Friday, 31 January 2014

Education equality gap failing immigrants and poor students

Quality education is still not for all. Chris Radburn/PA Wire/Press Association Images

Immigrant students and those from poor backgrounds living in developed countries are being failed by the school system and face a high risk of marginalisation, according to a UNESCO report.

Data from the 2009 results of the OECD’s Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) shows that only 60% of French 15-year-old students pass the minimum benchmark for reading if they are immigrants. This is the same proportion achieved by an average Mexican student. Non-immigrant students in France fare much better, with 82% achieving that benchmark.

Similarly, reading levels of England’s immigrant students' are on par with an average student in Turkey, and Germany’s are on par with an average student in Chile.

New Sappho poems set classical world reeling

Not your average poet. Wikimedia Commons

It’s a kind of literary miracle. Fragments of two new poems by Ancient Greek poet Sappho have been discovered, making it possible for us to be among the first people to read these texts for more than 1,000 years.

To make matters still more wonderful, the discovery of these poems, first written in the seventh century BC, appears to have happened by pure chance. Apparently, the papyrus that preserved the poems belonged to an anonymous collector who had no idea what it contained, but (fortunately for the world) happened to take it to an expert, Dirk Obbink of Oxford University, who soon realised what he was looking at.

This is the sort of news classical scholars like me normally dream about. In fact, it is the realisation of a game that we spend a lot of time playing over glasses of wine at conference drinks parties: “If you could get back one lost text from any ancient author, which would it be?” And as often as not, Sappho will be the answer.

Thursday, 30 January 2014

Books go online for free in Norway

National Library of Norway puts more than 135,000 copyright-protected books online for free – and pays authors and publishers 
Authors Jo Nesbø, Karin Fossum (centre) and Stephen King are part of the free online reading project by the Natonal Library of Norway

More than 135,000 books still in copyright are going online for free in Norway after an innovative scheme by the National Library ensured that publishers and authors are paid for the project.
The copyright-protected books (including translations of foreign books) have to be published before 2000 and the digitising has to be done with the consent of the copyright holders.
National Library of Norway chief Vigdis Moe Skarstein said the project is the first of its kind to offer free online access to books still under copyright, which in Norway expires 70 years after the author's death. Books by Stephen King, Ken Follett, John Steinbeck, Jo Nesbø, Karin Fossum and Nobel Laureate Knut Hamsun are among those in the scheme.

Making music videos 'helps young cancer patients cope'

Youngsters made their own music video to show family and friends

Music therapy can help teenagers and young people cope better when faced with treatment for cancer, a study in Cancer journal suggests.
American researchers followed the experiences of a group of patients aged 11-24 as they produced a music video over three weeks.
They found the patients gained resilience and improved relationships with family and friends.
All the patients were undergoing high-risk stem-cell transplant treatments.
To produce their music videos, the young patients were asked to write song lyrics, record sounds and collect video images to create their story.
They were guided by a qualified music therapist who helped the patients identify what was important to them and how to communicate their ideas.
When completed, the videos were shared with family and friends through "premieres". 

'Wearable' book allows reader to feel emotions of characters

Students have created a "wearable" book that enables you to feel the characters' feelings as you read the story 
Using a combination of sensors, the book senses which page the reader is on and triggers vibration patters through a special vest Photo: VIMEO

Researchers at Massachusetts Institute of Technology have created a "wearable" book which allows the reader to experience the protagonist’s emotions.
Using a combination of sensors, the book senses which page the reader is on and triggers vibration patterns through a special vest. 

"Changes in the protagonist’s emotional or physical state trigger discrete feedback in the wearable [vest], whether by changing the heartbeat rate, creating constriction through air pressure bags, or causing localised temperature fluctuations" the researchers said.

Wednesday, 29 January 2014

Afghanistan's gains at risk as it enters period of political uncertainty

Education minister has helped bring millions of children into school system against a backdrop of conflict and Taliban threats
Afghan girls attend a home economics class at the Speena Adi school in Kabul. Photograph: Christian Science Monitor/Getty
Afghanistan is on track to bring 2 million registered but absentee schoolchildren, many of them girls, into the school system by the end of next year, according to the country's education minister.
In a relentlessly upbeat progress report, Farooq Wardak, who has been in charge of education since 2008, said 1 million children would be absorbed this year and a similar number next year.

Should this happen, it would mark a remarkable turnaround for Afghanistan's schools. The numbers are certainly impressive as Wardak rattles them off. In 2001, when the Taliban were overthrown, there were fewer than 1 million children in school, very few of them girls. Now there are 10.5 million, 42% of them girls, although some question whether the number of girls in school is that high. As for teachers, there are 220,000, 33% female, compared with 20,000 and 16,600 schools, compared with 3,000.

Sunday, 26 January 2014

Yacouba Sawadogo - The Man Who Stopped the Desert

Photo: Andrea Borgarello/TerrAfrica

Yacouba Sawadogo is an exceptional man he single-handedly managed to solve a crisis that even scientists and development organizations could not. The simple old farmer’s re-forestation and soil conservation techniques are so effective they’ve helped turn the tide in the fight against the desertification of the harsh lands in northern Burkina Faso.

Over-farming, over-grazing and over population have, over the years, resulted in heavy soil erosion and drying in this landlocked West African nation. Although national and international researchers tried to fix the grave situation, it really didn’t really make much of a difference. Until Yacouba decided to take matters into his own hands in 1980.

The "science" of being happy and healthy

Hackschooling Makes Me Happy: Logan LaPlante at TEDxUniversityofNevada 
When 13 year-old Logan LaPlante grows up, he wants to be happy and healthy. He discusses how hacking his education is helping him achieve this goal. 

Wednesday, 22 January 2014

Turning weapons into instruments

Pedro Reyes frequently travels through dangerous territories. Not just creatively: pushing the boundaries of how we appropriate materials for use in artistic works, but also literally. Frequently working in places like the notoriously dangerous Ciudad Juarez, Mexico, the site of numerous gang murders and the "disappearing women" unsolved mysteries, Reyes has set out to make his homeland a better place through art. In an area of the world where journalists routinely vanish and civilians are gunned down in broad daylight, Reyes hopes to reclaim the tools of violence and turn them into a force for good. 
Inspired by a trip he took to the recycling plants where government officials turn seized weapons into raw materials, taken as part of his project "Shovels for Guns," Reyes decided to turn these instruments of hate into literal instruments. Only these ones could help provide life and music, rather than take it away. As part of his most recent project "Disarm," with the help of his team Reyes was able to utilize programs like Ableton Live, MIDI, and Max MSP to transform guns into self-playing musical instruments

Will #readwomen2014 change our sexist reading habits?

Female authors are marginalised by newspapers and literary journals, and their books are given 'girly' covers. Take action against this inequality by making sure the next book you read is by a woman
Joanna Walsh's bookmarks showing some of her favourite female writers.

It's a truth universally acknowledged that, although women read more than men, and books by female authors are published in roughly the same numbers, they are more easily overlooked. Their marginalisation by top literary journals, both as reviewers and the reviewed, is confirmed in a yearly count by the organisation Vida: Women in Literary Arts.

Perhaps the problem lies not with whether women are published, but how. Lionel Shriver complained when her "nasty book" Game Control was given a "girly cover", and I've listened to female writer friends grouse when their books are given flowery covers though their writing is not; when reviews, or even their publishers' press releases, describe their work as "delicate" when it is forthright, "delightful" when it is satirical, "carving a niche" when it is staking a claim. Had Peter Stothard, the editor of the Times Literary Supplement, considered that when he responded to the first Vida count in 2011 by saying: "We know [women] are heavy readers of the kind of fiction that is not likely to be reviewed in the pages of the TLS"?

Sunday, 19 January 2014

One in five millennium children 'will become NEETs'

Research by a philanthropy charity warns that 121,000 children born in 2000 will leave school as "NEETs" amid warnings that the “pupil premium” is being misspent 

One in five children born at the turn of the millennium faces leaving school without a job or university place because of “flawed” education policies, according to research. 
Almost 121,000 pupils risk being branded NEET – not in education, employment and training – by the time they finish school, it was claimed.
The study found that working-class white British boys were significantly more likely to end up on benefits than other ethnic groups after struggling throughout compulsory education.
Young people who experience a period of being NEET before the age of 24 face earning around 11 per cent less than the national average well into their 40s, according to researchers.
In all, they will lose up to £225,000 in lifetime earnings compared with those who go on to university and graduate with a degree, the study found. 

The conclusions – by a major venture philanthropy charity – come amid concerns that young people have been hit hardest by the economic downturn.

Thursday, 16 January 2014

Green cities provide a mental health boost that lasts

It’s been established that enjoying green spaces in otherwise grey urban areas can lead to improved mental health for city-dwellers. But new research has revealed how surprisingly quickly those benefits appear, and how long they last.

Research from the University of Exeter’s European Centre for Environment and Human Health found that people living in towns and cities with more parks and gardens tend to report greater well-being than those without. But it also revealed that relocating to a greener part of town led to improvements in their mental health that lasted for at least three years.

There are other life changes that influence mental health, and many of those do so gradually, or else seem to be only short-lived. Job promotion and marriage boost well-being in the short term, for example, and financial windfalls can lead to gradual improvements. But these new findings indicate that simply increasing the ratio of green to grey in urban neighbourhoods is likely to provide benefits that are not only immediate, but which continue to deliver benefits long afterwards.

Wednesday, 8 January 2014

Children with low self-esteem respond worse to overpraise

Pushy parent. Nocibomber

Overly positive, inflated praise such as “terrific!”, “you did incredibly well!”, “perfect!” is very common in western countries. At first glance this might not seem a bad thing; heaping praise can only make people do better – right?

Parents often give such praise to children with low self-esteem, in an effort to boost their esteem. But this inclination can backfire, and make children with low self-esteem less ambitious.

What is inflated praise?

Praise is a written or spoken positive evaluation of someone’s traits, actions, or products. It becomes inflated when it contains an adverb (such as “incredibly”) or adjective (such as “perfect”) that indicates a very positive evaluation. “You made a beautiful drawing” is an example of a non-inflated praise, whereas “you made an incredibly beautiful drawing” is inflated. In research we carried out, due to be published in Psychological Science this month, we found that around 25% of all praise was inflated.

Archaeologists unearth more than 300 prehistoric clay figurines in Greece

Koutroulou Magoula figurine : University of Southampton

Archaeologists from the University of Southampton studying a Neolithic archaeological site in central Greece have helped unearth over 300 clay figurines, one of the highest density for such finds in south-eastern Europe.

The Southampton team, working in collaboration with the Greek Archaeological Service and the British School at Athens, is studying the site of Koutroulou Magoula near the Greek village of Neo Monastiri, around 160 miles from Athens.

Koutroulou Magoula was occupied during the Middle Neolithic period (c. 5800 – 5300 BC) by a community of a few hundred people who made architecturally sophisticated houses from stone and mud-bricks. The figurines were found all over the site, with some located on wall foundations. It’s believed the purpose of figurines was not only as aesthetic art, but also to convey and reflect ideas about a community’s culture, society and identity.

Wishes 2014


What would you wish for the new year? A group of children animated 2014 and added their wishes: health, happiness, peace, creation, love, imagination...

The children met for three hours at Exile Room, Athens-Greece, and created all the images and sounds used in the film.
The workshop was carried out by Christina dePian together with the very efficient and helpful assistance of Ioanna Giakoumatou, Elena Ioannou, Luis Maly and Alexia dePian.

Tuesday, 7 January 2014

Meditation, mindfulness and mind-emptiness

Mindfulness essentially involves the passive observation of internal and external stimuli without mental reaction. Image from

Ever been unable to sleep because you can’t switch off that stream of thoughts that seems to flow incessantly, mercilessly through your head?

When your mental noise distracts you from the task at hand, makes you forget why you walked into a room, or keeps you awake at night, you’re a victim of what is known in the East as “the monkey mind”. It is this thought stream that, according to Eastern tradition, is the source of much of our modern day stress and mental dysfunction.

So, what can you do about it?

Monday, 6 January 2014

Faust/Marsalis: The art of learning

Wynton Marsalis and Harvard President Drew Faust in 2009.(Photo: Darren McCollester, Getty Images file photo)

Arts education gives students skills to create, adapt and take risks in the future.
Anxiety abounds concerning the demands of our rapidly changing and ever more complicated world and about the ability of our educational system to respond. Yet the education we are fashioning for our children and their children seems ill-suited for the lives they will lead.

We hear widespread calls for "outcomes" we can measure and for education geared to specific employment needs, but many of today's students will hold jobs that have not yet been invented, deploying skills not yet defined. We not only need to equip them with the ability to answer the questions relevant to the world we now inhabit; we must also enable them to ask the right questions to shape the world to come.

We need education that nurtures judgment as well as mastery, ethics and values as well as analysis. We need learning that will enable students to interpret complexity, to adapt, and to make sense of lives they never anticipated. We need a way of teaching that encourages them to develop understanding of those different from themselves, enabling constructive collaborations across national and cultural origins and identities.

Obesity soars to 'alarming' levels in developing countries

Almost twice as many obese people in poor countries than in rich ones as fat and sugar consumption rises, warns ODI
Workers install lights on a giant McDonald's sign in Beijing. Diets in China are proportionally richer in animal products than in the 1960s. Photograph: AP

The extent of the world's obesity epidemic has been thrown into stark relief as a report from the Overseas Development Institute (ODI) puts the number of overweight and obese adults in developing countries at more than 900 million.

Future Diets, an analysis of public data about what the world eats, says there are almost twice as many obese people in poor countries as in rich ones. In 2008, the figures were 904 million in developing countries, where most of the world's people live, compared with 557 million in industrialised nations.

"The growing rates of overweight and obesity in developing countries are alarming," said the report's author, ODI research fellow Steve Wiggins. "On current trends, globally, we will see a huge increase in the number of people suffering certain types of cancer, diabetes, strokes and heart attacks, putting an enormous burden on public healthcare systems."