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Chronological Archive • November 03, 2002 - November 09, 2002
November 09, 2002
"We care"

A whole world of inter-generational and inter-adult rivalry is summoned up by the question ("It is a good question" is the start of his response) that John Clare selects as number one for his Telegraph column of last Monday.

My granddaughters, aged eight and 10, have been educated at home for the past two years. I'm worried that they're not learning much, but there's no way of finding out. They don't take the national curriculum tests. All that Kent County Council does is send an educational psychologist round once a year. Are there no national standards? Don't we care about home-educated children?

It's a long time since I've seen the connection between "we", "care" and compulsion spelled out quite so clearly.

It also suggests a whole new slant on the expansion of the state: gran-power! Now that the baby boom is starting to fuss about its grandchildren, will it try to vote "education otherwise" out of existence?

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 08:08 AM
Category: Home education
[1] [1]
November 08, 2002
Links – there will soon be many more

I'm just now in the throws of helping with a Libertarian Alliance conference tomorrow and Sunday, and this evening I'm about to leave for another meeting, addressed by fellow BEdBlogger Patrick Crozier. Patrick's talk won't be about anything educational, unless you count congestion charging as "educating" motorists not to come to Central London so much, which maybe you can, just about.

The only other thing I've time to say today is that I will shortly start including a lot more links here, including to such sites as the one mentioned in the posting immediately below, but also to lots of other blogs. My original thinking was that I didn't want to put off people who share my interest in educational matters but who are indifferent or even hostile to my general political prejudices. But the "blogosphere", as my blogging friends call it, is where I am going to get most of my early readers, and there are ways to phrase things to enable those who want to dig deeper into such things as dyslexia to do so without having to bother with what my blogger friends think about George W. Bush etc. Nevertheless linking to all these bloggers will definitely boost the readership of this, and that in its turn will provide an incentive for many more people like Susan to get in touch with specifically educational information and comment. I haven't even decided what heading to put my permanent link to my mothership blog Samizdata under, or the one to Instapundit, for goodness sake. So please everyone (not everyone, but you know what I mean), be patient.

I wouldn't say that everything at BEdBlog is going according to plan, because the only plan was to start it up and see. But despite all my early fumblings I am content with the first few inches of progress that have been made and look forward to the next few inches with interest and curiosity.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 06:36 PM
Category: This Blog
[2] [0]
A comment on dyslexia

Another comment! This time from Susan Godsland of dyslexics.org.uk, responding to this. Susan says: "OK - have a look at my site then - lots of links to free educational stuff." I did and there is.

My prejudice about dyslexia is, very briefly and for what little it may be worth, that it is a real condition, but one that varies hugely in its impact according to whether the dyslexic is well or badly taught. I further believe that many are diagnosed as dyslexic who are merely people who have been severely mis-taught. But I have much to learn about this matter, and this site will surely help me a lot. Thank you very much Susan.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 06:18 PM
Category: Literacy
[1] [0]
November 07, 2002
A little distance learning

This being a blog rather than just a magazine, it is not surprising that the subject of how computers do or do not contribute to education has loomed large in the first discussions here.

I'm starting to suspect that although the impact of computers on education is already huge and will get huger, the one huge thing that computers have so far not done is replace very many teachers. To put it another way, computers have not changed teaching very much. What they have changed is the world, and the way that everyone - not just "pupils" or "students" - learns about that world.

I want to write now about a computer program which, again, isn't going to replace any teachers, but which illustrates how at least some teaching might be done very differently to the way it is done now, and in a way that is much more productive and which might yield huge economies of scale.

Last night I had an odd experience. I watched someone else take control of my computer. But he didn't do this by pushing me out of my chair and sitting down at my keyboard, because he wasn't even at my home. He was at his own home, which is miles away. He did this by using a computer program called PCAnywhere, which he had already put on my computer in the old-fashioned way.

He performed this miracle-at-a-distance because we wanted him to install some more software onto my computer, but this time (and every similar time in the future) for him not to waste his time and my money travelling to my home. And since we both have fixed cost, high speed ("asdl") internet connections – connections which allow us to carry on talking on the phone down the very same wires – the whole operation went very smoothly. He rang me, and told me what to do to "surrender" my computer to him, so to speak, and from then on I just watched as my mouse arrow wandered around on my screen, at his command, his screen having switched itself from looking like its normal self to looking instead exactly like my screen.

The "distance teaching" applications of an arrangement like this are obvious, and I expect many a tutorial from him in the future. For remember, there is no reason why my computer master need have confined his attentions to just one computer. He could have taken control of as many other computers as we all collectively chose to agree to.

Now I'm pretty sure that this kind of thing has been going on for many years now, on corporate "intranets" and so forth. But I further suspect that this has recently become a much more widespread experience and is due to become even more widespread, much as the Internet itself started out as a habit only practised by already connected little networks of collaborators in very capital intensive and money-no-object activities like making superbombs or superplanes for the US government. But then the Internet suddenly exploded into a globally interconnected mass experience, as soon as the average personal computer was able to cope. Well, the kind of telecommunicational wiring that is now becoming standard in the average household is becoming able to handle this sort of intimate long range communication between those same computers.

I could elaborate, but the kind of people now reading BEdBlog surely don't need me to. Instead may I simply end with a plug for the expert services of the computer expert I've been talking about. His name is Mark Roussell and he can be emailed here. For remember, what this posting has been all about is that Mark's expert services can now be used by customers anywhere on the planet.

If you trust him. I do, obviously, as do others whom I can refer you to. But that's a whole different discussion.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 09:38 PM
Category: Technology
[0] [0]
November 06, 2002
On learning Japanese on the Internet

To add my tuppence ha'penny to the debate on internet education I started learning Japanese some months ago. Being a great believer in the potential of the internet to deliver education I signed up with YesJapan which is an internet Japanese course for English speakers run out Las Vegas (of all places).

It is in many ways like a textbook. The skeleton of the course is indeed based on the live lessons (in real classroooms with real students) that take place in Las Vegas. There are, however, some interesting additions. For instance, there are sound files of real native Japanese speakers speaking the words and phrases used on the course. Then there is an online dictionary which can also accept Kanji (the Chinese characters) as input. There is also a Kanji trainer. This is effectively a computerised flash card with the character on one side and its meanings on the other. Another feature is the ability to ask questions and to get them answered. A considerable knowledge base is beginning to accumulate.

The strongest part and YesJapan's great advantage over textbooks is undoubtedly the sound files. You are left in no doubt how the words are pronounced which is especially useful with the letter R (the Japanese pronounce this at different times as "r", "l" and even "d"). It is also useful for listening comprehension which is always the great shock when you go to a foreign country.

The weakness, sadly, is that it is computer-based. I don't know why this is but I prefer paper. It is probably because paper is easier on the eyes and it may be because of the position you adopt when reading. The upshot is that I have recently bought a couple of textbooks and am probably going to cancel my subscription soon.

At the end of this I would like to conclude something either about internet education or about language learning. Alas, I cannot. I just offer this for the record.

Posted by Patrick Crozier at 08:21 PM
Category: LanguagesTechnology
[5] [0]
Free range Bachini

Thanks to Alice Bachini for this link to the Free Range Education website. You probably thought, what with me having started BEdBlog, that I would already know about things like that. Wrong. I started BEdBlog to find out about things like that.

Alice also has some mock-naïve yet substantial thoughts of her own about Home Educating. Or as she puts it, "Home "Educating"(?)" She's not convinced, in other words, because it's too much like school.

Alice also included a link to something called Choice in Education, although in a manner which suggests that maybe this was a temporary error on her part. It sounds as if it will soon be good, but so far I haven't been able to get past the new front-end, so maybe they're still working on it and Alice left it in her posting by mistake.

This link worked fine.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 04:34 PM
Category: Home education
[1] [0]
Why I am now a peacenik

BEdBlog isn't here to discuss things like whether the USA should be attacking Iraq, but here's why it shouldn't.

As part of the coalition-building exercise, the USA is rejoining UNESCO, and catching up with all its unpaid subscriptions. This is a financial windfall for UNESCO, which is trying to "globally nationalise" (transnationalise?) education, especially in the Third World, and it will now be better placed to proceed with this.

In other words, education world-wide will become more like this and less like this.

My thanks to my friend Antoine Clarke for this insight.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 02:17 PM
Category: Politics
[1] [0]
A comment on educational software

BEdBlog has had its most substantial comment yet. In my grand manifesto of Nov 2nd, I mentioned the role of computers in education, and my old London friend from way back who's now based in New York, Howard Gray, had this to say:

An aside on the subject of computer teaching. Most of the software is of the "page turner or fill in the blank" variety providing little excitement. Power teaching software is rare.

Some time back, I came across a clever software item called MathXpert by Dr Michael Beeson at www.mathpert.com. (No I don't sell this stuff nor do I get a commission for mentioning it). This clever software creates a way of solving math problems by providing hints and drills to solve algebra and calculus. The software functions as a tutorial ghost, or hand-holder in the background, to nudge you along the way. It does qualify as power teaching software of which there are few really good examples.

Brian is spot on, computers have often failed to make an effective impact in education. For good reasons. "Page turner" junk isn't good use of the technology. Books, pencils, and paper are much better and, more to the point, they are portable without the need for batteries!

Maybe there'll come a time when comments as useful and encouraging as this are an hourly occurrence on BEdBlog, but that time is not yet, and I am very grateful to Howard for this one.

My own prejudice about the use of the Internet to distribute educational material is based on my blogger's prejudice about the use of the Internet to distribute writing, which is that things only come properly alive when a decent number of people give up trying to make money and just start giving their stuff away. A brief look at this "mathpert" man suggests that he is indeed prepared to give out serious stuff, to anyone with an internet connection, even if on the back of that he's trying to boost his career. Fair enough, I'm in favour of people boosting their careers. (Which by the way means that if, unlike Howard, you do stand to gain from peddling educational materials or services or badly paid teaching opportunities here, peddle away.)

Contrast this with the "sample my stuff here but if you're serious I want your money up front" approach adopted by the mathematical van man spotted by Patrick Crozier the other day. He's just using the internet to sell text books. "Brochureware" is the expression I seem to recall reading somewhere. That's fine, that's his perfect right, and his brochures are well worth reading. But dotted around this huge planet of ours there are surely people who are giving out seriously good teaching stuff for free, and I want to hear about it.

Thanks Howard.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 11:43 AM
Category: Technology
[1] [0]
Bad news – but some good stuff

So I just typed "Education" into Google, and I got 72,200,000 hits, which took Google 0.13 seconds. There isn't going to any shortage of guff for me, and any others I can inveigle into writing for this, to investigate.

Let's take the hits I got from the top.

HIT ONE: A story from New Zealand, which had disappeared from view by the time I got around to testing the link. The government has "privatized" a lot of education down there, and some of the money being sloshed about is being pocketed by scamsters. Many providers, but still the same old paymaster. So "tighter control" is needed.

HIT TWO: A story about the fact that lots of Ethiopians have been going to live in Israel, which tells me something I'd been neglecting to notice about how Jews have been getting along in Ethiopia.

For the first time since the massive immigration from Ethiopia over the last 18 years, the Ministry of Education has prepared a curriculum for teacher [sic] the Amharik language for Bagrut matriculation exams.

Sounds like someone could use a bit of English teaching as well.

According to Israel Radio, a committee for teaching Amharik has been set up in the Education Ministry. It is headed by an expert on African language at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem.

HIT THREE: Aids Education Fails to Change Behaviour.

... HIV/AIDS education in schools in Sub-Saharan Africa has failed to effect behaviour change despite high levels of knowledge among primary and secondary school pupils.

Researchers at the University of Sussex ...

HIT FOUR: A visit to the website of the US Department of Education. "When it comes to the education of our children … failure is not an option." - signed, President George W. Bush.

"No Child Left Behind." That has got to be as insane a political promise as any politician has ever given, anywhere, ever. What, not one?

I dig deeper, and visit the No Child Left Behind Website. Now, let me see if I can copy this pompous piece of verbiage from the U.S. Secretary of Education. Yes and no. Got a juicy piece of graphics into my word document, but then I'd have to upload it to my whosadaisy. That's a manoevre that will have to wait. The U.S. Secretary of Education said something about how the No Child Left Behind program was making history.

HIT FIVE: EducationWorld® The Educator's Best Friend. Warrrrrgh!! A website that looks like a graphic design studio has been sick all over the screen. What did Google say on the hit list?

... What was special about yesterday? EEK – Environmental Education for Kids: Explore the great outdoors! ... Education Humor Newsletter: Sign up now. ... Description: A comprehensive resource which includes a search engine for thousands of educational resources.

Back to the sicky mess website. It starts to make sense.

Today's Lesson: Put turkey on a table (or a graph)! Show turkey population, production, and consumption statistics.

How Toxic is Your School?: Causes, effects vary for sick schools.

Yes, you don't want to kill all your students.

But hello, what's this?

What about the Act's requirement that new middle school teachers have completed an academic major in the subject area they will be teaching? This occasional series answers questions about the federal No Child Left Behind Act.

That again. Another logo, saying "No Educator Left Behind". Question. What if a good teacher stops being a teacher at all, because of not having completed and not wanting to complete an "academic major"?


Okay, conclusions. All of these hits except the last one are about what governments are doing, or should be doing, or are not doing. Only HIT FIVE contains much actual stuff to help you do education, and even this is interfered with by its Federal Government.

News means bad news. And if you want bad news, put the government in charge of everything. HIT ONE is politically inflicted disaster. A political promise playing itself out, and we're quite deep into the story.

HIT TWO is the government reacting, rather late in the day, to something that has already happened in the world out there, in this case all these Ethiopian folks. But don't tell me there are no Ethiopian lessons already going on Israel. Memo to Israel Government. Relax. Let nature take its course. You don't need to do anything. Don't you have other things to be concerned about?

HIT THREE is another disaster. The best you can say for the politicians is that they didn't create it. But they sure as hell aren't solving it either, although I bet they contributed to it.

HIT FOUR is a disaster in the making, but we are witnessing the very beginning of it, the bright shining dawn. No child left behind! Six years from now, expect the news to be about all the children being left behind, and all the further behind because of what the government is now doing.

Only HIT FIVE concerns actual education, being done by some actual people with stuff to help you do it, but it's not news, it's just a website. Go there and you can explore, e.g., E-LEARNING RESOURCES FOR EDUCATORS. Some of that looks like it might be quite good. Hey. If your family has an internet connection and a printer, you don't need a school anymore!

The politicians give out booming press releases about how great everything is going to be, but then as soon as it goes wrong the press releases are about how we are all letting them down, and failing, and cheating, and not changing our behaviour. Meanwhile we the people – the lucky ones amongst us at any rate - are, rather more quietly and less newsworthily, getting on with our lives.

And show me a government that is ready to tell me about any one of 72,200,000 things that relate to what I've just asked about, after only 0.13 seconds. Nah, nothing special about that. That's not news.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 02:12 AM
Category: Technology
[0] [0]
November 05, 2002
Spanish practices

Spangolink (actually, I think they prefer to call themselves Inside Europe: Iberian Notes) have an article dealing with the scandalous situation surrounding the English language industry in Spain. It's a bit of a shocker.

Just because something is private doesn't mean it is any good.

Incidentally, having looked at the situation over in Japan recently I got the impression that things over there aren't so different.

Posted by Patrick Crozier at 03:30 PM
Category: The private sector
[0] [0]
Boys Won't Be Girls

For all those who want a cheap and cheerful choice of a few of the day's education stories from the British "electronic print" media I recommend Home Educating House Dad. Michael Peach doesn't always have anything new to say each morning, his last posting having been put up last Wednesday. But every morning, on the left, under "UK Education News", there are new links to British education stories, a decent few of which actually come up when you click on them.

For me, the most interesting one today was this, from the electrified version of the Telegraph.

For some years now, a big theme of British educational commentary has been that school life for girls has been easier than school life for boys, because, basically, teachers have tended not to like boys, and "education" has tended to mean getting them to be girls for the duration. Not surprisingly, many boys who might have done a lot better have wilted or rebelled. But read this:

This year, the boys at Kings' have actually overtaken the girls: 82 per cent gained five top grades, compared with 79 per cent of girls. How has such a transformation come about?

"We have taken the 'laddish' culture of our boys and, instead of quashing it, we have harnessed it to good effect," says Ray Bradbury, the head.

"Boys get as much praise in assembly for their sporting achievements, for example, as do the girls for their gentler pursuits. Successful old boys are invited in to talk about the importance of doing well, and we create an atmosphere of encouragement for boys as well as girls.

"Writing snide, negative comments on boys' reports, which used to be a staff-room sport in some schools, is unacceptable here, because boys have feelings, too.

"Most importantly, we have identified the boys who are in danger of under-achieving and we teach them in single-sex groups in English, maths and French, using methods specially adapted for those who can be 'a bit of a handful'."

Ms Parsons, the head of French, is an expert practitioner of these methods. Once her boys are settled, they work on tasks in short bursts. In the lesson I watched, they were given French phrases and had to write and rehearse sketches, and then perform them to the class. All were involved, either acting or correcting each other's pronunciation, and there was no sign of self-consciousness.

Or, as they used to say before it became incorrect, Boys Will Be Boys. Now, saying this seems to be becoming correct again. In general, the notion of an inborn, genetically programmed, gender distinctive human nature is now reasserting itself. (See for example the most recent book of Steven Pinker. Here's a link to a recent interview with Pinker.)

Nevertheless, there remains something rather manipulative about all this. My educational ideal (and if I didn't have at least one of those I wouldn't be doing this now would I?) is for children not to be manipulated at all, and in the meantime to be manipulated a hell of a lot less. The danger of such changes in educational fashion as this one is that one annoying over-generalisation will merely be replaced by another perhaps more accurate one, but still an over-generalisation. Boys Should Be Girls favours one sort of boy, and Boys Will Be Boys might make life nastier for such a boy. Because, one of the most definite features of human nature is that it varies from individual to individual, and no one atmosphere will suit all individual pupils.

But, as manipulation goes, this sounds not so bad. (Ms. Parsons sounds like she won't soon be forgotten!) And good or bad, I hope you agree that it is at least something to think about.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 12:43 PM
Category: Boys will be boys
[1] [0]
The Indian Miracle

Alice Bachini had some fun late last night ("People Educated Privately Should Subsidise the University Fees of People Educated by the State" - you have to scroll down, as usual with b***ger) about the British government's plans to make higher education fairer, and suggests a scheme to tax educational achievement more severely. She's joking, but I didn't really laugh, because what passes now for official, national educational debate in Britain is all about defeatist, defeated, tinkering with a failing system which is going to go on failing.

I fled from all that, to this, an article by James Tooley first published just over a year ago. What a relief.

… The Indian software engineering revolution is a remarkable phenomenon. Of all IPOs in Silicon Valley, 40% have an Indian founder. Nearly a fifth of all R&D staff in American knowledge companies are Indian. These numbers are set to grow, as more and more American and European companies seek to poach Indian expertise. Within India itself, the software industry has grown at an extraordinary rate - from around $150 million in 1992 to $3.9 billion last year, a compounded annual growth rate of 61%. India is second only to the USA in the number of Microsoft Certified Professionals. Although the industry began by contracting low-end business, it is now at the high end of the industry, with US customers buying 61% of the software that Indian companies export. All of the major global telecom companies have opened R&D centres in India.

Okay, but what does this have to do with education? Well, this. The people who are responsible for this Indian economic miracle were almost entirely educated not by the Indian state education system, for this is a crumbling embarrassment. No, they were educated by the Indian education industry, which is booming.

… two companies stand out in the way they have redefined education as an industry – NIIT and Aptech - who together share just over 70% of this market, estimated at roughly Rs. 1.1 billion (about $20 million). Take NIIT. It has 40 wholly owned centres in the metropolitan areas, but has franchised its highly innovative model to 1,000 centres across the whole of India. And, a nice twist on global capitalist imperialism, it has expanded its operations into the USA and UK, as well as having numerous franchises in Asia and Africa.

That's right. The Indian educational private sector stands poised to rescue us Brits from our public sector.

There are advantages to being poor. A country can't afford to waste money on nationalised industries that are big enough to do serious harm. We Brits are rich. We can afford this. In India they can't.

James Tooley is one of the most important education intellectuals in the world. If you don't believe me, you need only take a look at this, a list of his last five years' worth of research into private education work around the world.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 03:34 AM
Category: Technology
[1] [0]
UNESCO versus education

Bloggers everywhere are saying hurrah for Brian's EDUCATION Blog. Can't stop them. Brian from Samizdata. Not just Brian anybody. Brian Me. So I'd better give all these people who are flocking here in their tens something to read or at least know that they could have read, before I go to bed. So how about this fascinating piece of prose?

Paris, November 4 - Two and a half years after pledging to achieve education for all by 2015, more than 70 countries - on present trends - will not make it. This is the stern warning from the 2002 Education for All Global Monitoring Report which will be launched at a press conference organized by UNESCO in London on November 13.

I really should care about this. But honestly, where's the surprise? It makes you long to turn a satirist loose, to write about how UNESCO is doing its best to stamp out education worldwide, but the problem is still persisting, or some such. And it has to be some kind of law that anything promising things by the year 2015 is self-identified as nonsense.

The report will be presented by the eminent British education and development expert, Prof. Christopher Colclough, who is also its Director.

And I'm sure I ought to know who Professor Colclough is. Anyone? The name does sound vaguely familiar.

This second Global Monitoring Report clearly shows which countries are falling behind, or even going backwards, and examines why this is happening. It also presents some startling conclusions on the question of financing education for all. At the World Education Forum (Dakar, Senegal, 2000), participants, and particularly the major donor nations and agencies, vowed that no country seriously committed to education would be thwarted by a lack of resources. But, two years later, who has paid up? And are the national and international funds devoted to EFA sufficient?

So. Some "countries" have promised to give lots of money to some people not under their control, and now they aren't coming across with it. This is supposed to be startling.

"Countries" don't promise things, or for that matter fall behind or go backwards. "Donor nations" ditto. People promise things and these promises should only be taken seriously when the person doing the promising has complete control over what he is promising to do and is a person with a track record of delivering on such promises.

Governments, no matter how individually trustworthy the individuals who make them up may happen to be, are by their nature not organisations which can be relied upon. Politicians will screw you. They'll promise to hand over gobs of money to you. They'll promise you that they're going to be oh-so-committed to spending that money in the proper way, if someone else is giving it to them. But if you confuse these proclamations with facts about the future, well, you are due for some further education.

My blogging friends call what I'm now doing "Fisking", after a journalist called Fisk whom they all hate. I remember this process from my posh prep school as being called "comprehension". We would have to go through some ghastly lump of prose, sentence my sentence, and make as much sense of it as we could. Hideous memories are flooding back.

Published annually, the report is prepared by an independent international team based at UNESCO in Paris (France) as part of the follow-up to the Dakar Forum. It is funded jointly by UNESCO and multilateral and bilateral agencies, and benefits from the advice of an international editorial board.

And so this proclamation ends. It's so dull it seems to want to be ignored. For twenty minutes I could think of nothing further to say in response. But I knew I would have to think of something, if only to ensure that I at least managed to have the last word on my own blog.

Eventually I did squeeze a conclusion out of myself, and it is this, and that wanting-to-be-ignored vibe was the clue.

The temptation is to say that the Colcloughs of this world, all Colcloughing away year after year, are just total idiots, doing no good to anyone of any sort whatsoever, but – comforting thought – also doing no harm. I wish I could believe this, but I don't. This international fusspotocracy of conferencers and pledgers of achievement and multilateralists and bilateralists and beneficiaries of each other's international editorial advice is already doing actual harm and it threatens to do a whole lot more in the years to come. A failed promise is not the sort of promise that these people are going to allow to just fade away. No. They'll nag and nag away, and eventually they will be sloshing money around the Third World with such abandon that education itself will be seriously damaged, in much the same way that "aid" damages all the other things it is sprayed over. In other words, and this is my key point here, just ignoring this stuff won't make it go away.

For people like me the damage is already being done. This kind of verbiage already occupies mental space in educational heads everywhere, that ought to be occupied by quite different and much more accurate ideas about how education in particular and things in general are actually done successfully. When I go fishing for what's been happening in "education" today, this guff is not what ought to rise, dripping, out of the canal. But it did.

On the other hand, if you work for UNESCO or you were at this Dakar Forum or if you think that UNESCO reports like this can make an actual beneficial difference to the world, then push where it says "Comments" and do your worst.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 12:50 AM
Category: Politics
[1] [0]
November 04, 2002
Links and literacy

I make no secret of it: I have a lot to learn. And one of the things I most want to learn is: Which stuff will remain up on the www for ever, and which stuff will vanish, or be shut away in a complicated registration or payment prison? For example: Will this link to an article published on October 10th by independent.co.uk about a particular brand of "Synthetic Phonics" still be working two years from now? Or should I quote a few paragraphs from it, to ensure that this posting will make sense even if this link eventually peters out? Paragraphs like these:

It's just after break at Trinity Road primary school in Chelmsford, and the eager five-year-olds in Miss Tait's class are sitting on the carpet waiting for their lesson to start. Suddenly it begins at a cracking pace. Miss Tait warms the children up by getting them to build up some simple three-letter words from their constituent sounds. "My turn M-e-n, men. Your turn..." she says. "M-e-n men," they chant in response.

They are part of a successful scheme pioneered by Dr Jonathan Solity and Essex County Council with around 10,000 children across more than 170 of the authority's schools. The scheme challenges the Government's National Literacy Strategy on the grounds that it is not succeeding in teaching children to read. Since its introduction in 1995, Dr Solity's project has seen standards rise. The proportion of children who struggle to read and are labelled as having learning difficulties has been cut from around 25 per cent to between two and eight per cent.

Around 20 per cent more seven-year-olds now reach the required standard for their age using Dr Solity's methods. If his scheme were adopted nationally, it would save the Government more than £200m a year and rescue thousands of children from the educational scrap heap, he says.

The debate about how children should be taught to read has been a long and bitter one. And it was reignited last month by the Government's admission that it missed its target for enabling primary-school children to read and write. That target, set in 1997, pledged to have 80 per cent of pupils reaching the required standard in English tests by this summer. However, the initial strong improvements tailed off and the figures failed to show any improvement for the second year running, so that only 75 per cent of 11-year-olds were successful this summer.

The article goes on to refer favourably to two people whom I've learned to respect, who are among the people associated with the Reading Research Foundation, Sue Lloyd of Jolly Phonics, and Dr Bonnie Macmillan, who wrote a monograph for the Institute of Economic Affairs which I reviewed favourably for the Libertarian Alliance.

I would love to hear from anyone who believes that my prejudices about literacy teaching are all wrong, and that the government, with its "balance of different methods", is on the right track in literacy teaching after all.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 03:21 AM
Category: Literacy
[0] [1]
November 03, 2002
Maths - the traditional way

I saw this link, I kid you not, on a van parked in Twickenham. It is for a company called Accelerated Education Publications whose slogan is "Teaching the traditional way."

Which doesn't sound right. Traditional and accelerated don't normally go together. So, I decided to have a look at the website. It turns out that maths teaching has been so badly undermined by trendy teaching methods and the National Curriculum that no one knows how to teach it anymore and that old is the new new.

Sounds like a good market to be in.

Posted by Patrick Crozier at 05:09 PM
Category: Maths
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