Tuesday, October 18, 2011

The downside of online education

Better informed children aren't the only public benefit of education. Elite educational institutions put highly intelligent and motivated people into direct contact with each other. The friendships that people form at university, prep schools, or professional schools form the nucleus of later collaborations that change the world in profound ways. Larry and Sergey met at Stanford University before they built Google. Bill Gates and Paul Allen met at an expensive private high school before they built Microsoft. Many ventures in Silicon Valley are started by old college buddies.

Meanwhile techies largely see the education sector as an elitist, wasteful system that needs to be replaced as soon as possible by online learning applications. But if programmers manage to move education onto the internet through efforts like the Khan academy and Stanford's online classes, they will destroy a huge portion of the social benefit that education provides. The future Paul and Bill will be taking class in the comfort of their parents' homes, separated by the same silicon that connects them.

To create a full substitute for the legacy education system, crowds of creative, smart students have to be thrown together so that they are constantly absorbing, modifying, and emitting new ideas. Putting video lectures on a web page is awesome, but it isn't good enough.


People with similar interests can meet in other ways -- through hobby groups, for instance.

Paxman's attack on Britain's 'dreary educational establishment' that is erasing Empire from history

Jeremy Paxman has attacked ‘the dreary educational establishment’ for treating the British Empire as ‘irrelevant’. The Newsnight presenter is angry that a key part of British and world history spanning more than 400 years is not being taught in schools.

He said: ‘This great motive force of our country for so long is not even part of the school curriculum. ‘The dreary educational establishment has passed judgment. It was a bad thing, end of story. ‘“It’s irrelevant,” was the way one particularly benighted teacher put it to me.’

Paxman, 61, who also hosts University Challenge on BBC2, added: ‘It’s to the Empire that we owe our sense of ourselves as somehow special, our distrust of continental Europe, the Windsor family’s tenancy of Buckingham Palace, the tandoori restaurants and open-all-hours corner shops on our high streets, the high proportion of us who carry passports and much of the international work of British charities. ‘It has even changed the genetic make-up of the British people.’

Suggesting that Britain’s modern foreign policy had been shaped by the Empire, he said: ‘This may be the first American war in Afghanistan but it is the third British campaign there.

'And it’s not just our generals with backgrounds in regiments carrying prized battle honours from colonial wars all over the world.

‘This spring, David Cameron deployed the RAF to the one-time British territory of Libya. Tony Blair sent our troops to war six times, everywhere from the former British colony of Sierra Leone to Iraq, a country whose borders were largely drawn by the British archaeologist Gertrude Bell. And yet we persist in claiming that the Empire is behind us.’

Writing in this week’s Radio Times, the veteran broadcaster, whose latest book – Empire: What Ruling The World Did To The British – will form the basis of a BBC series next year, said: ‘The Empire is still all around us. The country we live in is an imperial creation.

‘Anyone born since the end of the Second World War has lived with nothing but imperial decline, as the flag has been run down all over the world. ‘But the marks of our own Empire are everywhere. ‘The British Empire has turned out to have a remarkable life after death. ‘Pretending we don’t need to think about it is just stupid.’


'Educational' TV for under-2s could stunt their development

This neglects to look at what the alternatives are. In some homes there will be not a lot going on and not a lot to do. In such homes TV and computers can provide stimulation that would otherwise be lacking

'Educational' television programmes aimed at the under-twos do nothing to stimulate them and could actually stunt their development, according to new guidelines on the subject.

Paediatricians say there is "no evidence" that television programmes for the under-twos, marketed as educational, actually help them intellectually or socially, because they simply cannot understand them.

Watching television merely gets in the way of activities that such young children do understand, and do benefit them - most notably free play and engagement with other people.

DVD products such as Baby Einstein are marketed squarely on the premiss of educating babies and toddlers, while there are numerous British-made programmes, such as In the Night Garden, aimed at the age range.

While it is not presented as specifically educational, the popular BBC programme includes simple repitition of numbers and phrases that could be regarded as such.

Researchers said that children under two learn nothing from TV but watching too much can slow their speech development, making them behave badly.

They said parents were too quick to accept the educational value of a TV programme without actually checking if their children will learn anything from it.

The new guidelines were presented today at the annual conference of the American Academy of Pediatrics, in Boston, Mass. Dr Ari Brown, managing director of the AAP's council on communications and media, said: "Many video programs for infants and toddlers are marketed as 'educational' yet evidence does not support this.

"Quality programmes are educational for children only if they understand the content and context of the video. "Studies consistently find that children over two typically have this understanding.

"Unstructured play time is more valuable for the developing brain than electronic media.

"Children learn to think creatively, problem solve, and develop reasoning and motor skills at early ages through unstructured, unplugged play. "Free play also teaches them how to entertain themselves."

Writing in the guidance that there were "even entire cable networks" geared towards under twos, he noted that television executives viewed them as "key consumers of electronic media".

The updated guidance follows a document issued in 1999 that paediatricians should "urge parents to avoid television viewing for children under the age of two".


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