Class Sizes – Myths and Facts

Everyone wants to believe that there are some really simple ways to gauge whether education is good, bad or indifferent. One ‘symbolic figure’ that parents, politicians and others have frequently latched on to is class size. The logic is simple – small class = good, big class = bad.

However, it’s actually proved far more complex than that, as is highlighted by the two articles below. The first article, from the US looks at the way a trend of reducing class sizes with massive government investment is now reversing as the need for government austerity kicks in. The second article sees Japanese schools investing to reduce class sizes.

The fact is that as much as teacher unions and parent bodies worry about class size, it’s not nearly as important as they want to believe. The reason is that there are a whole mass of things that relate to ‘how’ things are happening in the classroom, whole school culture etc. that are far more important when it comes to quality of learning.

The fact is that the quality of learning experience for each child is determined by skills, artistry and dedication of passionate teachers for whom what they do is a calling and a vocation – not a J.O.B. and a salary cheque. You can’t bottle it, package it or multiply it with simplistic, trite objectives around things like class size.

USA Today Article
Japan Today Article

Mission Julley

This initiative to raise funds for the people impacted by the calamities in Leh, Ladakh continues to grow in strength thanks to the energy and enthusiasm of the The Shri Ram School community.

The cricket match and rock concert yesterday raised Rs2.5 lakh and the cycle ride this morning a further Rs25k.

Really well done everyone – and keep up the great work. Big thanks to Kapil Dev, all the band members and everyone else who’s been giving their time and effort to contribute in this worthy cause.

Mission Julley on Facebook

Mindmapping

Here’s a great article setting out some of the basics about Mindmapping and also offering plenty of links to more resources:

IQMatrix on Mindmapping

Vigilance Against Bigotry & Hate

I was saddened yesterday to read this story from the UK Guardian newspaper. It’s evidence and proof that, especially in times of economic downturn there will always be a manic crazy few who will feed off others’ delusions of right and entitlement to whip up xenophobic bigotry on the streets of any country in the world.

Guardian report on EDL

The ‘English Defence League’ (I don’t consider they’re defending anything quintessentially ‘English’ on my account!) is just the latest manifestation. They attract trouble-makers, people who have a history of failure to live as effective members of society, and provide them with a pseudo-political fig leaf for their hooliganism. These people have usually made no effort in the education system, have no inclination to bring about anything positive in their own lives, but resent that the world does not hand them everything they want on a plate. When they don’t have or get what they want, it’s a simple step to believing that the presence of foreigners is what’s denying them.

It often seems an irony to me that when these hooligans have smashed each others’ faces in at football matches, it’s frequently Indian doctors who patch them up, or even save their lives!

This is all nothing new. Right back when i was in school I was a fully paid up member of ‘Rock Against Racism’ and the ‘Anti-Nazi League’ – stickers, badges, banners etc. Sadly, they got hijacked by the loony-left fringe – which was when i decided I didn’t want to be part of any narrow polarised extreme:

Wikipedia – Rock Against Racism
Wikipedia – Anti-Nazi League
Research Material on RAR, ANL and British Fascism

It is vitally important that all right thinking people remain willing to stand up to the negative forces that want to turn nations and people against each other, fuelled by their petty hatred.

Changing Attitudes to Early Years Education

I wrote less than two weeks ago about the influence of Malcolm Gladwell’s book, ‘The Outliers’ and how it was influencing the choices parents were making when it came to their children’s education.

Here’s another article that reinforces this impact, this time showing how increasing numbers of US parents are deliberately choosing to put their child in to school late, so as to avoid being the youngest/ smallest in the class.

New York Times Redshirt article

Whilst my sympathy lies wholeheartedly with the parents who are choosing to ‘redshirt’ their child I am concerned that the current scenario doesn’t remove ‘victims’ or those disadvantaged from the system – it just changes which child in the class gets disadvantaged. Also, much of the motivation appears to be a drive for competitive advantage in standardised state education tests that are required almost annually in the US education system.

My feeling is that there’s enough evidence from places like Finland that there is big advantage in having all the children start school later rather than earlier. Then, I believe that differentiation of the learning experience by teachers, accompanied by careful analysis of the strengths, development needs and character of each child offer the best opportunity to ensure each child fulfils their learning potential in the classroom. This also needs to be accompanied by healthy, disciplined and supportive classroom environments with high expectations of each child, clearly articulated and monitored and learning treated as a cooperative endeavour.

Youth Culture – The Dark Side

I believe every parent of a child over 13 years of age should read this week’s India Today cover story, and then read it again.

India Today Cover Story

For me there is a really eerie sense of deja vu. I grew up in the UK, well in to my teens as the 1980’s got under way. At the time things were happening within my generation that were little understood amongst our parents. Drug and alcohol use exploded. Along the way i even lost a couple of good friends, dead way before their time. I learned that it’s impossible to tell who will become an addict and who won’t – that there’s a hidden part of every person’s personality that can cause them to swing towards the precipice or safety – the danger is nobody even knows their own hidden part – so it’s like the ultimate game of Russian roulette.

I see all the danger signs here in India now and the same sense of helpless confusion amongst the parent generation. People, until now, have associated the ‘drug addict’ with the derelict laid out on the pavement – it was something happening somewhere else with someone else. However, today, both parents and educators cannot afford to be naive or to shut their minds to the evidence around them.

It’s important to say as well that there’s nothing to be gained by over-reaction either. Dragging our children off for blood tests, employing private detectives to watch where they go and who they’re with are not the answers. We also can’t lock them up, away from their peers, in the belief that we can buy them immunity from danger.

Being now much older and at least a little bit wiser I believe that there are certain strengths that we can build in our children to keep them strong and safe. A child with a strong sense of identity, belief in themselves and clear goals for their future about which they are passionate are most unlikely to succumb to peer pressure to engage in high risk behaviours. These are the kids who will think twice before getting on the ‘slippery slope’ or throwing the dice. They have an inner strength that enables them to say ‘NO’.

As educators we rarely get hard and fast concrete evidence. We chase shadows and ghosts – stories of family drivers who become ‘pushers and dealers’ who acquire the substance of choice for the children they’re entrusted to protect, the suspect places where deals are struck, the ‘trainers’ in gyms who supplement their incomes by supplying ‘highs’ on the side. Again, I say we can’t wrap the children up or shut them away from the world around them. However, we can work with our children as early as possible to build the strength of character that doesn’t need to buckle to peer pressure.

Other things we can do include demanding proper policing, proper detection of dealing and manufacture and related suspect activities. Then, proper and effective action by the courts to make the would-be dealers think twice.

I welcome thoughts and contributions from both parents and educators on what we can do.

Gurgaon.com

There’s a new forum to bring citizens of Gurgaon together, to solve problems, tackle some of the challenges and generally work together to make Gurgaon a better place to live.

Everything from sharing info on the latest traffic jams, information on new restaurants or night spots, really i think it’s open for anyone and everyone to share their perspectives on how we make ‘this house a home’.

Gurgaon.com

The Multi-Tasking Myth

So, I wonder right now, how many of our students have told their parents they’re doing their homework whilst they’re also engaging in some rapid fire texting, watching the TV and checking out the latest wall comments on Facebook.

Well, I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but here is some pretty compelling evidence that a lot of people have been kidding themselves about this whole ‘multi-tasking’ myth. Sadly, the unfashionable but logical conclusion here is that the old-fashioned ideas about doing homework in peaceful, focused circumstances without distractions. If you’re going to do something effectively, there’s still no substitute for concentrated effort.

BBC Article on Multi-Tasking

This reminded me of some earlier research that i had read about related to learning. This suggested that learning is situational specific – in other words – for the best recall of material learned the situations of learning and recall should be similar. The research consisted of teaching certain things to divers whilst they were under water. Then, they were tested on said material both under water and in a classroom setting. recall under water was better.

One conclusion that can be drawn from this is that until schools start to offer facilities for examinations to be taken prone on a bed or the floor in front of a television set to MTV, that’s probably not the most effective place to learn school related material.

Boring and very sad, I know, but you can’t fight the workings of the human mind!!

Concerns About Wi-Fi in Schools

Here’s a very interesting article from a newspaper in Toronto, Canada where parents are raising some very real fears about whether schools are the right place to be using wi-fi networks.

Globe and Mail Article

Our own inclination when looking at increasing network accessibility throughout our 3 campuses was to look at cabling, even though far more disruptive in the short term for security reasons. I believe this offers another very strong reason why we should be looking at cabling as the more appropriate solution.

IB Under Attack in the US

When economies turn down, when life becomes tougher and some ‘chickens come home to roost’, it’s not uncommon to see signs of xenophobic nationalism emerging in countries, especially those where people have come to believe in their ‘right of privilege’ to a better life. We’ve seen Obama reading the runes on this quite blatantly in recent weeks, with statements to his domestic audience about retaining jobs for America, penalizing companies that export jobs to India and China etc.

Now, there’s a new and slightly unexpected target in America – the International Baccalaureate and its inclination towards global citizenship. This ASCD article and the links included in it set out the opposing arguments quite well, with the comments at the bottom showing the power of this debate to polarize opinions.

ASCD Whole Child Article

Our school has been offering the IB Diploma for 5 years. I would be fascinated to know whether any of our own students, past or present, feel that studying under this programme made them less Indian, or subverted any of their existing values.

What the IB Diploma DOES (quite legitimately) is causes young people to question and explore the world around them. Here’s where, inevitably, I can see a clash arising in America. If, for example, students found themselves questioning the views expressed by their government, delving in to issues of America’s relationship with the rest of the world, discovering the perceptions of people in other countries about America (instead of ignoring others’ opinions as many of their country are inclined to do).

I well remember a couple of months after 9/11, some of the superior American press started raising questions that sought to explore America’s relationship with the world, delving in to some uncomfortable reflections on whether there might be aspects of how America was/ is that meant they had to shoulder some of the responsibility for what had happened – that inadvertently or otherwise their country was a part of the problem. Those journalists received such a vicious backlash that made it very clear that as a nation people were not ready to allow such a debate.

I am optimistic that these xenophobic luddites, though vociferous and outspoken, represent a minority in the US or any country. Whilst not ignoring them, the responsibility on the vast majority is to ensure that the IB or any other quality education system is permitted to function without overt political interference, developing the skills within young people to be discerning thinkers with minds open to explore all perspectives on issues before coming to conclusions .

As Khalil Gibran said in his famous poem on children, “You may give them your love but not your thoughts,
For they have their own thoughts” and “You may strive to be like them, but seek not to make them like you” – these people would do well to remember this.

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