Coursera will offer 100 or more free massive open online courses, or MOOCs, that are expected to draw millions of students and adult learners globally.

Even before the expansion, Daphne Koller and Andrew Ng, the founders of Coursera, said it had registered 680,000 students in 43 courses with its original partners, Michigan, Princeton, Stanford and the University of Pennsylvania.

Now, the partners will include the California Institute of Technology; Duke University; the Georgia Institute of Technology; Johns Hopkins University; Rice University; the University of California, San Francisco; the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign; the University of Washington; and the University of Virginia, where the debate over online education was cited in last’s month’s ousting — quickly overturned — of its president, Teresa A. Sullivan. Foreign partners include the University of Edinburgh in Scotland, the University of Toronto and EPF Lausanne, a technical university in Switzerland.

And some of them will offer credit.

“This is the tsunami,” said Richard A. DeMillo, the director of the Center for 21st Century Universities at Georgia Tech. “It’s all so new that everyone’s feeling their way around, but the potential upside for this experiment is so big that it’s hard for me to imagine any large research university that wouldn’t want to be involved.”

Because of technological advances — among them, the greatly improved quality of online delivery platforms, the ability to personalize material and the capacity to analyze huge numbers of student experiences to see which approach works best — MOOCs are likely to be a game-changer, opening higher education to hundreds of millions of people.

To date, most MOOCs have covered computer science, math and engineering, but Coursera is expanding into areas like medicine, poetry and history. MOOCs were largely unknown until a wave of publicity last year about Stanford University’s free online artificial intelligence course attracted 160,000 students from 190 countries. Only a small percentage of the students completed the course, but even so, the numbers were staggering.

“The fact that so many people are so curious about these courses shows the yearning for education,” said Molly Corbett Broad, president of the American Council on Education. “There are going to be lots of bumps in the road, but this is a very important experiment at a very substantial scale.”

So far, MOOCs have offered no credit, just a “statement of accomplishment” and a grade. But the University of Washington said it planned to offer credit for its Coursera offerings this fall, and other online ventures are also moving in that direction. David P. Szatmary, the university’s vice provost, said that to earn credit, students would probably have to pay a fee, do extra assignments and work with an instructor.

Experts say it is too soon to predict how MOOCs will play out, or which venture will emerge as the leader. Coursera, with about $22 million in financing, including $3.7 million in equity investment from Caltech and Penn, may currently have the edge. But no one is counting out edX, a joint venture of Harvard and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, or Udacity, the company founded by Sebastian Thrun of Stanford, who taught the artificial intelligence course last year.

Each company offers online materials broken into manageable chunks, with short video segments, interactive quizzes and other activities — as well as online forums where students answer one another’s questions.

But even Mr. Thrun, a master of MOOCs, cautioned that for all their promise, the courses are still experimental. “I think we are rushing this a little bit,” he said. “I haven’t seen a single study showing that online learning is as good as other learning.”

Worldwide access is Coursera’s goal. “EPF Lausanne, which offers courses in French, opens up access for students in half of Africa,” Ms. Koller said. Each university designs and produces its own courses and decides whether to offer credit.

Coursera does not pay the universities, and the universities do not pay Coursera, but both incur substantial costs. Contracts provide that if a revenue stream emerges, the company and the universities will share it. 


Saturday, August 11, 2012

UK Teachers Often Lack Degrees in Subjects They Teach

UK Teachers Often Lack Degrees in Subjects They Teach.

One quarter of mathematics teachers in England don’t have a degree in the subject according to the data released by the Department of Education. In all, that means that 9,500 teachers around the country don’t have the expertise that comes from obtaining a university diploma in the subject that they teach. The worst news of all might be that the number of such teachers has grown by nearly 1,000 in the past year and is expected to go up even more in the future.

Although the situation isn’t as dire among English Language Arts instructors – only 20% lack a university English degree – among teachers of the sciences subjects like geography, only about two-thirds have the requisite expertise.

This is very bad news, according to the director to the Centre for Education and Employment Research at Buckingham University Alan Smithers. Instructors who lack good academic background in the subject that they teach risk alienating their students and reduce their enthusiasm. The impact of being “turned off” due to sub-part instruction could haunt the students years down the line and reduces the number of university entrants who choose to major in mathematics or the sciences.

    “The absolute essential thing is that a teacher has a good understanding of the subject at the level they are teaching it,” he said. “Our best indicator of that is holding a degree or post-A-level qualification.”

    Prof Smithers added: “If you have a biologist teaching physics, even at age 11, it may well be that their enthusiasm for physics isn’t there, and the child isn’t excited by it and moves in another direction.

    “It’s the understanding and enthusiasm that’s important.”

The decreasing number of properly-educated teachers could be due to an ongoing severe instructor shortage, especially in the “hard” subjects. Schools are being forced to place staff that has expertise in other areas in classrooms in order to make sure that there’s at least someone instructing the students. Over the past several years, English schools have experienced difficulties in recruiting staff qualified to teach math, science and foreign languages, so inexperienced instructors are almost an inevitable development.

    A Department for Education spokeswoman said: “If we want an education system that ranks with the best in the world, we have to attract outstanding people into the profession, and give them excellent training – at the start of – and throughout – their careers.”

    The government is overhauling teacher training and offering better financial bursaries to top science, maths and languages graduates to encourage them to become teachers, she said.


Friday, August 10, 2012

Number of Students Increasing Rapidly, Universities Getting Overloaded

Number of students increasing rapidly, universities getting overloaded.

According to the Ministry of Education and Training, there are 46 universities and 17 junior colleges in Hanoi. Besides, there are also nearly 40 vocational high schools with the total number of students accounting for 43 percent of the number of students in the whole country. Meanwhile, there are 112 schools in HCM City.

Hanoi and HCM City are the two big cities where most of the key universities with very high numbers of students are located.

Material facilities poor, number of students increasing rapidly – what to do?

Tran Thanh Binh, Director of the School Design and Research Institute under the Ministry of Education and Training, said that the average area of schools is too low Most of the schools have the land of less than 10 hectares, lack basic functional areas, and their the education environment is generally bad.

Analysts have blamed the current situation on the too rapidly increasing number of students. Meanwhile, schools’ actual land area have been reduced because parts of the land have been used for different purposes.

The Hanoi University of Technology with 34 hectares of land was designed in 1960s to fit 2000 students. Meanwhile, the number of students has increased 10 times.

newly established schools have been running in even worse conditions. The classrooms are located on small areas or in houses which were not designed as classrooms. It is common that students of the same schools have to go to classrooms located in different places. Meanwhile, the schools are not located in easily accessible areas.

some schools have made large investment of hundreds of billions dong to upgrade their facilities. The Hanoi Economics University, for example, carried out the project to fit 15,000 students of the school. However, the school is located on Giai Phong Road near the key traffic point. Meanwhile, many other schools are located in the area with no urban roads, thus making it difficlut to travel.

Relocating schools to suburb areas? It’s not easy

The only solution to the current problem is to relocate the schools to suburb areas, where the there is more available land. The HCM City authorities have reserved 2210 hectares of land in Dong Bac new urban area for 50 schools to move in.

Hanoi is also planning to bring 40,000 students of the Hanoi National University to Hoa Lac new urban area, 30 kilometres from the city centre More than 10 universities and junior colleges will be moved to satellite urban areas such as Gia Lam (the area will gather agriculture, polytechnique and technology schools), Soc Son (polytechnique and information technology), and Son Tay (social sciences, pedagogical and tourism schools)

However, experts have warned that it is not easy to relocate and re-equip the schools, because the project will need a huge sum of capital which goes beyond the capacity of schools, while the state budget remains limited.

Then a new solution has been suggested that schools can exchange their campuses in the inner city for the capital to be invested in suburb areas.

This measure has been applied by the HCM City University of Physical and Sports Education is after getting the approval from the Ministry of Education and Training and HCM City authorities. This means that the city’s authorities will auction a land plot (which has the same value with the current land plot of the school) in order to get money to help the school build a new campus. After everything is prepared at the new campus, the school will hand over its current campus to the city.

However, the project is facing a lot of difficulties. An official from the school said that the land plot for auction has not been sold.

Dr Pham Van Nang, President of the HCM City Economics University, said that the school has been talking about the relocation for the past 10 years. However, no considerable progress has been made so far.


Thursday, August 9, 2012

Got the Next Great Idea?

Got the Next Great Idea?

EVERYONE, it seems, has an app or a genius idea for one. Credit the lackluster job market plus facile tools and technology — no Ph.D. in programming required — for the rise of campus hack cultures that reach far beyond engineering and computer science majors and Stanford and M.I.T. Big rewards like the $100 billion public offering for Facebook, which was conceived in a Harvard dorm, and its $1 billion splurge on Instagram only feed the fantasies of code-writing college students.

In 2010, four Emory students — Ian McCall, Nir Levy, Giovanni Hobbins and Pat Shea — met in Mr. Shea’s dorm room to upgrade the Web site of a student group but instead decided to build a portal to organize campus life. Thus was born Campus Bubble, a platform for university information and postings from campus groups, students and businesses.

Now headquartered in Mr. Shea’s apartment (he graduated in May), the founders have four summer interns and are working madly to launch version 2.0 next month after a pilot run last year attracted 4,000 users. Mr. McCall, a senior, recalls early meetings as “really exhilarating.” He’ll also tell you that the adrenaline rush of hatching a hot idea comes with a counter-rush: What now?

Instinct may suggest you head west. That’s the play if you land a spot in Y Combinator (despite a YouTube plea, Campus Bubble did not). Admission to the three-month program is more competitive than Harvard or Yale, and comes with cachet. You give up a percentage of your start-up’s equity. But those who get in, like Wesley Zhao and Ajay Mehta (Mr. Zhao is on leave from the University of Pennsylvania and Mr. Mehta from New York University), say the advice, speakers, community and high-power tech network is worth the price. “They provide you with so much value from Day 1,” says Mr. Zhao, who with Mr. Mehta developed FamilyLeaf, an online site for sharing family photos and news. The accelerator connected them with two additional founders, and $170,000 in initial financing. And their March “Demonstration Day” performance (sporting T-shirts hand-painted the night before with their company name) earned them several new investors.

Inclusion in private incubators like Y Combinator and TechStars is coveted because of their strong track records with start-ups (Dropbox, Bump, Loopt) and the Silicon Valley icons who serve as mentors. But young entrepreneurs can find good help without leaving campus. “It’s possible for a 20-year-old to create something that changes the world,” says Bryce C. Pilz, a University of Michigan law professor who works with student start-ups.

That’s revolutionary thinking for a university culture that has long focused on the inventions of graduate students and faculty. But campuses are beginning to put their bets on undergraduates. Who better understands the social media mindset? And what campus wouldn’t want an Instagram founder as an alum?

Campus incubators are growing. New data from the National Business Incubation Association show that about one-third of the 1,250 business incubators in the United States are at universities, up from one-fifth in 2006. Even nontechie campuses like Northern Kentucky University, Duke and Syracuse have jumped in the pool, recently adding or planning to add start-up incubators.

On campus or off, incubators are not always useful. Some do little more than provide free or cheap space and a coffee machine. What entrepreneurs really need is guidance and like-minded peers.

That’s why George Washington University decided to offer “soup-to-nuts support” for start-ups when it created the Office of Entrepreneurship two years ago, with workshops on crafting an elevator pitch and talks like “Student Start-Ups: From Dorm Room to Board Room.” Jim Chung, the program director, notes that today’s start-ups are led not just by business and computer majors but by “designers, musicians, anybody with good ideas,” so universities need to connect these students to experts and to one another.

“When students are doing crazy stuff, they need to be around other crazy people who think they’re sane,” says Moses Lee, assistant director of TechArb, a four-year-old university-sponsored student incubator (he prefers “start-up hive”) in the basement of a parking garage at the University of Michigan. Getting into TechArb is competitive. Last fall, 65 teams applied for 20 spots. Its curriculum has students pitching to potential users or customers and leading a monthly board meeting to learn how to justify themselves to investors.

Mr. Lee, who is starting up an online student portfolio for job hunting, says that talking about your vision and getting feedback are key early steps. Incubator offices are buzzing at 4 a.m.

Although universities tend to view incubators aimed at undergraduates as the equivalent of a career office, they can also have claims on a student’s I.P. (start-up parlance for intellectual property), says Todd Sherer, president of the Association of University Technology Managers, whose members turn campus inventions into commercial deals. Dr. Sherer, who is also director of Emory’s technology transfer office, says undergraduates are typically considered sole owners of their inventions, but there are exceptions: if a student receives a university grant or is paid by the university for the work, if the idea is developed with faculty, or if a student uses significant campus resources to develop the idea.

At the University of Michigan, students had feared that bringing a project to class or sharing with a professor “would trigger university ownership,” Mr. Pilz says. The language in its policy — that it could claim ownership if student inventors relied on “direct or indirect support of funds administered by the university” — was having a chilling effect. In 2009, the university gavestudents sole ownership of their inventions, even if they work on the idea in a course or use university equipment.

An Entrepreneurship Clinic, in which law students provide free help to undergraduate start-ups, began in January and is now the most popular clinic at the law school; 97 students vied for 16 clinic spots for the fall.

Mr. Chung notes that universities would rather foster positive relations than collect shares in student businesses. “Successful alumni breed successful schools,” he says. Yahoo! started on Stanford servers, but the university never sought ownership. Jerry Yang and David Filo, the founders, endowed a $2 million chair in the School of Engineering and Mr. Yang and his wife have given $75 million.

Google is another story. Stanford owns patents on technology developed by two graduate students, Larry Page and Sergey Brin. Federal filings for 2011 show the company paid Stanford $400,000 in royalties, and donated $3 million. Stanford’s president, John L. Hennessy, is on the Google board and some 1,300 Stanford graduates work at Google.

The Campus Bubble founders initially “worried about Emory taking some ownership,” says Mr. McCall. But they needed the cooperation of the university — it is The Emory Bubble they are attempting to introduce — so they hired a lawyer and made a deal, giving Emory shares for use of the trademark. Charles Goetz, their teacher in an entrepreneurship class, became their adviser. He says the deal has opened doors, including landing the start-up’s first investor. Mr. Shea agrees: “The fact that we were working with the university gave us some legitimacy.” The $25,000 infusion means the founders, who did Web development on the side to pay living expenses and a $2,000 legal bill, can now pay their interns and focus on their project.

Few student start-ups become Facebook. Most don’t even make a profit. Jeffrey Babin, business adviser for Wharton’s Venture Initiation Program at the University of Pennsylvania, an incubator with 31 student start-ups, warns that “ideas are a dime a dozen — whoever gets it to market in the fastest and most effective manner wins.” Success is elusive, Mr. Babin says, and young founders often decide that it makes more sense to work for someone else. But, he adds: “The value of the venture may be zero. What you have learned? It’s invaluable.”


Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Reasons For Choosing Montessori

A Mother's Reasons For Choosing Montessori.

This is the time of year when the parents of many preschoolers must decide where their child will attend school in the fall. I wanted to take this opportunity to share my experience with Montessori preschool education.

My son is completing his second year in a Montessori preschool program and attended from the age of 3 1/2.

I chose Montessori for several reasons. First, my son is a bright, inquisitive child who already had a sound grounding in recognition of his alphabet, numbers, shapes, and colors before he started preschool. I was worried that he might be bored in a more traditional preschool. Montessori's highly individual program means he is always challenged and interested. In addition, my son is a very active child and the Montessori program gives him lots of opportunity for free play outdoors and indoors as well as more freedom to move about, stand, or even lie on the ground while working on his lessons in the classroom.

In my opinion one of Montessori's great advantages is the fact that the child drives the educational experience. My son's interests and abilities determine his unique educational program and so his lessons may overlap but are not identical to those of his classmates. This makes him an eager and motivated student.

The education program offered by Montessori also includes many advantages. My son's experience includes the arts, math and science, language, and life skills. He regularly impresses our friends and family with his knowledge of science, sign language, and other areas not traditionally included in preschool programs.

I also like the fact that his classroom includes a wider range of ages so he has friends who are both younger and older. In addition, he really enjoys having regular contact with the elementary-age students who serve as both role models and friends.

Finally, as a parent, I cannot stress enough the benefits that a program like Montessori offers in terms of life skills. All students are expected to be responsible for their own personal hygiene as well as maintenance and cleaning of the classroom and food areas. While support is offered by adults and older children, even young children can learn to clean up after themselves. It has certainly had an impact on my son's willingness and ability to help out at home.

Recently I compared preschool experiences with a friend whose child is completing her second year in what most people consider to be the top preschool program in our community. We compared our children's skills to the checklist provided by our school district of 60 skills (including cognitive skills, listening and sequencing skills, language skills, fine motor skills, gross motor skills, and social/emotional skills) that will help children transition into kindergarten. My son has all 60 skills while her daughter lacked skills in each of the areas.

I recommend every parent at least consider Montessori for their child as it is a child-centered learning approach that can provide an excellent foundation for a child's future growth and learning.


Tuesday, August 7, 2012

One Course 150000 Students

One Course, 150,000 Students.

AT the May announcement of edX, the Harvard-M.I.T. partnership that will offer free online courses with a certificate of completion, Susan Hockfield, the president of M.I.T., declared: “Fasten your seat belts.” If anyone was ready for the ride — the $60 million venture aims to reach a billion people — it was Anant Agarwal, the director of M.I.T.’s Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory. Mr. Agarwal, named the first president of edX, describes himself as a “serial entrepreneur” who first went into business as a child in Mangalore, India, building coops for 40 chickens and selling their eggs. Start-ups still call to him: in 2005-6, he took time off from M.I.T. to create a semiconductor company. And in December, when M.I.T. decided to plunge into the world of massive open online courses, or MOOCs, with a new platform called MITx (now folded into edX), he came forward to teach the first offering, which ran March 5 to June 8 and enrolled over 150,000.

How did you come to teach the first course?

I just backed into it. M.I.T. asked me to look for a teacher for the MITx prototype course. I talked to some of my colleagues, who are much better teachers than I am, but I couldn’t get anyone to agree to do it. Many of them said it couldn’t be done in three months. But I’m really impatient, I like to get things done, and I’ve started enough companies to know that you can do things that big companies wouldn’t think was possible.

The debut course was “Circuits and Electronics.” Why that one?

It was not my first choice at all. A computer science or digital course would have made more sense, but “Circuits” was something I could teach. It’s one of the hardest courses at M.I.T. You need differential equations and calculus, and we had to develop online simulated laboratories.

We’re starting slowly, with four to six courses in the fall and maybe a dozen in the spring. We hope to offer computer science, biology, math, physics, public health, history and more.

Did you expect so much demand?

With no marketing dollars, I thought we might get 200 students. When we posted on the Web site that we were taking registration and the course would start in March, my colleague Piotr Mitros called and said, “We’re getting 10,000 registrations a day.” I fell off my seat and said, “Piotr, are you sure you’ve got the decimal point right?” My most fearful moment was when we launched the course. I worried that the system couldn’t handle it, and would keel over and die.

Granted, there are no papers to grade, and assignments aren’t free-form, but how does one professor handle so many students?

We had four teaching assistants, and my initial plan was that they would spend a lot of time on the discussion forum, answering questions. One night in the early days, I was on the forum at 2 a.m. when I saw a student ask a question, and I was typing my answer when I discovered that another student had typed an answer before I could. It was in the right direction, but not quite there, so I thought I could modify it, but then some other student jumped in with the right answer. It was fascinating to see how quickly students were helping each other. All we had to do was go in and say that it was a good answer. I actually instructed the T.A.’s not to answer so quickly, to let students work for an hour or two, and by and large they find the answers.

The discussion forum has many interesting features, like karma points. If someone posts a question, and another student votes it up, which is like “liking” the question, the student who posted it gets karma points. Or if a staff member checks an answer as correct, the student gets a big bonus of points. If you get a large number of karma points, you get some of the privileges of an instructor, like closing down a discussion when people have come to the right answer.

How does this all work with a global enrollment?

It’s been amazing. You’d see someone post in Brazil looking for other students in Brazil so they could meet and have a study group at a coffee shop. Facebook sites for the course popped up, not all in English. There are people in Tunisia, Pakistan, New Zealand, Latin America. And a professor in Mongolia has a group of students taking the course. He got them all a little laboratory kit, so they’re doing the experiments live along with the course.

Most students who register for MOOCs don’t complete the course. Of the 154,763 who registered for “Circuits and Electronics,” fewer than half even got as far as looking at the first problem set, and only 7,157 passed the course. What do you make of that?

A large number of the students who sign up for MOOCs are browsing, to see what it’s like. They might not have the right background for the course. They might just do a little bit of the coursework. Our course was M.I.T.-hard and needed a very, very solid background. Other students just don’t have time to do the weekly assignments. One thing we’re thinking of is to offer multiple versions of the course, one that would last a semester and one that could stretch over a year. That would help some people complete.

EdX operates under an honor code, with no way to verify that the student who registered is the one doing the work. Is that likely to change?

It’s quite possible employers would be happy with an honor certificate. We’re looking at various methods of proctoring. We have talked about people going to centers to take exams. There are also companies that use the cameras inside a laptop or iPad to watch you and everything else that’s happening in the room while you take an exam, and that may be more scalable.

So what is the future of edX?

When there are more courses, I could imagine people taking several of them, and putting them together, getting the certificates, and using it something like a diploma. I think the courses will get better and better, but we don’t know how they’ll be used.

And because we will have all this data on how students actually use our materials, there are opportunities for research on learning. We can watch how many attempts students made before they got an exercise right, and if they got it wrong, what they used to try to find a solution. Did they go to the textbook, go back and watch the video, go to the forum and post a question?

Our goal is to change the world through education.


Monday, August 6, 2012

Thailand Takes First Steps on Long Road to Inclusive Mainstream Education

Thailand takes first steps on long road to inclusive mainstream education.

The strict hierarchy of Thai society means the drive for inclusive education needs strong commitment from both politicians and school leaders. In the past decade, there has been significant political progress in moves to implement a system that ensures children with disabilities have access to mainstream schools. However, with cultural barriers and resistance from some headteachers, the journey towards fully inclusive education has only just begun.

"Even when I offered to work for free, they still could not be convinced," explains Paul Lennon, a British ex-pat whose son was born with Down's syndrome. When he started looking for mainstream schools for his son in Chanthaburi province six years ago, headteachers in the local area refused him a place. Yet the National Educational Act, passed in 1999 – and accompanied by posters declaring: "Any disabled person who wishes to go to school can do so" – supposedly guaranteed all disabled children access to state education.

Some headteachers Lennon spoke to were amenable to the concept of inclusive education, but didn't feel they had the resources or training to implement it effectively. Others, with decades of experience of working in special schools, felt this institutional model was more suitable.

The education act did have some success. Between 2000 and 2004, the number of students with disabilities accessing education increased from 145,000 to 187,000. These students were taught at more than 18,000 inclusive schools, defined by the government as those that teach children with and without disabilities. There was further legislative progress with the Education Provision for People with Disabilities Act, passed in 2008, which made it illegal for schools to refuse entry to children with disabilities.

After much perseverance in securing a school place for his son, Lennon turned his attention to helping other children gain access to inclusive education by helping to set up the Good Child Foundation.

Nanthaporn (Nuey) Nanthamongkol, a six-year-old girl with Down's syndrome, was due to be sent to a distant boarding school before he intervened. "Without our work, Nuey would have been separated from her parents, sent to a school 80km away," says Lennon. "For kids with Down's syndrome, this is the worst possible thing you could do."

Nuey's story also highlights the cultural complexities of disability in Thailand. Sermsap Vorapanya, who is the author of A Model for Inclusive Schools in Thailand and has conducted a study on Thai inclusive education practices, explains: "It is critical to understand that most Buddhists [in Thailand] believe in reincarnation. Disability is widely viewed as a deserved failure to lead positive previous lives."

Theravada Buddhist teaching on rebirth led some families to report feeling shame about having a disabled child.

However, many headteachers in Vorapanya's study cited the Buddhist belief in the need for compassion as a reason they support inclusive education. Meanprasat private school in Bangkok, which combines western-style "child-centric" learning with a Buddhist ethos of moral ethics and regular meditation, is recognised as a national leader in integrated educational practices. In total, 130 of its 1,300 students are disabled. The school's philosophy is that children with disabilities "should have the chance to mix with society and be accepted by it". More than 5,000 teachers visit the school annually and attend workshops held to help spread good practice.

State schools, however, which have much less funding, have been described by Vorapanya as having "woefully insufficient resources" to implement inclusive education properly. Headteachers have complained that while schools can now access a minimum of 2,000 baht (approximately £41) funding for each disabled child, this is not enough to cover the required resources or training expenses. Another problem is that this funding can only be given if the child has been officially certified with a disability. Teachers have reported that some parents do not want this social stigma or are fearful that this certification will lead to discrimination.

Despite the significant challenges, Lennon is optimistic. "We are making great strides," he says. "If we keep doing good, the results will surely follow."

Chanthaburi province is moving away from the special schools model, placing students with moderate special needs in mainstream schools. Lennon helps place volunteers in local schools with children with Down's syndrome, and is working with local government to demonstrate how this practice can be replicated across the province.

Inclusive education remains in its early development stages in Thailand. But, as Vorapanya says, the country has "made a great beginning" to a monumental task.


Sunday, August 5, 2012

Teaching English for First Graders - Where to Start?

Teaching English for first graders: where to start?

The HCM City Education and Training Department has decided that students will not have to sit the exam to be able to enroll in intensive English classes. Those students, who want to study English, will only have to register their demand with the schools. However, the problem is that there are too many students who want to learn English, while the number of English teachers remains modest.

“160 first graders have registered to learn English. The students are now put in the same classes with the students who do not have the demand to study English. However, they will be put in separated classes from the second semester. What I am worried about is that the splitting cause a great chaos,” said a teacher of Bau Sen Primary School in District 5 in HCM City.

Nguyen Xuan Bao, Headmaster of Bau Sen Primary School, said that he still does not know what to do with the students who have registered to study English. The students must be divided into four classes, while in current conditions, the school can only arrange two classes. “Recruiting English teachers proves to be the biggest problem now, because it will not be easy to find teachers if we can only offer modest pay,” Bao said.

Under the current regulations, the teachers who teach English to first graders, under the pilot programme must obtain TKT certificate granted by Cambridge ESOL. In order to obtain the certificate, teachers must attend a training course in English teaching skills with foreign teachers. However, the problem is that teachers themselves would have to pay the tuition for the training course, estimated at six million dong.

“I agree that TKT certificate is a necessary document which shows teachers’ qualification. However, it is unreasonable to force teachers, who have modest income, to pay for the training course,” said a headmaster of a primary school in District 3 in HCM City.

She went on to say that the school really wants to pay the tuition for the teachers, but it cannot arrange the money. Meanwhile, students only have to pay 50,000 dong a month for English classes, which is not enough to pay the teachers.

Shortage of classrooms also causes headache to primary schools. The city’s Education and Training Department has decided that every class can only have a maximum of 35 students. Meanwhile, schools say they cannot arrange enough classrooms for so many students,
“We have no idle classrooms. All the rooms have been used to ensure that all the children in the district can go to school,” headmaster of a primary school in Tan Phu District said.

It seems that many schools are puzzled when implementing the pilot English teaching programme. At some schools, students, who who want to study English, are put in the same classes with those who don’t. At other schools, students who study English are put in special classes. Yet other schools still have not begun to accept registrations from students who want to attend English classes.

Headmaster of a school in District 3 complained that his school is still awaiting guildelines from the local education sub-department. “Our teachers are very worried. They fear that when the classes are re-arranged, this will affect the teaching quality,” he said. As first graders are small children who may not adjust well and find it difficult when put in other classes where they have to sit with new friends and study with new teachers.

Though the HCM City Education and Training Department has decided that first graders can also begin to study English, some educators still believe that it would be better to start teaching English in the second grade.


Saturday, August 4, 2012

China's Students Take on Tough Gaokao University Entrance Exam

China's Students Take on Tough Gaokao University Entrance Exam.  

Every year, police road blocks are set up around schools and nearby construction sites are ordered to fall silent as the country is plunged into two days of "Gaokao fever".

This year, 9.15 million Chinese high school students are sitting the notoriously tough university entrance exam.

Critics say that for most of them, it is the culmination of a year of cramming, of repeating past papers and in large part, learning by rote.

In fact, almost everyone - students, parents, teachers and policymakers - seems to accept that the system is squeezing creativity out of students.

But despite the criticism, China's exam machine just keeps on squeezing, and more horror stories emerge each year.

Most recently, photographs emerged of a classroom in Hubei province, showing students taking energy-boosting amino acids from intravenous drips hung from the ceiling.

Miserable experience?

But is the Gaokao experience always so taxing and miserable?

The BBC followed pupils at Zhabei Number 8 High School in Shanghai for a year. The school has a population of almost 500 students, spread over three grades.

In terms of the ability of its intake, it ranks near the bottom of the 10 state-funded schools in its district.

But the first thing that strikes a visitor is that this school shows no sign of the discipline problems that might be found in schools elsewhere in the world with large cohorts of relatively disadvantaged students.

It costs the taxpayer a little more than $2,000 (£1,291) per pupil per year. The buildings are modern and smart, the pupils are well turned out in their green tracksuits, and the classes are orderly.

And, like everywhere else in China, cramming and intense exam preparation are very much in evidence.

Long hours

Ma Li, 18, fits the profile of a beleaguered final-year student toiling on the exam treadmill.

Hard working and bright, she regularly puts in an extra six hours at home at the end of a 10-hour school day.

"This studying lifestyle is pretty hard," she says. "There's not much time to relax, but we're all in it together, and we encourage each other."

Ma Li, who hopes to study shipping logistics at Shanghai Maritime University, a top-tier college, is a good illustration of an aspect of China's education system that often goes unreported.

Her parents are migrant workers who moved to Shanghai in 1993 and she has profited from the city's now three-decades-old commitment to provide universal education.

In China, it is certainly true that like so many other places, students from wealthier backgrounds get into the better schools and therefore the better universities.

But the education system appears to be better than many at acting as an effective check on the opportunity gap growing too wide.

Shanghai's recent ranking as the world leader in maths, science and reading test scores in an Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) study underlines this point.

The data was not just based on the city's elite students, but on the scores of a cross-section of students from all abilities, including the children of migrant workers.

Not stereotypical

It's not hard though to find students who are less engaged.

Ding Zhenwei is in some ways a refreshing antidote to the stereotype of China's results-obsessed student masses.

He has set his sights relatively low and plans to study interior design at a second-tier private college.

So he is coasting, confident he would make the modest Gaokao mark he needs, and is doing barely any extra studying outside of school hours.

"Even if I do fail to get in, I'll find another way of making a success of my life," he says.

In fact, 80% of Zhabei's final year students make it into either a first or second-tier university every year.

That is impressive, given the school's intake of less advantaged pupils, but it is also a sign of China's higher education boom.

In the past decade, it has massively expanded university places to reach about 30 million, the highest number in the world by far.

While that change has done nothing to reduce competition for the most prestigious institutions, it may be leading at least some students to question the value of cramming for the Gaokao.

After all, what is the point of all that pressure and stress if it leads only to a place among the ranks of the country's unemployed?

More than one million fewer students will take the exam this year compared with the peak in 2008, and observers are wondering if that fall is due to some kind of "Gaokao fatigue".

But there are still those students who see the test as important enough to have a second go.

Wang Yu, 19, is repeating her final year at Zhabei Number 8 High School because she did not get the Gaokao score she needed last time round.

"I already know the shame of failure," she says.

She is determined to do better this time so that she can rejoin her contemporaries who have started university without her.

Shining example

Education policy chiefs have long admitted the shortcomings of the Gaokao and have taken limited steps to try to introduce a more balanced and rounded education.

There is evidence in Zhabei, that students are now being trained to integrate knowledge and apply it to real-life problems.

The city's teachers are being extensively trained and there's lip service being paid to cutting those long study hours.

Shanghai was one of the first municipalities in China to stipulate a maximum amount of homework and set a minimum of one hour of physical activity a day.

How strictly those limits are being applied is another matter of course - at Zhabei, physical activity often seems to involve little more than a few minutes of choreographed group stretching exercises on the parade ground.

There is a consensus that China still leans far too much on preparation for exams and leaves too little time for real learning.

If future test takers from Zhabei Number 8 High School are really going to be given the chance to be tomorrow's creators, leaders and thinkers, then the system needs to change much faster.

If it does not, then some critics warn, that China may struggle to keep its economic boom on track.


Friday, August 3, 2012

Education and its Role in Cambodia

Education and its role in Cambodia.

Education in Cambodia before the Khmer Rouge Regime mirrored the French system. Today, it is six years of primary school (grades 1-6), three years of lower secondary school (grades 7-9), and three years of upper secondary school (grades 10-12), following more of a westernised educational model.

In 1979, after the Pol Pot regime, the Ministry of Education was created, and later restructured in 1998. Today, there is no legislation in place to regulate the new system, and also, only a small budget is allocated to education by the Ministry of Economy and Finance. Do we have a problem here?

According to UNESCO, only 1.6 per cent of Cambodia’s Gross Domestic Product (GNP) is spent on education. The GDP on education in most western countries is anywhere between 5.5 to 6.4 per cent.

In Phnom Penh, I see more Lexus cars than anywhere else in the world, and I hope the money allocated isn’t going to purchasing Lexus cars, the luxury car made by Toyota.

The government still denies the education sector the funding it needs, even though they are aware of the important role that education plays in the development of the country.

The main focus of the education system is on basic literacy.

Having worked in the education sector, and having former colleagues and friends who work in education, we have witnessed unethical acts

by teachers and the corruption in the education system.

The dilemma which many teachers are faced with is whether to cross the line between the ethical code of teaching and trying to survive on a teacher’s low salary.

Their decision is based on survival, and many have resorted to charging their students tuition fees and taking bribes for “passing grades” in examinations.

Also, many spend less time in the classroom as they have additional employment elsewhere to supplement their low teaching salaries.

In addition, the classrooms are under-equipped and lack proper teaching materials due to the shortage of funding. In several cases, much of the equipment and supplies have been stolen by staff members at their institutions.

With these problems facing the education sector, and the school-age population continuing to grow, the government still denies the funding it needs to realise its important role in the development of the country.

Why not pay the teachers a higher salary so they can focus on just one occupation, as a teacher, a much needed role in our society. Implement programs to provide free education to all the children, not just selected individuals or groups.

Countries like Brazil, Greece, Denmark, Argentina, Sri Lanka and Barbados provide free education which is funded through charitable organisations or taxation.

Finally, it is evident that there is a wide gap between the economic classes, with more than half of the population living in poverty in Cambodia.

The rich are getting richer and the poor are getting poorer, and there is a small percentage of the middle class, but it is growing.

Education is the only answer to getting people out of poverty and giving a brighter future for the young generations in Cambodia.


Thursday, August 2, 2012

End of Empire for Western Universities?

world's young graduates
world's young graduates
End of empire for Western universities? 

By the end of this decade, four out of every 10 of the world's young graduates are going to come from just two countries - China and India.

The projection from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) shows a far-reaching shift in the balance of graduate numbers, with the rising Asian economies accelerating ahead of the United States and western Europe.

The forecasts for the shape of the "global talent pool" in 2020 show China as rapidly expanding its graduate numbers - set to account for 29% of the world's graduates aged between 25 and 34.

The biggest faller is going to be the United States - down to 11% - and for the first time pushed into third place, behind India.

The US and the countries of the European Union combined are expected to account for little more than a quarter of young graduates.

Russia is also set to decline - its share of the world's graduates almost falling by half since the beginning of the century.

Indonesia, according to the OECD's projections, will rise into fifth place.

Degrees of change

Is this an end-of-empire moment?

Higher education has become the mirror and magnifier of economic performance - and in the post-World-War-II era, universities in the US, western Europe, Japan and Russia have dominated.

The US in particular has been the university superpower - in wealth, influence and until recently in raw numbers.

Up until 2000, the US still had a share of young graduates similar to China. And Japan had as big a proportion of young graduates as India.

Now China and India are the biggest players.

Their rise in graduate numbers reflects their changing ambitions - wanting to compete against advanced economies for high-skill, high-income employment.

Instead of offering low-cost manufacture, they are targeting the hi-tech professional jobs that have become the preserve of the Westernised middle classes.

Fivefold growth

As the OECD figures show, this is not simply a case of countries such as China expanding while others stand still.

Across the industrialised world, graduate numbers are increasing - just not as quickly as China, where they have risen fivefold in a decade.

The OECD notes that by 2020, China's young graduate population will be about the same as the total US population between the ages of 25 and 64.

This changing world map will see Brazil having a bigger share of graduates than Germany, Turkey more than Spain, Indonesia three times more than France.

The UK is bucking the trend, projected to increase its share from 3% in 2010 to 4% in 2020.

This push for more graduates has a clear economic purpose, says the OECD's analysis.

Enough jobs?

Shifting from "mass production to knowledge economy occupations" means improved employment rates and earnings - so there are "strong incentives" for countries to expand higher education.

But will there be enough graduate jobs to go round?

The OECD has tried to analyse this by looking at one aspect of the jobs market - science and technology-related occupations.

These jobs have grown rapidly - and the report suggests it is an example of how expanding higher education can generate new types of employment.

These science and technology jobs - for professionals and technicians - account for about four in every 10 jobs in some Scandinavian and northern European countries, the OECD suggests.

In contrast - and showing more of the old order - these technology jobs are only a small fraction of the workforce in China and India.

The OECD concludes that there are substantial economic benefits from investing in higher education - creating new jobs for the better-educated as unskilled manufacturing jobs disappear.

Quantity or quality?

The OECD forecast reveals the pace of growth in graduate numbers. But it does not show the quality or how this expansion will translate into economic impact.

There are other ways of mapping the changing distribution of knowledge.

A team at the University of Oxford's Internet Institute has produced a set of maps showing the "geography of the world's knowledge".

This measures how populations are consuming and producing information in the online world - mapping the level of internet use, the amount of user-generated material in Google, concentrations of academic activity and the geographical focus of Wikipedia articles.

And in contrast to the rise of the Asian economies, this tells a story of continuing Western cultural dominance.

"In raw numbers of undergraduates and PhDs, the Asian economies are racing ahead," says Prof Viktor Mayer-Schonberger, from the Oxford Internet Institute.

"But what's interesting is how the West persists in its positions of strength - because the West controls the institutions.

Mapping a new world

"There are more students in China than ever before - but they still use Western mechanisms to publish results, they accept the filters," says Prof Mayer-Schonberger.

"The big question will be whether the Chinese researchers can be as insightful as their Western counterparts - we don't know yet."

The maps also reveal how much Africa and South America are losing out in this new scramble for digital power.

Prof Mayer-Schonberger said he was "completely shocked" at the extent of the imbalance.

Another feature of the Oxford study is to show how research bases and their spin-out economic activity are clustered into relatively small areas.

In the US, says Prof Mayer-Schonberger, there is hugely disproportionate investment around Silicon Valley and the Boston area, with large tracts of "wasteland" between.

"Each era has its own distinct geography. In the information age, it's not dependent on roads or waterways, but on bases of knowledge.

"This is a new kind of industrial map. Instead of coal and steel it will be about universities and innovation."


Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Educational Detente Across Taiwan Strait

Educational D├ętente Across Taiwan Strait.

TAIPEI — Last January, Chao Ying, a student from northeastern China, stepped out of the train station into the rain at Jiufen, a picturesque former gold mining town in northern Taiwan, and saw something that puzzled her.

A politician from the governing Kuomintang party, who had won a legislative seat in Taiwan’s elections the day before, was standing in the back of an open van that was driving up and down the road outside the station, shouting his thanks through a loudspeaker to passers-by.

“At first I didn’t know who this might be, or what exactly he was doing,” said Ms. Chao, 25, who is studying veterinary sciences at National Chung Hsing University in Taichung, in central Taiwan. “I had to ask someone on the street.”

“I thought it was very good to see a politician thanking the people,” she said. “The Taiwanese must be very touched when they see such a thing.”

It was one more eye-opening experience for a mainland Chinese student in Taiwan. Ms. Chao is among more than 1,000 mainlanders who, for the first time, have been permitted to study for academic degrees in Taiwan and have just completed their inaugural academic year.

The government of Taiwan, the self-ruling island over which Beijing claims sovereignty, has been inching toward more amicable relations with the mainland in recent years. The full opening of the island’s universities to students from across the strait last year followed more limited academic exchange programs and the expansion of tourism and direct flights from the Chinese mainland.

The new admissions policy has been hailed as a success by universities and officials in Taiwan. Allowing young people who could eventually rise to influential positions in Communist-ruled China to immerse themselves in Taiwan society, they say, should enhance sympathy for the mainland’s democratic neighbor.

“Many Taiwanese students go to the U.S. and return very pro-American. We want to generate that same kind of effect,” said Ho Jow-fei, director general of higher education in the Ministry of Education. He added, “It is possible that some of the mainland students who come to study here may one day become political leaders.”

Taiwan also sees a partial solution to the problem of maintaining enrollments and standards as a falling birth rate shrinks the pool of applicants at home.

As for the motives of the students from mainland China, several cited an education system modeled on that of the United States that could position them well for a career abroad, but at a more reasonable cost and offered in Mandarin.

Xu Jincheng, 22, of Shanghai, who is studying engineering at Feng Chia University, said that in Taiwan he was learning to think on his feet. At his mainland university, which he did not want to identify for fear of embarrassing his former teachers, the approach was “too narrow and theoretical.”

His tutors in Taiwan, he said, push him to come up with creative solutions to real-life challenges. This was useful, he added, because “in many companies the boss expects employees to solve practical problems.”

The mainland students have grown up hearing their government’s oft-stated position that Taiwan, separately ruled since the end of the Chinese civil war in 1949, rightfully belongs to China and that no means, including military force, can be excluded to achieve eventual reunification.

Still, Joseph Wong, a University of Toronto political science professor, said the students were likely to return home with the message that “these two societies are unlikely to become one.”

“These mainland Chinese students tend to experience Taiwan as a fundamentally different place,” said Mr. Wong, who also teaches at Fudan University in Shanghai and says he visits Taiwan at least twice a year.

One student who has noted sharp contrasts is Zhu Haoqing, a 24-year-old from Hebei Province who is studying for a master’s degree in land management at Feng Chia University in Taichung.