Friday, December 07, 2012

What do South Korean and Finnish education have in common?

Both get good results but by very different methods.  Cultural homogeneity is the key factor.  The mention of phonetic spelling below  is interesting.  English spelling is certainly a curse.  It hasn't been phonetic for 600 years.  But German and Italian spelling is phonetic too so that is not the main factor in Finnish success  -- JR

Finland has once again topped an international education ranking table.  This time, the British education firm Pearson has rated Finland the world leader in education. The country has also traditionally had a strong showing in the OECD’s PISA rankings, so it must be doing something right, right?

This success has even spawned a cottage industry dedicated to the so-called Finnish education miracle. One example of this is the book Finnish Lessons: What the World Can Learn From Educational Change in Finland? The book has been a bestseller (well, in the education section of the bookshop, anyway).

In the most recent education table, Britain did not do too badly, coming in at sixth. But what is it about Finland that makes its education system so table-rankingly excellent? It’s certainly not money. Spending on education in Finland is no higher than the OECD average.

Pearson itself explains Finland’s success by factors that are fairly difficult to quantify such as a pro-education culture and the quality of teachers. But other more easily verifiable factors also come into play although most are omitted by many educational experts.

For a start, given that South Korea (alongside Finland) has again finished in the top two, following its first place in the PISA rankings, it’s worth asking what the two countries have in common?

At first glance, not much it would seem. Koreans emphasise testing, discipline, homework and long school days. Finnish kids have one of the shortest school days in the world, are seldom tested, have little homework and address their teachers by their first name from their first day at school.

Yet closer examination shows similarities that are not revealed in the education studies.

One such similarity is orthography. Both languages are written almost exactly as they are pronounced. Therefore, a child who can spell one word will be able to spell every word, even when they hear it for the first time. An eight-year-old Finn will have no trouble identifying every letter when he hears the word ‘kertakäyttösyömäpuikkoteollisuus’. So while native English speakers practise spelling well into their teens, Finnish and Korean kids are busy brushing up on other subjects.

Another thing Finland and Korea share is a fairly homogeneous culture. Ethnic minority groups are small and immigration to both countries is conspicuously low. As Horst Entof and Nicole Miniou of Darmstadt University of Technology noted in their 2004 study, PISA results are higher in countries which have strict and/or highly selective immigration policies than they are in countries with more liberal immigration policies. The name of the study says it all: PISA Results: What a Difference Immigration Law Makes.

This point is underlined by the fact that Finland performs significantly better in PISA studies than neighbouring Sweden. Why? Sweden has an immigrant population that is 10 times bigger. When these socially and economically similar countries are compared, omitting first and second generation immigrant children from sample groups, the results become almost identical.

The chief problem, therefore, with comparative analysis of education is that it is impossibly difficult. Education does not happen in a vacuum. It is an extremely complicated process whereby culture itself is transferred from one generation to another. The idea that we can compare and quantify this transference of culture says more about the modern obsession with statistics than it does about the relative merits of education systems in various countries.

The Finnish education system is probably the best in the world - for Finns. But that does not mean that its lessons should be uncritically copied by others.  Copying someone else’s schoolwork is not true learning. That’s why you get punished for it.


Should College Students be Getting Their XXX Degrees?

Ashley Herzog

That question was posed in response to a new report from WORLD on Campus about the pornification of American universities. According to WORLD, self-styled “porn scholars” in fields ranging from literature to law “believe in immersing their students in the porn culture. Last year, 50 schools offered courses that included in-depth pornography content.”

Students and their parents—many of whom take out massive loans or a second mortgage to cover outrageously inflated tuition—might “be surprised to learn they are paying…to watch, digest and learn to appreciate pornography in college.”

As someone three years out of college, the salacious details of the report didn’t shock me—although porn-y classes are even more extreme now than when I was on campus. Students in Wesleyan’s course “Pornography: The Writing of Prostitutes” are actually required to produce a piece of pornography in order to pass. Other courses require students to photograph their genitals or write out their sexual fantasies in explicit detail.

I also wasn’t surprised to see progressives defend the porno curriculum and lob accusations of “censorship” at critics.

“There's ‘no academic basis’ for studying pornography? That's total bull----,” feminist blog Jezebel declared. “Porn affects economics: it's a multi-billion dollar industry. Porn affects politics and the law: Los Angeles just voted to require actors to use condoms when filming sex scenes.”

I agree wholeheartedly that we should study the political and legal aspects of porn, as well as its effect on our relationships and sexualities. But is open-minded exploration of these issues really taking place in most classrooms? Nah. Instead, X-rated classes are often excuses for students to get their rocks off and get class credit for it, guided by pervy professors who have a prurient interest in their students’ sex lives. Defenders of the porn curriculum should check out “Sex and God at Yale” by alum Nathan Harden. Although limited to one campus, many pornified campuses are going the way of Yale.

America’s most prestigious university has become so awash in porn culture that the main event every year is Sex Week, which is actually “eleven continuous days of nonstop sex, sexuality, sexiness, and sexsationalism,” according to Harden. He says the goal of Sex Week “is not to educate, but to titillate”—and that’s putting it very mildly.

Highlights include sex toy demonstrations and giveaways, as well as a “porn star lookalike” contest judged by an adult film director. The organizers of Sex Week give platforms to head honchos of the porn industry, including Steven Hirsch, who has produced 1,200 adult films. Hirsch bragged to an admiring student audience about how many women he’s slept with (“thousands”) and downplayed the dark side of his industry. (When asked if he’d want his own daughter to appear in one of his films, Hirsch waffled.)

Sex Week doesn’t sound like academic inquiry. It sounds like an eleven-day infomercial for the adult industry, financed by tuition dollars.

While some students undoubtedly think this campus culture is a sweet deal, it creates a hostile, harassing atmosphere for others—especially women. An entire section of Harden’s book is titled “Yale’s war on women: How Yale sends the message to students that women should be valued for their bodies, rather than their minds.”

Yale attracts some of the brightest, most talented young women in the country. But when they arrive on campus, they are shown degrading hard-core porn in class and encouraged to participate in “porn star lookalike” contests. Older students rank incoming freshmen on physical attractiveness. Yale made headlines for a string of incidents involving fraternities, in which young men marched around campus chanting “No means yes, yes means anal” and carried signs declaring, “We love Yale sluts.”

Female students are valued for their willingness to “hook up” and have casual sex with their classmates—and this degradation is egged on by professors and administrators. Harden recounts how the Dean of Students sent out an e-mail on Halloween, ostensibly to address the issues of sexual assault and campus safety.

“He got awkwardly enthusiastic about students’ sexual prospects for the evening, writing wistfully about how ‘having the sex you want’ is something that ‘makes you smile the next day,’” Harden writes. Another administrator encouraged students to “find just the right words that…lead to glorious, consensual sex.”

This in-your-face, sex-obsessed atmosphere eventually led to complaints of discrimination against women. In the spring of 2011, Yale came under federal investigation for creating a “sexually hostile environment,” and for its “inadequate response to a long trend of sexual harassment.” Seventeen female students were named as complainants.

“I feel like because I have had to deal with certain sexual misconduct from my peers that I don't have equal access," Hannah Zeavin, a Yale student and complainant in the case, told ABC News. "I can't sleep well anymore and when I walk around Yale campus at night I'm scared." Some might be tempted to blame the students for the campus environment. Harden disagrees. He believes the tone is set by administrators and professors, most of whom are steeped in sexual liberationist ideology.

“Most universities today are run by leftist ideologues and free-love social revolutionaries left over from the sixties,” Harden told me in an interview. “The hyper-sexual culture they helped create has led to a me-first brand of sexuality, where the feelings, the well-being, and even the consent of others is disregarded in an all-out pursuit of getting ‘what I want, when I want it.’”

As a young person, I couldn’t agree more. Our students—and especially our young women—deserve better.


End of teachers' national pay deals in Britain: Union fury as heads win power to freeze salaries

Teachers who under-perform will have their salaries frozen under plans to end the system of national pay deals for classroom staff.

Annual rises for teachers will be scrapped and heads given almost complete freedom to dictate salary increases in the shake-up outlined in the Autumn Statement.

National pay scales which virtually guaranteed teachers annual £2,000 rises will be axed from next September. Instead heads will award increases based on annual appraisals of performance in the classroom, allowing them to reward the best teachers and limit the pay of the least effective.

The reforms also mean that heads will be able to withhold the 1 per cent pay rise due for public sector workers in 2013/14 and 2014/15. Only those on the lowest salaries in three broad pay bands will be guaranteed the increase.

The move – which will be put out to consultation – strikes at the heart of national pay bargaining and severely weakens the power of teaching unions.

Ministers hope it will boost standards in the classroom. Education Secretary Michael Gove said: ‘These recommendations will make teaching a more attractive career and a more rewarding job.

They will give schools greater flexibility to respond to specific conditions and reward their best teachers.’

But union barons declared war over the ‘disastrous’ and ‘cynical’ proposals, raising the prospect of a fresh wave of strike action in schools.

Currently, teachers move up the main pay scale according to length of service in the classroom. The system has meant that long-serving but under-performing teachers are paid the same as more capable colleagues.

Under proposed reforms, heads would be able to promote a teacher from a £21,000-a-year salary to £51,000 in just six months.

The plans were unveiled by George Osborne following recommendations from the School Teachers’ Review Body (STRB).

The Chancellor said national pay arrangements for civil servants, prison officers and NHS staff will continue, but told MPs there would be greater flexibility for schools.

‘The School Teachers’ Review Body does recommend much greater freedom for individual schools to set pay in line with performance,’ he said.

National pay negotiations will remain but agreed rises will no longer be guaranteed for the vast majority of staff. Heads will instead have discretion over whether to pass the increases on.

However the Chancellor appears to have abandoned plans for regional pay bargaining for schools, which could have meant that a teacher in the north-east was paid less than one in the south-east.

Under yesterday’s proposals, detailed national pay scales for teachers will be ripped up and replaced with three broad pay bands – starting at £21,804, £34,523 and £37,836 for teachers outside London.

While teachers will be protected from pay cuts, heads will have wide discretion to dictate salaries within each band based on classroom performance – including pupil results – and accelerate staff through the three levels.

There is already an element of performance-related pay for more senior teachers, which will be strengthened and extended to all.

The changes apply only to teachers, with pay arrangements for heads and deputies remaining largely unchanged. Heads of state-funded academies and free schools already have the freedom to dictate teachers’ pay. Yesterday’s proposals apply to the majority of schools which operate under the auspices of local authorities.

Chris Keates, general secretary of the NASUWT union, said the independent STRB may have been ‘leant on’ – a claim denied by the Government. ‘The war on teachers waged by the Coalition Government continues,’ she said.

‘If implemented, the STRB’s recommendations would leave behind the wreckage of a national pay framework which will be incapable of delivering consistent, fair and transparent approaches to pay.’


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