Category Archives: education

Repeat, this time with evidence

A couple months ago, I asserted that expanding higher education in Ontario would be a good way to spend our way out of recession. Now I can say it’s not just a crazy scheme: Ontario will need 25,000 new undergraduate positions over the next 15 years.

Apparently there is no more room at the universities in Toronto, and some are calling for the creation of a new university focused on undergraduate education.

The way I see it, expansion of the existing universities outside Toronto, especially those in declining or stagnating cities, is a good way to compensate for deindustrialization. Windsor, OUIT, and Brock could help fill the void left by manufacturers.

Speaking specifically to the situation in St Catharines, a larger university presence in the central city would also help the us achieve the intensification targets of the province’s Places to Grow Act.

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Who needs facts when you’ve got Wikipedia?

From The Telegraph, rote learning is stoopid:

“Kids should learn about history to understand the world and why things are the way they are. But they don’t need to know all the dates.

“It is enough that they know about the Battle of Hastings, without having to memorise that it was in 1066. They can look that up and position it in history with a click on Google.”

Tapscott dismissed the idea that his approach is anti-learning, instead arguing that the ability to learn new things is more important than ever “in a world where you have to process new information at lightning speed.”

Rote learning is testable, and we care about what we can test.

Context and interpretation are just as important as dry facts, not more or less. You can’t have practical applications without either.

The trouble with rote learning, and dates especially, is that they often aren’t crucial to the understanding of a topic at the elementary or secondary school level. An example:

WWII is often cited as beginning in 1939 and ending in 1945. Would it make any difference if we told school children it happened ten years earlier or later? No. The beginning and ending of WWII only matters when you consider the conflict in greater depth, and when you do that you realize there aren’t clearly bookends anyway (WWII could be considered a continuation of WWI for example, and hostilities began [resumed] in the East before 1939 while the US didn’t get involved until later.)

Google is no substitute for knowing facts where they are appropriate.

Full disclosure: I have difficulty remembering the year of Canadian Confederation. But I do know it was in the 1860s which ought to count for something.

In Repair

I have to say, I’m relieved to find out the general feeling that everything is crumbling around me isn’t just my university’s fault. It’s a systemic shortcoming. According to a research paper from the OCUFA Ontario’s universities will need in excess of an additional billion dollars over the next three years to patch things up.

It’s not just infrastructure that is in decline. The faculty to student ratio is on the rise and per-student funding had declined by $2600 over the last 15 years.

This paper should be a call to action for the government. I’ve noticed some improvements over the last two years but it is apparent there is much more work to be done. The benefits of post-secondary education to this province aren’t just a matter of quantity. While everyone willing to continue their education should be given the opportunity, the degree has to mean something to the rest of the world.

Bong Hits 4 Jesus

From the BBC:

The US Supreme Court is considering its first major test of students’ free speech rights in two decades.

At issue is whether a school principal violated a student’s right to free speech by suspending him for displaying a banner reading “Bong Hits 4 Jesus”.

The principal’s lawyer, a certain Kenneth Star, frames the case as one of drug laws. That is, in order to stop drug use in America’s schools, school administrators need to be able to drill the message into students that drugs are bad without being contradicted by attention-seeking class clowns.

To me, this seems about as bad as using history classes to teach national myths and propaganda.

Says Slate’s Dahlia Lithwick:

The justices appear to loathe each alternative about equally. At some point, Justice Stephen Breyer groans that a ruling for the students would encourage them to be “testing limits all over the place in the high schools,” whereas a ruling for the schools would certainly end up limiting lots of speech.

I doubt there will be serious repercussions if the Court rules in favour of the students. After all, it was hardly the end of the world when schools lost the ability to physically punish students.

Funding my education

It is fashionable among university students to demand a tuition freeze or, ideally, tuition reductions. A tuition freeze is a bit like a tax cut for the rest of you: it’s a selfish thing to want but not particularly useful to those selfish ends.

When middle-class folks (or the people who want their votes) cry out for tax cuts, they justify it in a variety of ways. They make appeals for smaller government, liberty, and so on, but it’s really about keeping more money for yourself. In the same way, when we university students talk about the increasing accessibility to post-secondary education, we mostly just want to keep more money for ourselves.

Given the cost of tuition in Ontario is somewhere around $5000 per year (and there are considerable additional costs like books), a difference of 6% or so each year doesn’t really affect the accessibility of post-secondary education. If you are able to spend $5000, you probably can spend $5300.

If we are truly concerned with making an undergraduate degree attainable for all, our relief efforts have to be focused on the people who need it. Instead of a freeze across the board, those people who can’t afford tuition as it is should receive the most aid. It only makes sense.

Observation on Immigration

I’m always interested when newspapers print opinion columns by-lined by politicians. They provide a flood of information compared to the usually TV sound-bites. And I’m a political geek, so I like that.

Today’s Star has a column with Premier McGuinty’s name on it, about what the government is trying to accomplish on a trade mission to South-East Asia this winter. There’s the usual talk about jobs, dollars, our track-record, education, and so on.

The whole thing is closed with talk of “family.” Because there are so many people from East Asia in Toronto, we are family.

And a light-bulb went off.

I suddenly get all this talk about building connections through immigrants. Even more than building purely economic ties (You know, that commercial with the Indian woman moving seamlessly from talking to her contacts in Mumbai to talking to her Canadian co-workers in the boardroom?).

We could be building something special, like we already have with Great Britain and the United States. A connection of more than just traded goods, a bond made through shared family and history.

With Toronto as the second-most (some might argue first-most) diverse city on the planet, Ontario is well-poised to make these connections.

Ban the ‘Book Burning’ book!

People make my head hurt.

Some guy in Texas, Alton Verm, wants the book Fahrenheit 451 banned from his 15-year-old daughter’s school because it contains adult situations and crude language.

“If they can’t find a book that uses clean words, they shouldn’t have a book at all.”

It’s sickeningly ironic, really. Verm wants to ban a book about book burning. But wait, it get’s better: this all happened during Banned Books Week at the end of September.

Not that over-protective Daddy gets any of this. He didn’t even read the book.

“He looked through the book and found the following things wrong with the book: discussion of being drunk, smoking cigarettes, violence, “dirty talk,” references to the Bible and using God’s name in vain.”

You, sir, are a moron.

The girl is fifteen! She’s probably knows more about being drunk, smoking cigarettes, violence, “dirty talk,” and using God’s name in vain than you could learn from “looking through” a thousand books on such sordid topics.

Exposing students to the concept of freedom of speech and other intrinsic rights is way more important than shielding them from four-lettered-words. Especially when they already know more than enough about the latter and barely anything about the former.

[HT: Andrea]