pedagogy of the perplexed

…and the ¥500 response.

Guo Shougui (pictured) has been a substitute teacher for 22 years, all along hoping for official employment. He makes about $150 per month. For those of you not acquainted with rural China living standards, no, that isn’t enough. As the article states, many teachers have to sell their blood on the side to make a living wage.

So many discussions of Which Country will Reign Supreme in Two-Thousand-Whatever. All of them miss the point (probably - I don’t actually read much). As long as education and teachers are undervalued (and in many cases in the developing world under-trained), not only as professionals, but as community figures of paramount social importance, we’re going to remain in this toilet (see below). And then it’s not going to matter who’s got the highest GDP, cuz anyone with any sense is going to be too busy emigrating to Finland.

This piece is sad and a little sensationalist, but it’s the reality facing a lot of people in this maturing country and an indicator of where global focus should be directed.

Posted by Na’im

Photo found on linked article.

The $320,000 question

Six figures and then some. This article is a year and a half old but it’s still pretty revolutionary stuff. (Attn: this is my first blog post ever so please bear with me - and thanks in advance for any constructive criticism).

The New York Times piece is based on some research done by a Mr. Raj Chetty (a Harvard economist) and his crew, who: 

     “examined the life paths of almost 12,000 children who had been part of a well-known education experiment in Tennessee in the 1980s. The children are now about 30, well started on their adult lives. On Tuesday, Mr. Chetty presented the findings — not yet peer-reviewed — at an academic conference in Cambridge, Mass. They’re fairly explosive.

     Just as in other studies, the Tennessee experiment found that some teachers were able to help students learn vastly more than other teachers… when Mr. Chetty and his colleagues took another look at the students in adulthood, they discovered that the legacy of kindergarten had re-emerged.

     Students who had learned much more in kindergarten were more likely to go to college than students with otherwise similar backgrounds. Students who learned more were also less likely to become single parents. As adults, they were more likely to be saving for retirement. Perhaps most striking, they were earning more.”

Pretty incredible, isn’t it? These findings emphatically and conclusively demonstrate a sentiment that a lot of people merely relegate to occupying a warm and fuzzy feeling – that kindergarten teachers are important people who play an important role in the development of our children’s lives. Not so fast, Mr. Chetty tells us. Not only are kindergarten teachers important figures in our society, but he pulls up cold hard numbers to show us that we need to collectively put our money where our mouth is and pay these teachers the brie and cheddar. $320,000 a year, to be exact. Yeah. Crazy, I know, but oh how I love it. They arrived at the above figure by estimating “the present value of the additional money that a full class of students can expect to earn over their careers. This estimate doesn’t take into account social gains, like better health and less crime.” Which drops another eye-opener – what number would we be looking at if we actually factored in social gains associated with ‘better health and less crime’? $500,000? $750,000? The bottom line, as clear as the noon-day sun, is that teachers are greatly undervalued. Why do kindergarten teachers average $50,000 in the US if they’re lucky, while investment bankers from a certain institution (nothing personal, fellas…) received an average payout of $369,651 (£233,000) for 2010?

Thanks to Mr. Chetty, we’re finally getting data that conveys exactly how our current economic system/(mis)valuation of professions doesn’t make sense; that the gross undervaluing of teachers and cuts in education spending isn’t a sustainable approach to genuine progress. As long as we underpay teachers, and as long as we deprive them of the resources they need, the more prisons we’ll have to build, and the more once-great nations will lag behind in terms of their collective skill-set, so desperately needed to remain competitive.

The article continues by illustrating the timely nature of the research, demonstrating how “the gap between the pay of college graduates and everyone else grew to a record last year, according to the Labor Department, and unemployment has risen far more for the less educated” and concluding that although “given today’s budget pressures, finding the money for any new programs will be difficult… that’s all the more reason to focus our scarce resources on investments whose benefits won’t simply fade away.”

It all seems so reasonable, yet sadly so far away from being a reality. Instead of going for the quick fix when the economy and everything else around us seems to be going into the toilet, we have to be steadfast and buckle down for long-term solutions. To keep our eyes on the prize, let that chili slow-cook all day instead of going for the 2-minute TV dinner. We may not get to taste the sweet fruits of our labours during our generation, but we have to put all of our efforts and attention into building indestructible education systems, armed with well-supported teachers, abundant resources, and opportunities for reflection and professional development. A vibrant economy and a healthy future demands all of that. Now let’s start paying these hard-working kindergarten teachers their $320,000 a year.

Posted by Nima

Burton is back

From Creative Commons - Randy Stewart

…and he hasn’t aged a day. I feel close to LeVar, not only because we both employ unconventional punctuation in our names, but because he had a hand in raising me, eventually leading up to my recent purchase of a Kindle. According to this, Spaceman-meets-educational-entrepreneur is getting it done. Merging his two personas to create educational apps and interactive learning experiences for digitized youngins. All in all good stuff. I think the notable part - the argument deserving attention and engagement is the following:

"The educational system is just not getting it done," contends Burton. "If we’re going to reclaim our place in the world, in terms of how we educate our children and how we prepare them for the future" he concludes, "it’s going to get done through a private-public partnership."

More and more we read of schools and systems that are farting technology into the atmosphere without genuine attempts to engage with it. Burton doesn’t seem to be talking about schools directly. He wants to create passion for reading and learning. However, being a passionate learner is sort of a dry characteristic without a setting within which to flex that passion. And what better place to do that than a school (besides all the other ones)? But schools need to have systems in place that accept adaptable technology and reject useless ones. Having a computer does not make things better. Having real and practical tools tailored to your curriculum and learners does, and that can be a projector or an abacus.

We have so many amazing technologies that improve our lives. The majority are not intended to challenge us, but to make things easier and faster. Learning requires a different approach. Learning happens best at the point where fascination meets struggle. The way technology is currently being applied to schools is like using Powerpoint in a family discussion. Sure it helps to lay out your ideas and opinions in a clear and comprehensive way, but you’re just reading from the slides and the lights are all off so I’m getting tired (i.e. you’re doing it wrong)*.

To continue the metaphor, this family needs a counselor. Maybe it’s LeVar Burton, but more likely is actually not a person, but a new way of approaching education. Part of that should take place on the devices that consume a majority of our time. But let’s not forget that we are sending our children to buildings filled with highly capable individuals trying their damndest to do the very thing Burton is committing to with his efforts. Places that, given enough attention and resources, can create the most passionate future app developers.

Posted by Na’im

* BTW, to learn how to present well, watch this.