Friday, January 30, 2009

Teaching Facts Versus Reasoning

International math and science test results have consistently shown for over a decade that Asian students from China, Japan, Singapore and Korea perform better than American students. In spite of such results, the US continues to excel in scientific and technological innovation as measured by the number of Nobel prizes and number of international patent filings. Most of the recent breakthrough innovations have come from the United States. Six of the top ten highest ranked universities are in the United States. There is only one Silicon Valley in the world and it is in the United States. This valley represents more of a state of mind rather than a physical place. Why is it? Do Americans focus more on scientific reasoning than facts and content? Is there greater focus on rote learning in Asia? Do Americans foster more creativity and greater exploration? Does freedom of expression in America encourage more questioning and better reasoning? Though it does not clearly answer these questions, a new study recently done at Ohio State University tries to shed some light on the question of learning facts versus reason. Here is a report of this study:

Newswise — A study of college freshmen in the United States and in China found that Chinese students know more science facts than their American counterparts -- but both groups are nearly identical when it comes to their ability to do scientific reasoning.

Neither group is especially skilled at reasoning, however, and the study suggests that educators must go beyond teaching science facts if they hope to boost students’ reasoning ability.

Researchers tested nearly 6,000 students majoring in science and engineering at seven universities -- four in the United States and three in China. Chinese students greatly outperformed American students on factual knowledge of physics -- averaging 90 percent on one test, versus the American students’ 50 percent, for example.

But in a test of science reasoning, both groups averaged around 75 percent -- not a very high score, especially for students hoping to major in science or engineering.

The research appears in the January 30, 2009 issue of the journal Science.

Lei Bao, associate professor of physics at Ohio State University and lead author of the study, said that the finding defies conventional wisdom, which holds that teaching science facts will improve students’ reasoning ability.

“Our study shows that, contrary to what many people would expect, even when students are rigorously taught the facts, they don’t necessarily develop the reasoning skills they need to succeed,” Bao said. “Because students need both knowledge and reasoning, we need to explore teaching methods that target both.”

Bao directs Ohio State’s Physics Education Research Group, which is developing new strategies for teaching science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) disciplines. For this study, he and his colleagues across the United States and in China decided to compare students from both countries, because the educational systems are so different.

In the United States, only one-third of students take a year-long physics course before they graduate from high school. The rest only study physics within general science courses. Curricula vary widely from school to school, and students can choose among elective courses.

In China, however, every student in every school follows exactly the same curriculum, which includes five years of continuous physics classes from grades 8 through 12. All students must perform well on a national exam if they hope to enter college, and the exam contains advanced physics problems.

“Each system has its strengths and weaknesses,” Bao said. “In China, schools emphasize a very extensive learning of STEM content knowledge, while in the United States, science courses are more flexible, with simpler content but with a high emphasis on scientific methods. We need to think of a new strategy, perhaps one that blends the best of both worlds.”

The students who participated in the study were all incoming freshmen who had just enrolled in a calculus-based introductory physics course. They took three multiple-choice tests: two which tested knowledge of physics concepts, and one which tested scientific reasoning.

The first test, the Force Concept Inventory, measures students’ basic knowledge of mechanics -- the action of forces on objects. Most Chinese students scored close to 90 percent, while the American scores varied widely from 25-75 percent, with an average of 50.

The second test, the Brief Electricity and Magnetism Assessment, measures students’ understanding of electric forces, circuits, and magnetism, which are often considered to be more abstract concepts and more difficult to learn than mechanics. Here Chinese students averaged close to 70 percent while American students averaged around 25 percent -- a little better than if they had simply picked their multiple-choice answers randomly.

The third test, the Lawson Classroom Test of Scientific Reasoning, measures science skills beyond the facts. Students are asked to evaluate scientific hypotheses, and reason out solutions using skills such as proportional reasoning, control of variables, probability reasoning, correlation reasoning, and hypothetical-deductive reasoning. Both American and Chinese students averaged a 75 percent score.

Bao explained that STEM students need to excel at scientific reasoning in order to handle open-ended real-world tasks in their future careers in science and engineering.

Ohio State graduate student and study co-author Jing Han echoed that sentiment. “To do my own research, I need to be able to plan what I’m going to investigate and how to do it. I can’t just ask my professor or look up the answer in a book,” she said.

“These skills are especially important today, when we are determined to build a society with a sustainable edge in science and technology in a fast-evolving global environment,” Bao said.

He quickly added that reasoning is a good skill for everyone to possess -- not just scientists and engineers.

“The general public also needs good reasoning skills in order to correctly interpret scientific findings and think rationally,” he said.

How to boost scientific reasoning? Bao points to inquiry-based learning, where students work in groups, question teachers and design their own investigations. This teaching technique is growing in popularity worldwide.

Ohio State is exploring inquiry-based learning in its physics classes. Here students use hand-held electronic devices called clickers to answer multiple-choice questions during lectures. They work together to answer questions, and professors use the clicker interaction to guide student learning towards a more investigative style. The department is also adopting an inquiry-based curriculum for undergraduate physics courses.

Bao and Han’s coauthors on the study included Jing Wang, Qing Liu and Lin Ding of Ohio State; Tianfan Cai and Yufeng Wang of Beijing Jiaotong University; Kathy Koenig of Wright State University; Kai Fang of Tongji University; Lili Cui of the University of Maryland at Baltimore County; Ying Luo of Beijing Normal University; and Lieming Li and Nianle Wu of Tsinghua University.

This research was supported by the Department of Physics at Ohio State.

Related Links:

Can Scientific Reasoning Be Taught?

HEC University Ranking Controversy in Pakistan

Re-Imagining Pakistan

Improving Higher Education in Pakistan


Riaz Haq said...

The Russian Kommersant has it right when it says: "India has had little success with military equipment production, and has had problems producing Russian Su-30MKI fighter jets and T-90S tanks, English Hawk training jets and French Scorpene submarines."

And here's how blogger Vijainder Thakur sees India's loose meaning of "indigenous" Smerch and other imports:

The Russians will come here set up the plant for us and supply the critical manufacturing machinery. Indian labor and technical management will run the plant which will simply assemble the system. Critical components and the solid propellant rocket motor fuel will still come from Perm Powder Mill. However, bureaucrats in New Delhi and the nation as a whole will be happy. The Smerch system will be proudly paraded on Rajpath every republic day as an indigenous weapon system.

A decade or so down the line, Smerch will get outdated and India will negotiate a new deal with Russia for the license production of a new multiple rocket system for the Indian Army.

China will by then have developed its own follow up system besides having used the solid propellant motors to develop other weapon systems and assist its space research program.

Riaz Haq said...

In Silicon valley recently, the US federal government has pumped in about $500 million each into two green tech startups..Solyndra pv solar and Tesla all-electric cars. Obama was here this week to promote green tech and spoke to Solyndra employees.

In addition, there is $1 billion in federal grants being offered to biotech firms under the new healthcare bill.

The reason for US supremacy is partly explained by how much of its public funds it spends on higher education. A 2006 report from the London-based Center for European Reform, "The Future of European Universities" points out that the United States invests 2.6 percent of its GDP in higher education, compared with 1.2 percent in Europe and 1.1 percent in Japan.

Riaz Haq said...

Here's an interesting excerpt from a recent Newsweek story on "Creativity Crisis' in America:

Researchers say creativity should be taken out of the art room and put into homeroom. The argument that we can’t teach creativity because kids already have too much to learn is a false trade-off. Creativity isn’t about freedom from concrete facts. Rather, fact-finding and deep research are vital stages in the creative process. Scholars argue that current curriculum standards can still be met, if taught in a different way.

To understand exactly what should be done requires first understanding the new story emerging from neuroscience. The lore of pop psychology is that creativity occurs on the right side of the brain. But we now know that if you tried to be creative using only the right side of your brain, it’d be like living with ideas perpetually at the tip of your tongue, just beyond reach.

When you try to solve a problem, you begin by concentrating on obvious facts and familiar solutions, to see if the answer lies there. This is a mostly left-brain stage of attack. If the answer doesn’t come, the right and left hemispheres of the brain activate together. Neural networks on the right side scan remote memories that could be vaguely relevant. A wide range of distant information that is normally tuned out becomes available to the left hemisphere, which searches for unseen patterns, alternative meanings, and high-level abstractions.

Having glimpsed such a connection, the left brain must quickly lock in on it before it escapes. The attention system must radically reverse gears, going from defocused attention to extremely focused attention. In a flash, the brain pulls together these disparate shreds of thought and binds them into a new single idea that enters consciousness. This is the “aha!” moment of insight, often followed by a spark of pleasure as the brain recognizes the novelty of what it’s come up with.

Now the brain must evaluate the idea it just generated. Is it worth pursuing? Creativity requires constant shifting, blender pulses of both divergent thinking and convergent thinking, to combine new information with old and forgotten ideas. Highly creative people are very good at marshaling their brains into bilateral mode, and the more creative they are, the more they dual-activate.

Is this learnable? Well, think of it like basketball. Being tall does help to be a pro basketball player, but the rest of us can still get quite good at the sport through practice. In the same way, there are certain innate features of the brain that make some people naturally prone to divergent thinking. But convergent thinking and focused attention are necessary, too, and those require different neural gifts. Crucially, rapidly shifting between these modes is a top-down function under your mental control. University of New Mexico neuroscientist Rex Jung has concluded that those who diligently practice creative activities learn to recruit their brains’ creative networks quicker and better. A lifetime of consistent habits gradually changes the neurological pattern.

Riaz Haq said...

Here's a recent Newsweek column by Sharon Begley on "limits of reason"

Women are bad drivers, Saddam plotted 9/11, Obama was not born in America, and Iraq had weapons of mass destruction: to believe any of these requires suspending some of our critical--thinking faculties and succumbing instead to the kind of irrationality that drives the logically minded crazy. It helps, for instance, to use confirmation bias (seeing and recalling only evidence that supports your beliefs, so you can recount examples of women driving 40mph in the fast lane). It also helps not to test your beliefs against empirical data (where, exactly, are the WMD, after seven years of U.S. forces crawling all over Iraq?); not to subject beliefs to the plausibility test (faking Obama’s birth certificate would require how widespread a conspiracy?); and to be guided by emotion (the loss of thousands of American lives in Iraq feels more justified if we are avenging 9/11).

The fact that humans are subject to all these failures of rational thought seems to make no sense. Reason is supposed to be the highest achievement of the human mind, and the route to knowledge and wise decisions. But as psychologists have been documenting since the 1960s, humans are really, really bad at reasoning. It’s not just that we follow our emotions so often, in contexts from voting to ethics. No, even when we intend to deploy the full force of our rational faculties, we are often as ineffectual as eunuchs at an orgy.

Riaz Haq said...

Here are some excerpts from a Friday Times Op Ed by University of Wisconsin's Dr Howard Schweber who
taught students at a private university in Lahore, Pakistan and found them bright, resourceful and highly confused. He particularly singles out lack of general education and consequent lack of critical thinking skills as problems:

.... the students I met and taught reveals more mysteries. Some had serious problems with English, particularly in their writing, but most were extremely well prepared as far as language skills were concerned. It is when we look beyond language skills that puzzles begin to appear. What was most startling was the realization that these students were palpably uncomfortable with abstract concepts and what people in Education Schools call ‘critical thinking skills.’ When I raised this point to faculty and alumni, every one without exception acknowledged the problem, and pointed to the system of secondary education as the culprit. Undoubtedly the point is correct, but I think there is a deeper observation to be made here. In addition to being uncomfortable with abstract concepts, these students and their families seem to be uncomfortable with the idea of knowledge that is not justified by an immediate practical application. That discomfort extends to a reluctance to embrace basic scientific research as well as the humanities. I heard from students who wanted to study theoretical physics whose parents insisted that they become engineers; students who wanted to become historians whose parents did not see the point. The same attitudes exist in other places to be sure, but among my Pakistani students it seemed almost universal.


Part of the reason for this discomfort with abstraction may have to do with a curiously limited range of background knowledge. My students – many of whom, again, had graduated from the finest schools – knew almost literally nothing of non-Pakistani history and culture. The reason is not that Pakistan is culturally isolated – far from it. At one point I found myself confronted by a room full of students who had an exhaustive knowledge of the movies that were Oscar candidates last year, but among whom the vast majority had never heard of Beethoven’s 9th Symphony. In general, students had no idea – not even a wrong idea! – about the significance of the French Revolution or World War I, the history of nationalism and empires, the contents of the Book of Genesis, the Scientific Revolution or the Renaissance. Again, when I pressed students, faculty members and alumni, the answer was always the same: the fault lies with the secondary school curriculum, and particularly the fact that during General Zia ul Haq’s rule secondary school curricula were shifted to emphasize Pakistan Studies and Islam at the expense of everything else. Again, that can only be a very partial explanation. But it is worth noting that this lack of cultural literacy helps feed the culture of conspiracy theories for which Pakistan is justly famous.

But what happens once these students get to college? I saw and heard about fine courses in Shakespeare and Islamic Jurisprudence, but when it comes to the social sciences it appears that the students who learn anything about these subjects at all (that is, those who choose to take courses outside of Accounting and Finance) are fed a steady diet of snippets of readings and excerpts from trendy current theories. Many students could and were eager to could talk fluently about Edward Said, Noam Chomsky, and (rather weirdly) Nazi Germany, but Locke and Rousseau, Machiavelli and Madison, Cromwell and Marx were all equally unknown territory. Undoubtedly, at this point I will be accused of Western ethnocentricism; how many American college students know the names of the first four Moghul Emperors?

Mayraj said...

Yet in tests measuring many traits, from intelligence to self-control, the power of the home environment pales in comparison to the power of genes and peer groups. We may think we're sculptors, but the clay is mostly set.
A new paper suggests that both metaphors can be true. Which one is relevant depends, it turns out, on the economic status of families.

When it came to the mental ability of 10-month-olds, the home environment was the key variable, across every socioeconomic class. But results for the 2-year-olds were dramatically different. In children from poorer households, the choices of parents still mattered. In fact, the researchers estimated that the home environment accounted for approximately 80% of the individual variance in mental ability among poor 2-year-olds. The effect of genetics was negligible.

The opposite pattern appeared in 2-year-olds from wealthy households. For these kids, genetics primarily determined performance, accounting for nearly 50% of all variation in mental ability. (The scientists made this conclusion based on the fact that identical twins performed much more similarly than fraternal twins.) The home environment was a distant second. For parents, the correlation appears to be clear: As wealth increases, the choices of adults play a much smaller role in determining the mental ability of their children.

Why Rich Parents Don't Matter

Riaz Haq said...

Here are some excepts from analysis of US PISA results that concludes white students are doing very well relative to other OECD nations:

Policy makers are responding to reports that students in the United States on average scored lower than their peers in 16 out of 30 other wealthy industrialized nations on an international science exam, predictably arguing that the U.S. performance on the test (the Programme for International Student Assessment) indicates that U.S. students cannot compete in the international workforce. But a recent analysis from the Urban Institute previously discussed on Science Progress suggests otherwise. Talking about “competitiveness” makes it easy to gloss over inequities in the educational system connected to race and class.

News outlets are eager to frame the results as U.S. backsliding in the international economy. The Washington Post quoted former Colorado governor Roy Romer: “How are our children going to be able to compete with the children of the world? The answer is not well.” The Associated Press likewise presented the ranking in a dim light: “In math, U.S. students did even worse — posting an average score that was lower than the average in 23 of the other leading industrialized countries.”

In the Urban report, Into the Eye of the Storm, Harold Salzman and B. Lindsay Lowell acknowledge that policy makers often cite the results from PISA and TIMSS, another international exam, “supposedly showing U.S. students lagging the performance of most other countries.” But using the results to make such sweeping comparisons “stretches the PISA far beyond its appropriate or even intended use.” They go on to make several critical points about the test.

Achievement varies significantly by socioeconomic class and race

The majority of U.S. students, who are white, “actually rank near the very top on international tests.” But minority and low-income students face obstacles to such achievement because of differences in the quality of educational systems and household income. Salzman and Lowell conclude: “The test results indicate that, rather than a policy focus on average science and math scores, there is an urgent need for targeted educational improvement to serve low performing populations, such as recent immigrants and some minorities.”

The diversity of the U.S. population both contributes to economic competitiveness and lowers the average score of students on the test

They point out that the United States “has a large population and the most diverse demographics of any industrialized nation,” and that averaging across such a mixed group of students ignores the size of the population and the distribution of student performance within that population:

What does one infer from comparing the average test score in a nation of over 300 million with that of a nation of 4.5 million (Singapore) or using educational performance as an indicator of economic performance? We would expect India’s 39 percent illiteracy rate and its secondary school enrollment rate of less than 50 percent (World Bank 2007) to make it an inconsequential global power. Of course, that is not the case because rather than average performance it is the small percentage of high performers in a nation of 1 billion that is the more important indicator of its relative science and engineering strength. The use of average rates across a diverse group of nations and diverse populations is of limited use in drawing conclusions about global standing economically or educationally.

Riaz Haq said...

Whys is India not a scientific power, asks an Op Ed in The Hindu:

.....It is the robustness of scientific research and innovation that sets apart great powers from the mediocre ones.

We have good scientists, but why has India not produced outstanding scientists who make path-breaking discoveries that will make the world sit up and take notice? Should we continue to be satisfied with tweaking borrowed technologies? Is reverse engineering an innovative phenomenon?

All debates about scientific research inevitably end up zeroing in on the deficiencies of our educational system as the root cause of the abysmal record in scientific research. This is only part of the story.

A nation's culture — belief systems, values, attitudes — plays a significant role in determining the quality of scientific research. The Oriental attitudes differ from the Occidental values in many respects. Asian societies are basically collectivist, that is, the collective good of society ranks higher than individual happiness and achievements. People do not ask what they can do for their country; they are always asking what the country will do for them. They look up to the state for guidance, leadership and direction. There is no burning individual ambition to excel and achieve something new.

In the West, individuals try to achieve their potential through their own efforts, aided and facilitated by enabling laws and institutions. Self-reliance is the key objective of life. An independent life requires a free and questioning mindset that takes nothing for granted and constantly challenges conventional wisdom. Children are encouraged to push the frontiers of knowledge by self-examination and open-minded enquiry. It is only a sceptical and dissenting mind that often thinks out of the box to explore new vistas of knowledge.

Collectivism promotes conformism and deference to authority whether it is parents, elders, teachers or the government. It is heresy to question established values and customs.

We pass on our passivity and uncritical attitudes to our children. No wonder, the educational system encourages rote learning and unquestioning acceptance of what is taught in the classrooms and stated in the textbooks. How can we expect our children to suddenly develop an enquiring and inquisitive attitude when they have been brought up in a milieu that discourages ‘disruptive' thoughts?

India and China were once advanced nations before foreign rule drained their resources and sapped their willpower and scientific traditions. Cultures tend to become conservative and defensive when subjected to long spells of colonial exploitation.

Indians are great believers in destiny. But our tradition does not frown upon free will and individual excellence. We must realise that our ability for free action remains unhampered despite what destiny may hold in store for us.
Fear of failure

Another flaw in our culture that prevents individual excellence is the fear of failure. The stigma associated with failure makes our children risk-averse while choosing their courses and careers.

Scientific research is a long-drawn war on received wisdom that requires many battles before it can be won. Science was not built in a day. Some of the battles can end in defeat. In the West, they celebrate failure as a stepping stone to success.

Educational reforms must be preceded by mental deconditioning of parents, teachers, educationists and policymakers — throwing away the cobwebs of uncritical submissiveness to conventional knowledge. Let us bring up a generation that will not hesitate to ask inconvenient questions. This generation will be the torch-bearer of a scientific revolution that will unleash cutting-edge research to make the Nobel Prize committee sit up and take notice....

Riaz Haq said...

Results of PISA international test released by OECD in Dec, 2011, show that Indian students came in at the bottom of the list along with students from Kyrgyzstan:

Students in Tamil Nadu-India attained an average score on the PISA reading literacy scale that is significantly higher than those for Himachal Pradesh-India and Kyrgyzstan, but lower than all other participants in PISA 2009 and PISA 2009+.
In Tamil Nadu-India, 17% of students are estimated to have a proficiency in reading literacy that is at or above the baseline needed to participate effectively and productively in life. This means that 83% of students in Tamil Nadu-India are estimated to be below this baseline level. This compares to 81% of student performing at or above the baseline level in reading in the OECD countries, on average.
Students in the Tamil Nadu-India attained a mean score on the PISA mathematical literacy scale as the same observed in Himachal Pradesh-India, Panama and Peru. This was significantly higher than the mean observed in Kyrgyzstan but lower than those of other participants in PISA 2009 and PISA 2009+.
In Tamil Nadu-India, 15% of students are proficient in mathematics at least to the baseline level at which they begin to demonstrate the kind of skills that enable them to use mathematics in ways that are considered fundamental for their future development. This compares to 75% in the OECD countries, on average. In Tamil Nadu-India, there was no statistically significant difference in the performance of boys and girls in mathematical literacy.
Students in Tamil Nadu-India were estimated to have a mean score on the scientific literacy scale, which is below the means of all OECD countries, but significantly above the mean observed in the other Indian state, Himachal Pradesh. In Tamil Nadu-India, 16% of students are proficient in science at least to the baseline level at which they begin to demonstrate the science competencies that will enable them to participate actively in life situations related to science and technology. This compares to 82% in the OECD countries, on average. In Tamil Nadu-India, there was a statistically significant gender difference in scientific literacy, favouring girls.

Riaz Haq said...

Here's a Daily Times report on a traveling exhibit to promote chemistry learning in Pakistan:

The International Traveling Expo ‘It’s all about Chemistry’ opened at Allama Iqbal Open University (AIOU) on Wednesday.

Pakistan Science Foundation (PSF) in collaboration with the embassy of France in Islamabad and Scientific, Technical, Industrial and Cultural Centre (CCSTI), France has arranged the Expo, prepared by Centre Sciences-France, UNESCO and partners, for providing a first-hand picture of the role of chemistry in daily life to students and general public.

The Expo is aimed at increasing the interest of young people in Chemistry and to generate enthusiasm among students for take chemistry as a subject of their studies.

The expo started its journey in Pakistan from Karachi in January and after travelling through Tandojam, Khairpur, DG Khan, Multan, Lahore, Mansehra, Peshawar and Swat has reached Islamabad from where it would travel to Sibbi and conclude in Quetta.

Study of Chemistry is critical in addressing challenges such as global climate change, in providing sustainable sources of clean water, food energy and in well-being of people.

The science of chemistry and its applications produce medicines, fuels, metals and virtually all other manufactured products.

PSF Chairman Prof Dr Manzoor Soomro inaugurated the 3-day Expo while French Attache for Cooperation Gilles Angles, AIOU Faculty of Sciences Dean Prof Dr Noshad Khan and AIOU Chemistry Department’s Chairperson Prof Dr Naghmana Rashid were also present on this occasion.

The displays of the expo include Black and White Chemistry, Molecules in Action, Nature Returns with a bang, Intelligent Textiles-Dress Intelligently, Dress Usefully, Materials that Heal Automatically, Oil-bases or Water-based paint, Pure air at home, What’s Going on in my saucepan, Town Water or field Water, Experts against Fraud, When Art and Science Meet, Molecular Motors, Bio-fuels for Green Driving and Responsible Farming etc.

Dr Manzoor Soomro highlighted the PSF programmes and activities for promotion of science in the country for mental developmental of the nation and socio-economic development of the country.

He said PSF’s subsidiary organisation Pakistan Museum of Natural History is playing an important role in imparting education on natural sciences through informal means.

He appreciated French embassy for its cooperation to PSF in its different programmes as well as providing opportunity of higher education to students of far flung areas of Pakistan through its scholarships programme...\03\29\story_29-3-2012_pg5_5

Riaz Haq said...

Here's a Wall Street Journal India Realtime piece:

Justice Markandey Katju, a former Supreme Court Justice turned chairman of the Press Council of India, has done it again. Already known for his recent views of the journalists he oversees – they “are of a very poor intellectual level” – he has widened the focus of his condemnation to include approximately 1.08 billion anonymous Indians.

That’s our calculation based on India’s estimated total population, but we made it after Mr. Katju stated in an Indian Express op-ed Monday that he was presenting us with an “unpleasant truth: 90 per cent of Indians are fools.” He was humble enough to attribute a “great defect” to himself, too, though it was one couched in virtue: “ I cannot remain silent when I see my country going downhill. Even if others are deaf and dumb, I am not. So I will speak out.”

And speak out he did.

His first example for reaching his controversial conclusion: “When our people go to vote in elections, 90 per cent vote on the basis of caste or community, not the merits of the candidate. That is why Phoolan Devi, a known dacoit-cum-murderer, was elected to Parliament — because she belonged to a backward caste that had a large number of voters in that constituency.”

Example no. 2: “90 per cent Indians believe in astrology, which is pure superstition and humbug. Even a little common sense tells us that the movements of stars and planets have nothing to do with our lives. Yet, TV channels showing astrology have high TRP ratings.”

Example no. 3: “Cricket has been turned into a religion by our corporatised media, and most people lap it up like opium. The real problems facing 80 per cent of the people are socio-economic — poverty, unemployment, malnourishment, price rise, lack of healthcare, education, housing etc.”

Example no. 4: “I had criticised the media hype around Dev Anand’s death at a time when 47 farmers in India were committing suicide on an average every day for the last 15 years… In my opinion, Dev Anand’s films transported the minds of poor people to a world of make-believe, like a hill station where Dev Anand was romancing some girl.”

Example no. 5: “During the recent Anna Hazare agitation in Delhi, the media hyped the event as a solution to the problem of corruption. In reality it was, as Shakespeare said in Macbeth, “…a tale/ Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,/ Signifying nothing.”

Mr. Katju says his intention behind his harsh critique is very noble. “When I called 90 per cent of them fools my intention was not to harm them, rather it was just the contrary. I want to see Indians prosper, I want poverty and unemployment abolished, I want the standard of living of the 80 per cent poor Indians to rise so that they get decent lives,” he writes....

Riaz Haq said...

Here's a piece by Thane Richard, a Brown University student who did a semester abroad at St. Stephens College in India:

“Wait, what?! You are studying here for three years just so you can go do it again for four more years?” I could not grasp the logic of this. What changed my understanding was when I started taking classes at St. Stephen’s College. Except for one, they were horrible.
This was not an isolated incident — all my fellow exchange students concurred that the academics were a joke compared to what we were used to back home. In one economic history class the professor would enter the room, take attendance, open his notebook, and begin reading. He would read his notes word for word while we, his students, copied these notes word for word until the bell sounded. Next class he would find the spot where the bell had interrupted him, like a storyteller reading to children and trying to recall where he had last put down the story. He would even pause slightly at the end of a long sentence to give us enough time to finish writing before he moved on. And this was only when he decided to show up — many times I arrived on campus to find class abruptly cancelled. Classmates exchanged cell phone numbers and created phone trees just to circulate word of a cancelled class. I got a text almost daily about one of my classes. My foreigner peers had many similar experiences.
To pause for a moment, here is the problem with me talking about this topic: right now many Indians reading this are starting to feel defensive. “Nationalist” is a term I have heard as a self-description as they defend Mother India from the bigoted, criticising foreigner. They focus on me rather than the problem. I have had people unfriend me on Facebook and walk out on meals because I politely expressed an opinion on politics or history that went against the publicly consented “Indian opinion.” For a nation that prides itself on the 17 languages printed on its currency, I am greeted with remarkable intolerance. Even after living in India for close to three years, attending an Indian college, working for an Indian company, founding an Indian company, paying taxes in India, and making India my home, I am not Indian enough to speak my mind. But in a nation that rivals all others in the breadth of its human diversity, who is Indian enough? Because if loyalty and a feeling of patriotism were the barometers for “Indianness,” rather than skin colour or a government document, then I would easily be a dual U.S.-Indian citizen. This Indian defensiveness is false nationalism. It is not a stance that cares about India, it is one that cares about what others think of India, which is not nationalism. That is narcissism.
My voice should be drowned out by the millions around me who are disappointed with how they have been short-changed by the Indian government — their government. Education is one of the most poignant examples of this and serves as great dinner conversation amongst the elite:
“The Indian education system is lost in the past and failing India.” Everyone at the table nods, mumbles their concurrence, and cites the most recent Economist article or Pricewaterhouse Cooper study on the matter in order to masquerade as informed....

Riaz Haq said...

Here's a NY Times story on study of creativity:

A gift for spatial reasoning — the kind that may inspire an imaginative child to dismantle a clock or the family refrigerator — may be a greater predictor of future creativity or innovation than math or verbal skills, particularly in math, science and related fields, according to a study published Monday in the journal Psychological Science.

The study looked at the professional success of people who, as 13-year-olds, had taken both the SAT, because they had been flagged as particularly gifted, as well as the Differential Aptitude Test. That exam measures spatial relations skills, the ability to visualize and manipulate two-and three-dimensional objects. While math and verbal scores proved to be an accurate predictor of the students’ later accomplishments, adding spatial ability scores significantly increased the accuracy.

The researchers, from Vanderbilt University in Nashville, said their findings make a strong case for rewriting standardized tests like the SAT and ACT to focus more on spatial ability, to help identify children who excel in this area and foster their talents.

“Evidence has been mounting over several decades that spatial ability gives us something that we don’t capture with traditional measures used in educational selection,” said David Lubinski, the lead author of the study and a psychologist at Vanderbilt. “We could be losing some modern-day Edisons and Fords.”

Following up on a study from the 1970s, Dr. Lubinski and his colleagues tracked the professional progress of 563 students who had scored in the top 0.5 percent on the SAT 30 years ago, when they were 13. At the time, the students had also taken the Differential Aptitude Test.

Years later, the children who had scored exceptionally high on the SAT also tended to be high achievers — not surprisingly — measured in terms of the scholarly papers they had published and patents that they held. But there was an even higher correlation with success among those who had also scored highest on the spatial relations test, which the researchers judged to be a critical diagnostic for achievement in technology, engineering, math and science.

Cognitive psychologists have long suspected that spatial ability — sometimes referred to as the “orphan ability” for its tendency to go undetected — is key to success in technical fields. Earlier studies have shown that students with a high spatial aptitude are not only overrepresented in those fields, but may receive little guidance in high school and underachieve as a result. (Note to parents: Legos and chemistry sets are considered good gifts for the spatial relations set.)

The correlation has “been suspected, but not as well researched” as the predictive power of math skills, said David Geary, a psychologist at the University of Missouri, who was not involved in the study, which was funded by the John Templeton Foundation. The new research is significant, he said, for showing that “high levels of performance in STEM fields” — science, technology, engineering and math — “are not simply related to math abilities.”...

Riaz Haq said...

Here are a couple of excerpts on stories about Lego stores in Pakistan:

1. Express Tribune June 10, 2013:

Lego has finally made its way to Karachi. Originated in Denmark, the toy line consists of colourful interlocking plastic bricks which come in an array of shapes, gears and figures. At the launch of its first store in Pakistan on Friday at The Forum, Lego fans — children and parents — were busy constructing plastic architecture and enjoying a family day out.
The huge turnover reflects two things: there is a die-hard Lego following in Karachi and it clearly appeals to people of all age groups, not just children. Lego bricks are playful and can be assembled in numerous ways — you can construct objects such as vehicles, building and robots, wherever your imagination takes you.
At the launch, the store was abuzz with children as young as three (along with their parents) who were busy deciding which toy to take home. Children above the age of 10 were seen huddled on small tables busy building castles and buildings.
Amongst many parents present, Chheena Chappra, a mother who was seen with her 11-year-old son Habib said, “I have literally grown up playing this game [Lego] and years later, I see my young son being so involved in it. I think I am more excited than my son that Lego has come to Pakistan,” she exclaimed.....The price range starts at Rs500 and can go up to Rs100,000 and above. The colourful boxes were labeled with price tags, which were much more expensive compared to other toys in Pakistan. However, Saleem feels that the price is competitive. “Keeping the Dubai market in view, we have Lego toys at a much cheaper price,” he said..

2. Daily Times Aug 27, 2013:

With only a few months since its first store opening in Karachi, the Danish toy brand LEGO is all set to expand its operations in all major cities in Pakistan.

The giant toy company, which is known all over the world for inspiring children and young people to develop into responsible members of society through fun, learning and high-quality creative play activities, also aims to implement its education programme for local schools across Pakistan.

Bilal Saleem, country head LEGO Pakistan, stated, “Children are our role models. They reinvent the world and themselves in it over and over again, surprising themselves and others in what they can create and do. In Pakistan, there is a great need to meet the UN Millennium Development Goals, especially within education. As we seek to expand our operations in Pakistan, we want to make our contribution by setting up educational institutes across the country. These institutes will deliver teacher-tested, classroom – ready solutions for engaging and inspiring young learners and combine the unique, inspiring qualities of LEGO bricks with subject-specific tools and curricula so classroom teachers can meet key learning objectives.”

Riaz Haq said...

Here's a Time Magazine piece titled "China Makes Everything. Why Can't It Create Anything?":

... China's 1.3 billion upwardly mobile people are voracious consumers of everything from cars to smartphones to Kentucky Fried Chicken. Through its relentless exports, China has amassed a mountain of cash reserves and made itself Washington's biggest foreign creditor.
However, the China that vacuumed up factories to become the Workshop of the World is fading into history. The country is a victim of its own success. Decades of nonstop growth have forever altered China's place in the global economy and changed how it must compete with rich nations like the U.S. and emerging economies like India. The tools that China has used to spark its economic miracle — government support, cheap labor, state-directed finance — cannot ensure its future. The country can no longer rely on just making lots of stuff; China has to invent things, design them, brand them and market them. Instead of following the leaders of global industry, China has to produce leaders of its own.
Such a transition is not easy. Few emerging nations in modern times have made the leap from assembler to inventor, copycat to innovator. For China, this would mean an overhaul of its economy. Many of the products China manufactures today aren't really very Chinese at all. Apple iPads might be exported from assembly lines based in China, but the Chinese themselves do little more than piece them together. The core technologies come from elsewhere, and even the factories are run by foreign firms (like Taiwan's Foxconn). For Chinese companies to compete with the world's best, they have to create products of their own that have a similar impact as the iPad. That requires a set of skills and know-how they don't yet possess and a level of managerial expertise they haven't yet developed. Economist William Janeway, author of the book Doing Capitalism in the Innovation Economy, says what has gotten China thus far won't be enough for the next step: "It is hard to start the process of pushing the frontier with [such] practices and policies."
Chinese policymakers fully realize that. The new leadership team in Beijing, ushered into office a year ago, has pledged to press ahead with free-market reforms — liberalizing finance, supporting private enterprise and cracking open protected sectors. "China's modernization will not be accomplished without reform, nor will it be achieved without opening up," Premier Li Keqiang recently conceded. So far, though, progress has been slow. Few meaningful initiatives have been introduced, and even headline-grabbing measures — like the September launch of a special zone in Shanghai to experiment with freer capital flows — have proved mere baby steps. Li and his mandarins must take on vested interests and rein in an overbearing bureaucracy, which will require formidable political will. China's leadership "is not ready yet to deliver a comprehensive reform package with executable specifics and clear timetables," Bank of America Merrill Lynch economists warned in October.
Whether China succeeds or fails will determine where everything from sneakers to cars to smartphones are manufactured, the brands that appear on them and who sells them. Failure could stall China's economic miracle and dampen global growth with it. Here are five challenges China must address:

1. Labor is no longer cheap
2. Companies lag behind in technology
3. Innovation doesn't come easy
4. There are too few global brands
5. Good managers are hard to find,9171,2156209,00.html

Riaz Haq said...

Two-thirds of the stars have Arabic names. We use Arabic numerals. Words like Algebra and Algorithm are from Arabic. Neil deGrasse Tyson, an American astrophysicist and Director of the Hayden Planetarium, discusses how Islamic scholars contributed to the Islamic Golden Age and how over time independent reasoning (ijthad) lost out to modern institutionalised imitation (taqleed) present in the wider islamic society today.