Category Archives: News

News of Interest in the Education Domain

Teachers who don’t show up to work cost India $1.5 billion a year

A new study led by Karthik Muralidharan of University of California, San Diego, points out that the cost of teacher absence in India costs more than $1.5 billion per year, reports Quartz India

This is a big problem:

According to a World Bank study based on unannounced visits to government schools, 25% of teachers were absent from school, and only about half were teaching. Absence rates varied from 15% in Maharashtra to 42% in Jharkhand. The study also found that salary is not the determinant of teacher absence—the more educated and experienced teachers who are paid more are as frequently absent as contract teachers who are paid less.

What is the solution?

Apparently, incentives work. Here are the suggestions:

  • Daily cash incentives for coming to work
  • Inspect schools regularly
  • Have better infrastructure at schools
  • Have a paved road to or near the school
  • Monitory teachers daily by cameras

References:

Americans Think They Have the World’s Best Colleges. They Don’t. -NYTimes

The New York Times has an interesting article which argues that Americans Think They Have the World’s Best Colleges. They Don’t

Americans have a split vision of education. Conventional wisdom has long held that our K-12 schools are mediocre or worse, while our colleges and universities are world class. While policy wonks hotly debate K-12 reform ideas like vouchers and the Common Core state standards, higher education is largely left to its own devices. Many families are worried about how to get into and pay for increasingly expensive colleges. But the stellar quality of those institutions is assumed.

However, looking at data carefully gives a different picture.

America’s perceived international dominance of higher education, by contrast, rests largely on global rankings of top universities.

Specifically, just because the best universities in the US are the best universities in the world, does not mean that the average universities in the US are better than the average universities in the rest of the world, or even as good.

Because:

International university rankings, moreover, have little to do with education. Instead, they focus on universities as research institutions, using metrics such as the number of Nobel Prize winners on staff and journal articles published. A university could stop enrolling undergraduates with no effect on its score.

Looking at the impact of average universities on the average population is a different way to evaluate a country’s higher education program.

The fair way to compare the two systems, to each other and to systems in other countries, would be to conduct something like a PISA for higher education. That had never been done until late 2013, when the O.E.C.D. published exactly such a study.

The project is called the Program for the International Assessment of Adult Competencies (known as Piaac, sometimes called “pee-ack”). In 2011 and 2012, 166,000 adults ages 16 to 65 were tested in the O.E.C.D. countries (most of Europe along with the United States, Canada, Australia, Japan and South Korea) and Cyprus and Russia. Like PISA, Piaac tests people’s literacy and math skills. Because the test takers were adults, they were asked to use those skills in real-world contexts. They might, for example, be asked to read a news article and an email, each describing a different innovative method of improving drinking water quality in Africa, and identify the sentence in each document that describes a criticism common to both inventions. The test also included a measure of “problem-solving in technology-rich environments,” reflecting the nature of modern work.

As with the measures of K-12 education, the United States battles it out for last place, this time with Italy and Spain. Countries that traditionally trounce America on the PISA test of 15-year-olds, such as Japan and Finland, also have much higher levels of proficiency and skill among adults.

And, the situation is getting worse:

In 2000, American 15-year-olds scored slightly above the international average. Twelve years later, Americans who were about 12 years older scored below the international average. While American college graduates are far more knowledgeable than American nongraduates, creating a substantial “wage premium” for diploma holders, they look mediocre or worse compared to their college-educated peers in other nations.

Read the full article

Five steps to take India’s education system from mediocre to world class

The Times of India has published an open letter from Ashish Dhawan, Anu Aga, and Amit Chandra to HRD Minister, Smriti Irani, giving her advice on Five steps to take India’s education system from mediocre to world class.

Here are the main points made by the letter:

First,:

our education system currently suffers from an apparent ‘Licence Raj’ that restricts entry and operation of private players. Even policies such as RTE neglect that private schools are a large part of the education ecosystem (already 40% of school students and 60% of college students are enrolled in private institutions). These norms have led to the shutdown of a large number of affordable private schools that serve low-income students. The government must deregulate school education and treat government and private schools as equal partners in solving India’s education crisis.

Second,:

it is important not only to invest more in education but to do so more strategically. Central government should invest more resources in teacher education and development, principal training, ICT in education and assessments.

Third,:

improve quality standards through nationwide assessments. Assessments need to be at the core of any planning exercise for improving India’s education system.

Fourth,:

equip school principals to become efficient school leaders. Great leaders make great institutions, in every sphere. In schools principals are the highest point of leverage, yet their role is often restricted to administrative functions. There is a need to reimagine the role of the principal — as an instructional leader, rather than an administrator.

Fifth,:

improve teacher quality for better learning outcomes. It is unfortunate that teaching today does not attract the best talent. We need public awareness campaigns in India that are able to effectively project teaching as a rewarding and meaningful profession.

The full article has much more detail.

How @BillGates caused a major education policy shift in the US: common standards

The Washington Post has a long article on how Bill Gates pulled off one of the swiftest shifts in US education policy – the common core revolution which asks for common standards of education across the various states and schools in the US.

Apparently, the problem they have is the opposite of the problem India has. Our education system is sluggish because of too much centralized control; their problem is the complete lack of centralized standards:

Coleman and Wilhoit told the Gateses that academic standards varied so wildly between states that high school diplomas had lost all meaning, that as many as 40 percent of college freshmen needed remedial classes and that U.S. students were falling behind their foreign competitors.

                      The pair also argued that a fragmented education system stifled innovation because textbook publishers and software developers were catering to a large number of small markets instead of exploring breakthrough products. That seemed to resonate with the man who led the creation of the world’s dominant computer operating system.

The biggest problem in any such major shift in education policy is that it is usually a highly politicized issue with lots of stakeholders all pulling in different directions, and hence any substantial change is almost impossible to push through the mess. That’s where Bill Gates, and the Gates Foundation comes in:

The Gates Foundation spread money across the political spectrum, to entities including the big teachers unions, the American Federation of Teachers and the National Education Association, and business organizations such as the U.S. Chamber of Commerce — groups that have clashed in the past but became vocal backers of the standards.

                      Money flowed to policy groups on the right and left, funding research by scholars of varying political persuasions who promoted the idea of common standards. Liberals at the Center for American Progress and conservatives affiliated with the American Legislative Exchange Council who routinely disagree on nearly every issue accepted Gates money and found common ground on the Common Core.

What exactly is the common core? Here is an example:

The math standards require students to learn multiple ways to solve problems and explain how they got their answers, while the English standards emphasize nonfiction and expect students to use evidence to back up oral and written arguments. The standards are not a curriculum but skills that students should acquire at each grade. How they are taught and materials used are decisions left to states and school districts.

Read the full article

US Government to introduce a College Rating System

The New York Times has an interesting article about how colleges in the US are rattled as President Obama Seeks a Rating System for Colleges in the US. The basic idea is that colleges and universities receive about $150 billion in loans and grants from the government, and the government wants to see what all that money is buying.

What is this rating system?

The rating system is in fact a radical new effort by the federal government to hold America’s 7,000 colleges and universities accountable by injecting the executive branch into the business of helping prospective students weigh collegiate pros and cons. For years that task has been dominated by private companies like Barron’s and U.S. News & World Report.

How would this rating system work?

The rating system, which the president called for in a speech last year and is under development, would compare schools on factors like how many of their students graduate, how much debt their students accumulate and how much money their students earn after graduating. Ultimately, Mr. Obama wants Congress to agree to use the ratings to allocate the billions in federal student loans and grants. Schools that earn a high rating on the government’s list would be able to offer more student aid than schools at the bottom.

Of course there are problems, and lots of the colleges are complaining:

Many college presidents said a rating system like the one being considered at the White House would elevate financial concerns above academic ones and would punish schools with liberal arts programs and large numbers of students who major in programs like theater arts, social work or education, disciplines that do not typically lead to lucrative jobs.They also predicted that institutions that serve minority and low-income students, many of whom come from underfunded schools and have had less college preparation, would rank lowest in a new rating system, hurting the very populations the president says he wants to help.

Overall:

“As with many things, the desire to solve a complicated problem in what feels like a simple way can capture people’s imagination,” said Adam F. Falk, the president of Williams College in Massachusetts. Dr. Falk said the danger of a rating system is that information about the colleges is likely to be “oversimplified to the point that it actually misleads.”

Read the full article

Pune’s CSIR-URDIP Starts India’s first ever course on PatInformatics (Patent Informatics)

It has been argued that India’s education system creates clerks, not innovators, and as a result, our biggest export is software engineers and software services companies which do what innovators in the US and elsewhere tell them to do. Given that context, a focus on innovation, intellectual property creation, and patents is something that various educators and policy makers in India keep talking about.

Now comes the interesting (can we go so far as to call it heartening?) news that CSIR-URDIP, which is CSIR‘s Pune based Unit for Research and Development of Information Products, has launched India’s first ever Post Graduate Diploma Course on PatInformatics (i.e. Patent Informatics).

What is PatInformatics?

The participants will be introduced to Intellectual Property Rights (IPR) and the importance of patent information in research and business. The course will basically focus on Patinformatics and its applications which will enable the participants undertake  technology scenario analysis, white space mapping, competitive intelligence study, new product development, patentability, infringement analysis, freedom to operate study, citation analysis, patent valuation etc. This course will thus help participants develop their skills in patent searching and analysis and use this information for research and business planning. Thus the participants, after successful completion of the course will be capable of handling all the IPR related issues independently.

Source

Details about the course:

The course will begin from August 4, 2014. The course will be of one year duration and will be full time. The lectures will be delivered by Scientists at CSIR-URDIP having minimum ten years of experience in the area for Patinformatics. It will consist of four quarters with 12 modules of theory classes and hands-on practical sessions working on databases and analytical tools including daily assignments and projects.

See full course details

Who can apply?

Basically, it is open for Engineering, Science, or Law graduates. The precise requirements are:

Minimum qualification required is a Post Graduate Degree from recognized universities. The candidate should have any one of the following:

  • Masters degree with minimum of 60% marks in any of the life sciences, chemical sciences and physical sciences..
  • M. Pharm. with minimum of 60% marks and GATE qualified
  • B.E ( Min. 60% marks) and GATE qualified
  • L.L.B with Science background ( Min. 60% marks at B.Sc. and L.L.B )
  • M.Lib Sci. with graduation in science ( Min.60% at each degree)

Fees?

  • Application Fees: Rs 1000/ – to be paid in the SBI Power Jyoti account. 50% concession will be provided for SC/ST candidates.
  • Course Fees: Rs. 50,000/- to be paid at the beginning of the course.
  • Number of Seats: 30

For more details, see the PatInformatics Website

Behind Harvard’s explosion of online classes: a flurry of lights, camera, action – Metro – The Boston Globe

The Boston Globe has an interesting article on how Harvard is building a full-fledged production studio to create MOOCs

Excerpt:

They were surrounded not by leather-bound volumes but by a multimillion-dollar production studio and no fewer than five bustling staff members adjusting cameras and microphones and ensuring the scholars made their points clearly.

The production values were taken at least as seriously as the scholarship. As the professors discussed the international impact of the ornate turn-of-the-century Singer sewing machine on display between them, the crew monitored three cameras and debated which lighting source would reflect off Gordon’s glasses or wash out Ulrich’s face.

When Gordon brushed his hand on his lapel, creating a tiny static blip, they filmed a second take. When Ulrich moved a book off the sewing machine’s oak table between takes, they put it back, then filmed her picking it up so the book would not magically disappear in the video.

Quietly, Harvard has built what amounts to an in-house production company to create massive open online courses, or MOOCs, high-end classes that some prestigious universities are offering for free to anyone in the world, generally without formal academic credit. Contrary to the popular image of online classes consisting largely of video from a camera planted at the back of the lecture hall, Harvard is increasingly using mini-documentaries, animation, and interactive software tools to offer a far richer product.

This is a fairly serious undertaking, with a serious budget, and appropriate professionals being hired:

The endeavor, which is called HarvardX and celebrates its second birthday this month, has two video studios, more than 30 employees, and many freelancers — an astonishing constellation of producers, editors, videographers, composers, animators, typographers, and even a performance coach to help professors get comfortable in front of a camera.

HarvardX has made about 30 classes and has some 60 more in the works.

Read the full article for a lot of details, including dissenting opinions, and other interesting tidbits.

Pune-based Online Science/Maths Learning Platform Function Space gets funding

Pune-based Function Space, an online “social” platform for learning science and maths has recently raised seed funding from Nexus Venture Partners.

Function Space is trying to make STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) education fun and engaging, something that is seriously been missing from our education system

Function Space, already offers a strong community consisting of users from over 190 countries, including students, professors and researchers from MIT, Stanford, University of California, Berkeley and Los Angeles campuses, Indian Institute of Technology campuses, Indian Institute of Science and other prestigious institutions.

The funding will be used for expansion: of their content, their tools, and their customer reach.

Function Space was founded in 2013 by Adit Gupta, Sakshi Majmudar and Sumit Maniyar.

Read the full article

Google Debuts Classroom, An Education Platform For Teacher-Student Communication

Earlier this month, Google started beta-testing Classroom, an education platform for teacher-student communication.

Here are details of the program:

The Classroom app is part of Google’s Apps for Education lineup of products, and it uses Docs, Drive and Gmail to make assignment creation and tracking easier than when you’d do those things manually. Basically, Google has taken a process that many were already using and streamlined it to make it more useful. Google has a huge advantage over other startups trying to do the same as a result; there’s an immense built-in existing population of users to get onboard.

and:

It also incorporates class communication tools, letting teachers make announcements, ask questions and field student responses in real-time. Plus the whole thing’s free for schools

Who gets to use it?

So far, Google is keeping Classroom invite-only, with educators invited to apply to the preview program for access. They’ll open the gates to that first group of pilot testers in around a month’s time, and Google expects to release it widely by September – in time for the next school year.

Read the full article

Stanford President predicts Great Experimentation in the area of Online Learning

The Tomorrow’s Professor newsletter out of Stanford has an interesting article about comments made by Stanford President, John Hennessy, about the future of online learning

The main point he made was that this is a time of great experimentation in the area of online learning, and education departments around the world need to scientifically study online learning models and teach the rest of the faculty how to tame this beast. Specifically:

Hennessy said that colleges and universities will be taking a more scientific approach to online learning than in the past, relying on their schools of education to measure student learning and to provide feedback.

“I’m actually pretty confident that we’re going to come out with pedagogical approaches that are truly a step forward in terms of helping our students be better learners – and that will really be refreshing,” Hennessy said.

For example, this is an example of some interesting ways in which online courses are used by people around the world:

“Imagine that ‘Book of the Month Club’ becomes ‘Course of the Month Club’,” Hennessy said. “With a little bit of technology, a community of learners self-assembles around a course and forms a group. They do peer grading. They interchange. They exchange conversations and they learn the material together. I think we’ll see this happening. It would be a wonderful thing and great for the world.”

Another interesting aspect is that the difficulty level of exams probably needs to be adjusted:

At UC Berkeley and Stanford, he said, faculty members design exams to challenge students.”Now, take that exam to a school where perhaps the students are not quite as capable and give them that exam and you’re going to crush them,” he said.

In fact, the one of the most important areas in which online courses are being offered is education itself:

Hennessy said one thing that MOOCs do very well is “educate the educators” in other parts of the world, allowing them to use the material to prepare courses for their students.

And finally, this:

In response to a question from the audience, Hennessy said some faculty have reported that more students are attending classes when they have “flipped” the classroom – delivering lectures online and meeting in the classroom for one-on-one interaction and hands-on projects. While those early indicators are positive, he said, controlled experiments would be the key to understanding how well students are mastering the material in those settings.

Read the full article