Government, energy & environment

New thinking in schools

A school in the UK has abandoned the idea of homework because it believes that it is no longer relevant to life or work in the 21st Century. The same school is already experimenting with another idea whereby students mark the work of their peers. The idea of expelling homework from the curriculum stems from a theory developed by the Royal Society of Arts (RSA) that a teacher's job is not to “transmit a body of knowledge to pupils”. Instead the Department of Education in the UK has developed a scheme whereby primary school children will be taught how to be 'nice' and “manage their anger”. The lessons are intended to improve social and emotional development, which the government believes can no longer be provided by parents due to the break up of the traditional two parent family unit. Meanwhile, the head of the Commission for Racial Equality (UK) has said that black children should in some cases be taught separately from white children. Critics have labelled the suggestion school segregation but supporters say the proposal is the only way to break the idea that being clever is unfashionable. Finally, private etiquette schools like 'Manners on the Go' are springing up to teach children (whose parents are usually at work) social skills like how to dine with your family.

Ref: The Guardian (UK) 22.1.05 'Head gives the boot to homework', R.Smithers, Weekly Telegraph (UK) issue # 711 'Children to be taught how to be nice', J.Henry and ' Teach black boys separately urges advisor', N.Tweedie See also: Agence-France-Presse (FRA) quoted in Sense Bulletin (UK) 7 February 2005 'US kids swotting up on good manners'.

The growth of feral cities

We've had a lot of talk about failed states and feral children so it should come as no surprise that feral cities are set to become the latest threat to civil order. A recent article by Peter Liotta and James Miskel in World Policy Journal (US) makes the point that Mogadishu could be the model for future cities in many parts of the world. In Sao Paulo, for example, the police have all but given up on removing the fevelas (gangs) and have fallen back on a policy of geographical containment. Meanwhile, Sao Paulo's rich have literally risen above the problem by using helicopters to by-pass no-go areas (there are now 240 helicopter pads in Sao Paulo compared to just 10 in New York!). Other cities with the potential to become feral include Johannesburg, Mexico City and Karachi. What are the implications of this? One consequence could be that criminal gangs will increasingly align themselves with terrorists so the police will be replaced by the military. A more remote consequence (which will be immediately familiar to anyone who remembers the film Escape from New York) will be that entire cities will be walled off and left to the gangs.

Ref: New York Times (US) 12 December 2005 'Feral Cities', K.Stier.

Students now customers as schools dumb down

We've commented before about how the language and processes of business are creeping into other areas and it seems that education is the latest example. All schools in the UK are to take part in a research survey where pupils (now officially called “learners”) are to be asked how satisfied they are with their education. The responses will then form part of a database of 'customer satisfaction' held by Ofsted, the schools regulation and inspection body. Schools will also be asked to self-assess how well they think they're doing. As well as re-framing pupils as 'customers' the government is also changing the terms of reference for evaluation and success. The desired 'outcome' (their word) of education is no longer the creation of new knowledge or the pursuit of knowledge for its own sake. Rather it is “helping pupils gain the skills and knowledge needed for future employment”. Meanwhile, over in the US, research indicates that teachers are moving away from using red ink to grade pupils. The ink colour of choice is now purple that apparently “softens the blow” and is less intimidating.

Ref: Daily Telegraph (UK) issue #709 'Pupils will report on their schools', J.Clare. New York Times (US) 12 December 2005 'Purple is the colour of correction', K.Jacobs.

An end to educational apartheid?

A company called Global Education Management (GEM) is looking to end 'education apartheid' in some countries by offering what it calls a 'no-frills' private education. The company currently owns 25 private schools in the United Arab Emirates and 13 in the UK and has plans to expand in other countries including India, China and the US. The idea of owning a chain of schools is nothing new. Harrow (UK) recently opened a school in China and Dulwich College (UK) owns a school in Thailand. What is different is that GEM is a value innovator offering most of the services provided by top private schools at a reduced cost. For example, purchasing is done from the centre freeing up head teachers to concentrate on teaching. GEM schools offer education in three price brackets - budget, mid-market and premium. Other innovations include the fact that each school has a parents only reception area that borrows ideas (and staff training methods) from the hotel industry. In the UK 7% of children are educated at private schools although a recent MORI poll found out that nearly 50% would choose private schools if they could afford them.

Ref: The Times (UK), 22 January 2005 “Independents' Day', W.Wallace.

We've never had it so good (and so bad)

Traditional wisdom says that if the economy is booming and people are richer than at the last election people will generally vote for the incumbent politician or party. However, according to Jacob Hacker, a political scientist at Yale (US), it is not the level of income that matters but the level of income instability. In other words it's not how much you earn but how much your earnings fluctuate. In theory this income-variability anxiety can be indexed and can be used to predict the results of elections. Of course, behavioural economists would say this is an old idea called loss aversion - the idea that people fear loss more than they crave gain - but it's certainly a thought.

Ref: New York Times (US) 12 December 2005. 'Income-Variability Anxiety', N.Scheiber.