Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Assertiveness classes for Oxford undergraduates

This should be a fad that has run its course but I don't suppose it will ever go away.  There has been a lot of research showing that assertiveness training doesn't do much good, if any

Oxford University has introduced assertiveness classes for female students in a bid to get them to compete for jobs in the City and aspire to the boardroom.

They may be young and gifted but research at the elite institution has found that female undergraduates are shying away from applying to jobs in banking, finance, management consultancy, engineering and resource management.

Partly as a result, starting salaries for women when they graduate are on average £2,000 to £3,000 lower than their male counterparts.

“Women are earning less on leaving Oxford. On the face of it, this is ridiculous,” said Jonathan Black, the careers service director at the university. “We have high quality, high achieving students of both genders.  “From the research it appears that women are selecting lower paid jobs. They perceive more prejudice in certain industries and are saying 'I won’t strive for that really high paid job’.

"We are not trying to push loads of women in to the City but we are trying to say, you should feel able to apply for these sorts of jobs.”

The four day programme at Oxford which starts this week will help 45 female undergraduates improve their self-confidence and decision making, think positively and build on their strengths.

Assertiveness training will teach them how to deal with opposition and thrive in challenging situations.

“What we find is that women can be pretty assertive in some parts of their lives but not in others,” said Jenny Daisley, the chief executive of the Springboard Consultancy which will run the programme along with staff at the university.

“The undergraduate sitting quiet as a mouse in supervision, giving the impression that they have not got anything to say, may have lots to say but needs positive advice so that they are not invisible.”

Successful female employees from RBS and BP, which are sponsoring the course, will talk about their lives and careers. A small number of sought-after internships at the two companies will be made available to the Oxford course participants.

RBS’s involvement follows a commitment by the bank to target female recruits, increasing its national proportion of female graduate applications from 35 per cent to 50 per cent by 2014.

Sophie Kelley, 20, studying law at Corpus Christi College, is hoping the course will make her more confident in tutorials and interviews.

“I am applying to London law firms for vacation schemes and it is so competitive,” she said. “The rejection letters don’t give any real feedback so I’m hoping the Springboard programme might give me an insight and advice.”

Anna Broadley, 19, a first year history student at Brasenose College, who is also taking part said: “Boys seem to have a more self conviction and see the bigger picture generally, even when their self-belief is not necessarily based on any greater academic merit.

"While the girls are freaking out about whether they have done enough work for a tutorial, the boys are more likely to say 'I’ll just blag it’.

“I’m really interested in the elements of the course on being assertive and taking the initiative - turning that uncertainty that women may have in to a positive thing.”

Poppy Waskett, 22, a first year experimental psychology student from Harris Manchester College, said she was tempted by management consultancy but hoped to gain inspiration from the career women giving presentations.

The Springboard programme was developed in the 1980s for the BBC and is now a social enterprise company. Its programmes, tailored to specific groups, have been delivered to hundreds of thousands of women worldwide.

Women currently make up just 15 per cent of FTSE 100 directors. A study last year revealed that of the 200 most senior bankers at a sample of 20 investment banks and investment banking divisions, just 17 were women.

David Cameron has said that business leaders have not made sufficient progress in ensuring women get top jobs.

In February, he attended a summit in Stockholm to learn from countries such as Norway and Iceland, which have so called “golden skirt quotas” to increase the number of women in boardrooms.

So far, the Government has called for firms to voluntarily increase the number of senior female executives to 25 per cent of the total by 2015.


Daniel Pinkwater on Pineapple Exam: ‘Nonsense on Top of Nonsense’

Eighth-graders who thought a passage about a pineapple and a hare on New York state tests this week made no sense, take heart: The author thinks it’s absurd too.

“It’s hilarious on the face of it that anybody creating a test would use a passage of mine, because I’m an advocate of nonsense,” Daniel Pinkwater, the renowned children’s author and accidental exam writer, said in an interview. “I believe that things mean things, but they don’t have assigned meanings.”

Pinkwater, who wrote the original story on which the test question was based, has been deluged with comments from puzzled students — and not for the first time. The passage seems to have been recycled from English tests in other states, bringing him new batches of befuddled students each time it’s used.

The original story, which Pinkwater calls a “fractured fable,” was about a race between a rabbit and an eggplant. By the time it got onto standardized tests, however, it had doubled in length and become a race between a hare and a talking pineapple, with various other animals involved. In the end, the animals eat the pineapple.

The tests can be used to determine whether a student is promoted to the next grade. Once new teacher evaluations are put in place, the tests will also affect teachers’ careers.

Pearson PLC, which created the test as part of a five-year, $32 million state contract, referred questions to the New York State Education Department. The department hasn’t returned requests for comment since Wednesday.

Pinkwater, 70 years old, took a moment to speak with Metropolis while having his tea, after he walked the bluffs along the Hudson River with his dogs in Hyde Park, N.Y.

Metropolis: The pineapple thing…

So you’re calling because– Oh the pineapple thing! I thought you were calling because I’m this great author.

That’s why I originally wanted to call, and then this came up. Once again you’re dealing with this sort of absurd passage on a state test.

There was never all this attention before. Occasionally there would be some mention, every couple of years, that that quote has been appearing on those stupid tests — and you can quote me, stupid tests. There’s big to-do about it now since it ran in New York this past week. I’ve gotten a ton of emails from kids. One kid phoned me up. They had many comments ranging from, “What are you, crazy?” to “That was the funniest thing I ever saw on a test” to “These tests are stupid, aren’t they, Mr. Pinkwater.”

How did the passage become part of the test?

You’re an author, and one of the side benefits — and it’s not a very big one — is that people will pay to use excerpts. You know they’re useless, but on the other hand, I’m not John Grisham, I could use the extra couple of bucks. They used to ask for it gratis. You’d ask, “Are you going to pay me anything?” And they’d go, “Oh, well, we’re educational.”

Can you tell me a little bit about the passage in context of the original novel?

The novel is called “Borgel.” It’s in a collection called “4 Fantastic Novels.”

Quite the modest title.

Well, yeah, I didn’t want to go over the top.

It’s a nuclear little family, a mother, father and three kids. An old man shows up at the door and says, “Hello, I’m your relative, I’m 111 years old.”

“You’re our relative how?”

He said, “I’m not quite clear about that. I know we’re related. I’m moving in.” And he brings in all his valises and moves into the back room. He becomes great friends with his great-great-great nephew.

In this particular passage, they’re on a bus, and Borgel, the old man, is telling him one of these fractured fables after another. And much better things happen. They go on a time-space adventure, and they meet God, who happens to be an orange popsicle. I think this may the only work of fiction in which it’s revealed that God can take the form of an orange popsicle, which I believe he can.

What is the moral of the eggplant story?

In the book, the moral is never bet on an eggplant. The old man is gradually giving the nephew reason to believe that he is senile or crazy by the things he says or does, so that the nephew will be alarmed but not surprised when the old man appears to be stealing a car. They take off on a road trip in it. But as far as I am able to ascertain from my own work, there isn’t necessarily a specifically assigned meaning in anything.

That really is why it’s hilarious on the face of it that anybody creating a test would use a passage of mine, because I’m an advocate of nonsense. I believe that things mean things but they don’t have assigned meanings.

I’m on this earth to put up a feeble fight against the horrible tendency people have to think that there’s a formula. “If I do the following things, I’ll get elected president.” No you won’t. “If I do the following things, my work of art will be good.” Not necessarily. “If I follow this recipe, the dish will come out very delicious.” Maybe.  Trust me, there is no formula for most things that are not math.

When kids are confronted with questions about the modified version of your passage, there seems to be no particular answer. Yet all answers can be correct. Does that actually fit your message?

That’s exactly right — and I must interject that I admire the job they did, because it makes even less sense than mine. If the test company, when you get around to them, can gather their wits together sufficiently to make a case for, “We don’t count that against the kid’s grade, we put that there as a sort of brain teaser to show them that not everything is quantifiable, and to let them have a little fun,” then I’ll retract all my aspersions about how they’re money-grubbing b——- and overcharge for this stuff and sell it over and over again and underpay the poor authors they buy it off of.

They’re referring all questions to the New York State Education Department, which also hasn’t responded to my questions.

It is pretty funny that anybody — anybody — is taking any of this seriously

You say it’s funny people are taking it seriously, but these tests nowadays determine whether kids move on to the next grade, and they also will determine, in part, whether teachers keep their jobs.

I might have said, “They’re making a dishonest living doing these tests, but they’re doing no harm.” But maybe now they are. And certainly they’re sucking up a lot of money that could be put to better uses in education, and I think the whole thing is shameful.


Australia: Compensation claim fears cramp students after classmate sues girl over tennis mishap

COMPENSATION claims against schools for playground and sporting field accidents are creating a "nanny state" harmful to children's health, a childhood obesity expert says.

Professor Geoff Cleghorn said a growing number of compensation claims by students and parents could lead to more schools banning or restricting sports and outdoor activities.

His concerns follow revelations in The Courier-Mail that Julia Wright-Smith, 13, a student at prestigious Somerset College, was served with legal papers by lawyers acting for architect Paul Burns, whose daughter Finley was allegedly accidentally hit in the eye with a tennis ball by Julia, her classmate.

Other Queensland schools have also moved to ban activities including tiggy, red rover and cartwheels because of injury fears and a flood of compensation claims.

Prof Cleghorn, from the University of Queensland, said accidents happened in the playground and risks could be eliminated only if all sports and outdoor games were banned.  "If you try to legislate against every element of chance, you're not going to have them (activities)," he said.  "In the drive to provide a caring and nurturing environment, you could be creating a nanny state. I feel strongly that kids should be out exercising."

An investigation by The Courier-Mail in 2010 found Queensland state schools had been successfully sued for thousands of dollars for playground and sporting field accidents.  They included lawsuits by children injured while doing handstands, running on the school oval and being thrown in a judo demonstration.

But compensation law expert Mark O'Connor, of Brisbane firm Bennett and Philp lawyers, said most school sport injuries lawsuits were thrown out.

"Sports injuries rarely succeed in the courts because the courts expect people doing physical sports to be aware of any possible risks involved," Mr O'Connor said.

But the Burns' lawyer, Mark Frampton, said there was "nothing malicious" in the case and Finley had to serve legal papers on Julia in case she suffered long-term eye damage and needed to mount a compensation claim "down the track".  Mr Frampton said the Burns family was required to give notice of a potential claim.


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