Sunday, December 20, 2009

Brain gym for pupils is pointless, admits British education boss

A programme used in thousands of classrooms in the hope of boosting children's brainpower has no scientific basis, Ed Balls's department has ruled. Schools around the country have spent taxpayers' cash on Brain Gym, a system of 26 postures and movements invented in California. But in a statement issued to MPs, the Department for Children, Schools and Families warned that studies put its success-down to nothing more than the 'placebo effect' and the general benefits of breaks and exercise. Officials said Brain Gym had been 'criticised as being unscientific in a wide-ranging and authoritative review of research into neuroscience and education'.

Despite the department's concern, Brain Gym is still promoted in a range of Government-backed literature. The Young Gifted and Talented programme, supported by the DCSF to stretch the brightest children, claims on its website that Brain Gym 'can have a sustained impact on learning'.

Hundreds and possibly thousands of schools - mainly primaries - have used Brain Gym techniques since the system was introduced to the UK in 1984. Some councils have spent thousands training teachers to lead the movements. The exercises are said to work on the principle that coordinating mental and physical activity boosts energy, stimulates the brain and enhances performance in the classroom. They include pupils touching so-called 'brain buttons' beneath their collarbones to stimulate blood flow to the brain and massaging their jaws to improve language skills.

But growing numbers of scientists are claiming that the programme is nothing more than 'hocus pocus'. They say that while the exercises may be harmless, the programme gives pupils false information about how the human body works and wastes school time and resources.

Now the DCSF has raised its own concerns about the programme to the Commons Science and Technology Committee. Asked by the committee about the scientific evidence for its use, the DCSF said: 'We are unaware of any sufficiently robust or peer-reviewed evaluation of the approaches it promotes which would allow any clear link between the use of Brain Gym and pupils' learning to be established. We are also aware of a significant body of criticism of the theoretical underpinnings of the programme.' It said that Paul Dennison, the Californian teacher behind it, had admitted that many of Brain Gym's claims were based on 'hunches'.

However the DCSF stopped short of ordering schools not to use the programme, instead declaring that it 'does not have a specific policy'. Schools still using Brain Gym include Westcliff Primary in Dawlish, Devon. Headmistress Barbara Capper said: 'It does help children's coordination and does help children's concentration.'

Brain Gym said it was a notforprofit company and revenue was ploughed back into developing the programme. Kay McCarroll, who brought Brain Gym to the UK, said: 'This has been around for 30 years. Where are the peer-reviewed studies the Government refers to? I'm not aware of them.'


Intimidating anti-Israel consensus among elite American university students

A recent study conducted using students from Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology has led to a debate by pro-Israel organizations on how the Jewish State should be defended on American college campuses. The Israel Project, a Washington-based Israel advocacy group, conducted the recent study which showed that even the most educated and decidedly pro-Israel students are hesitant to speak out in the face of anti-Zionist accusations. The study put 15 unsuspecting Jewish students from Harvard and MIT into a small room with 20 non-Jewish peers and prompted them to candidly discuss the State of Israel. The tone of the discussions quickly became strongly critical of the Jewish state and its policies but many of the Jewish participants were hesitant to rush to Israel’s defense.

Frank Luntz, the pollster who served as the group’s facilitator and who in an earlier TIP policy paper not only acknowledged that expelling Jewish residents from their homes in Judea and Samaria would constitute an “ethnic cleansing” but also recommended that pro-Israel advocates put forward this point, said he found the results of the study to be “horrifying.”

Jennifer Laszlo Mizrahi, founder of The Israel Project, which works primarily in the realm of media and public opinion, found the results so disturbing that she declined to post them on her organization’s internet site. “If it had been students from any other campuses I would not have been horrified. But this was the best and the brightest. I know it involved only 30 people and that’s not the same as an 800-person poll but its still problematic. A leader is a leader, and those who are selected to attend Harvard and MIT are more intelligent and successful than the vast majority of people.”

The problem, Mizrahi said, was “not that they [the Jewish students] were too open-minded, it is that they were too quiet.”

In a detailed memo describing the experiment, Luntz pointed out that the students did not know the religious or ethnic backgrounds of the other students in the room. They knew that they were being paid $100 for their opinions regarding United States foreign policy but they did not know the focus would be on the Middle East or Israel. For three hours the students, who with a few exceptions did not know one another, engaged in a candid discussion facilitated by Luntz.

“Needless to say, the results of the group were truly eye-opening,” he wrote. “They’re perhaps best summarized by the following exchange, which took place early on in the session. When we first started discussing Israel, it was only a matter of minutes before the phrase ‘the Israel lobby’ was uttered, along with direct references to Jewish money. The problem, frankly, wasn’t that these terms and topics were broached. The problem was the type of negativity directed toward them. This is Harvard and MIT, and yet none of the Jewish students interjected during this exchange to offer an opposing viewpoint. The question you should be asking is not why smart Jewish students are having so much trouble on American college campuses, but instead, why these students are not standing up for Israel. You can’t blame the institutions when the students who attend them are the ones at fault.”

Matthew Cohen, president of the Harvard Students for Israel and the only student in the focus group who was not promised anonymity due to his high-profile position on campus, said he felt he handled himself better than Luntz’s analysis suggests. He argued that he was one of the few who spoke out in opposition to the anti-Israel comments but added that in retrospect he could have done more.

Mizrahi attempted to add a positive spin to the results of the study by comparing them to a similar test conducted in 2002 that found many Jewish students from the same two schools to have much less knowledge of and emotional connection to Israel. “The Jewish students were much more informed and comfortable with Israel. But the problem is that the best and brightest still don’t have it in their kishkas to stand up for Israel under the social pressure of their peers… It didn’t happen and it’s disappointing because they are knowledgeable. Most knew the answers and are very aware of the issues.”

Many of the Jewish students had attended advocacy training sessions offered by the David Project, a pro-Israel advocacy organization active in the United States. But Mizrahi reported that even those students were quiet.

No representatives of the David Project were available for comment but another pro-Israel organization active on American college campuses told Israel National News that the problem is not with any particular students or campuses but rather with the general direction of pro-Israel advocacy. Benny Katz of the Zionist Freedom Alliance said that most advocacy organizations offer pro-Israel students dry information without nurturing a passionate commitment to the Zionist struggle. “There is a difference between being pro-Israel and being a Zionist. The Israel Project and the David Project are pro-Israel groups in that they defend the government of Israel’s actions, even when morally wrong, but they do not deal with the crucial underlying issues. ZFA teaches students that it is OK to criticize the Israeli government’s policies so long as that criticism is attached to a greater message of Jewish national rights to self-determination in all lands between the Mediterranean and the Jordan.”

Katz, who identifies himself as coming from the far-Left of the American political spectrum, argues that most Israel advocacy groups have “no clue how to engage progressive students who are active in struggles for social justice and human rights.”
“Rather than speak about the justice of the Zionist revolution or of the Jewish people’s legal and historic rights to the Land of Israel, these groups are teaching students to present Israel as a Western outpost in the Middle East that’s wiling to shrink its own borders and expel Jews from their homes in order to avoid having to fight for its rights. This is a pathetic image of Israel that has clearly alienated students looking to champion justice in the world.”

Katz agreed with Luntz’s assessment that expelling Jewish residents from Judea and Samaria would constitute an ethnic cleansing and that using such language would actually empower pro-Israel students to put issues into perspective for their peers. “It [the ethnic cleansing argument] paints a completely different picture of the Middle East conflict and moves the paradigm away from the contemporary anti-Israel narrative which portrays Jews as Western colonialists. It creates a sense of urgency for Jewish students to act and makes clear that our work is not merely to defend Israeli government positions but actually to resist an injustice from being perpetrated against us. This is a language that progressive students can identify with even if they don’t agree with our positions.”

At the end of the session, Luntz asked everyone to write down the number of Jewish students they believed were in the room of 35 students. The average response of the non-Jewish students was nine, when there were actually 15.

“The room was almost half full of Jews, but to the non-Jews listening to the conversation, there were too few people with too few voices speaking up and being heard,” Luntz said. “And remember, this is from the same people who talked about the all-powerful ‘Israel Lobby.’”

The non-Jews were then asked to leave the room. When they had gone, Mizrahi said, the Jewish students became “amazingly articulate on the issues. They had the knowledge and they had in most cases the belief.”

Luntz pointed out that when he asked the Jewish students how they believed they did in defending Israel, he said that all had a positive initial reaction. “But as I asked them to reflect on what was said and what wasn’t the evaluations became more candid… and a lot more regretful.”


Australian students save on fees by studying in New Zealand

Some New Zealand universities (e.g. Victoria, Otago) have a very good name indeed so this is good thinking. I would go there myself if I were still a poor student

AUSTRALIAN students are gaining university degrees at half the price by heading across the Tasman to study in New Zealand. It's a chance to turn the tide on the Kiwi influx, because a little-known government deal means New Zealand taxpayers are subsidising more than 2000 Australians to study at NZ universities.

Unlike other international students, Australians qualify for domestic status meaning they pay the same fees as the locals, and they also qualify for the low-cost student loan HELP (formerly HECS) equivalent, Study Link, and also the Austudy equivalent for living allowances.

Year 12 school leavers around the country will soon find out if they managed to get into their desired universities. If they miss out, Renee Walker, head of marketing for Christchurch-based Canterbury University, suggests giving the land of the long white cloud a go. "Course costs are subsidised and generally cheaper than Australian universities, especially with the exchange rate. And on-campus accommodation is also very reasonable," she said. On-campus accommodation ranges from $NZ198 ($158) a week self-catered, to $NZ375 ($299) a week for all meals, electricity and phone.

Recent figures released by the Federal Government revealed 20 per cent of first-year university students in Australia drop out with financial hardship cited as a leading factor. Other students who complete their degrees leave with a HELP debt ranging from $15,000 to $40,000. Last year there were 1.3 million Australians with accumulated HELP debts of about $14.6 billion, according to the Australian Tax Office.

Sue Sundstrom of the NSW Careers Advisory Association said New Zealand was a viable alternative, especially for regional students who faced travel to a major metro university anyway. David Berridge, a career counsellor with a Sydney eastern suburbs school, said two of the school's year 12 students were thinking of studying business at Otago. "The UAI (Universities Admissions Index) is lower, 74-76, so if kids miss out here, it's certainly worth looking at," he said.

At Sydney University, an arts degree costs $5300 a year. At Monash in Victoria, it's about $6300 and $5400 at University of Queensland. At Canterbury University in New Zealand, the same degree will cost $NZ4500 ($3598) a year. Over the course of a three-year degree, that's $6000 to $9000 saved.

More expensive courses such as economics and engineering cost $7567 a year at Sydney University, $7300 at Monash and $8625 at UQ. Over the Tasman, the most expensive courses offered at Canterbury are $NZ5500 ($4398), again a saving of between $3000 and $4000 a year.


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