Sugar and Toys: An Educational Perspective

A month after the commencement of the 2007-08 school year in the Philippines, the same ol’ hindrances to child learning can be heard: lack of classrooms and facilities, low wages for public school teachers which compel a lot of them to seek greener pasteurs elsewhere, the great number of children starting elementary but not even reaching high school, the perennial rise in the cost of private school education and a whole slew of other problems in the education system of this country.

On Computers

Delving on the problem of facilities, I think that the education sector should take a look at computer literacy more closely however. Sure there are organizations and institutions which try to help schools provide decent machines to every children but the ratio’s still far-fetched from 1:1.

I’d like to see low-cost laptops, called the XO machines, make its way to our public schools here though. These machines, (shown in the picture here which was taken from the article as well,) are part of the One Laptop Per Child project for this year. The project itself was the brainchild of Nicholas Negroponte having started it at the Media Lab of Massachusetts Institute of Technology 2 years ago before turning it into a nonprofit endeavor.

The relatively affordable alternative featured early this year’s comparatively more affordable at $150, (less than Php 7,500,) and given its features, (small size, lack of high specifications compared to other laptops and different terminologies and practices arising from the usage of its OS, Sugar,) it should be interesting to see how its usage pans out among the students. Since Sugar is a “slim” version of the Linux OS, it should be also be interesting as well how computer schools and colleges which place so much emphasis on the Microsoft way would react if such thing happens here.

Negroponte in fact said that he deliberately wanted to avoid giving children computers they might someday use in an office because the laptop was intended to stimulate education more successfully than other endeavors have done before.

On Toys

Another instructional material lacking in public schools are educational toys. As emphasized by Professor Sally McGregor of University College London’s Institute of Child Health in this article mentioning the research of an international group of experts on educational underachievement in developing countries:

Research over decades in Jamaica and other countries has shown that women with only primary school-level education and a few home made toys can be trained to make a significant difference in the education, intelligence and mental health disadvantaged children.

Such projects, encouraging learning through play, had led to children’s attaining higher IQs and getting better reading skills…

Also according to Professor McGregor:

It was well known that the ability of children to do well at school depended, to some extent, on their IQ level when they arrived in reception class.

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A Look into the Asian Identity

Asia Times had an article last week about the re-emergence of the “‘Asian values’ debate” as “Asia regains its self-confidence and reasserts itself on the international stage.”

The article by Chietigj Bajpaee takes a comprehensive look at the Asian identity’s history taking into account ideological, religious and political perspectives which had the center stage for defining Asian values set for the current prominent players from Asia: China and India, (referred to as the Dragon and the Elephant respectively in the material.) That after the prominence of the former tiger economies of Southeast Asia before the Asian Fiscal crisis of the previous decade.

Hit and Run

The Economist published an article last month which took a look at one of the serious causes of deaths among children and young people. The image of the WHO data shown below comes from the said article of the same title.

WHO Stats

Anyway the article takes a look at the 1.2 million road deaths annually apart from the 50 million left injured. Given the stark numbers, the WHO considers it an “epidemic. Also the said article also breaks down the economic issues arising from road deaths apart from human tragedy:

Aside from the human tragedy, there is a big economic impact. Acknowledging that certain statistics (on road injuries especially) should be treated with caution, the WHO nonetheless puts the cost at $518 billion globally per year. Lost productivity, hospital stays, crash investigations, higher insurance premiums and the like may have a combined cost of around 1-2% of GDP. The private sector suffers too. Some big oil companies lose more staff to road crashes than to industrial accidents.

And furthermore takes a look at the political moves to address it:

Yet the policy prescriptions are simple and proven: enforced speed limits, helmet laws for those on two wheels, good road design and more driving tests. All too often, however, the political will is weak, awareness low and money short. Nonetheless, countries that do take road safety more seriously have shown that improvement is possible. Increased helmet use has had a dramatic impact in South-East Asia. And in France a concerted government campaign to promote road safety several years ago cut casualties by about one-fifth within a year, although they have crept up since due to slacker enforcement.

Blog of the Day: 6 Things to Consider

I first mentioned Steve Atkinson’s 6 Things to Consider here when I referred to his 6 Common Energy Saving Myths. And just an entry before I used his iPhone pros and cons entry to wrap up an entry on the hyped gadget.

The blog in itself presents 6 different lists for different stuff 6 times a week. While I have encountered pretty worthwhile reads there, I just wish Steve would include external links which would aid the interested reader for further reading.

Anyway an interesting blog entry from there gives 6 details on a little Ice Age from 1400 to 1850. Included in the list is an account of the activity of Mayon volcano along with La Soufriere in the Caribbean and Tambora in Indonesia during 1916, known as the year without summer. Incidentally the most destructive eruption of Mayon in recorded history was on February 1, 1814. At that time lava flows buried the town of Cagsawa and 1,200 people perished.

A Closer look at the iPhone

The iPhone’s going to be on sale in the U.S. tomorrow and the consumerism marked by the hype surrounding the launch is pretty much found in the internet. I’m not that much into gadgets but Apple’s iPhone hype had me taking a look into that direction.

A previous feed from Bruce Elgort’s blog made mention of a comprehensive article, (from which this photo is taken,) on the gadget’s pros and cons from David Pogue of the NY Times. According to Pogue:

In the last six months, Apple’s iPhone has been the subject of 11,000 print articles, and it turns up about 69 million hits on Google. Cultists are camping out in front of Apple stores; bloggers call it the “Jesus phone.” All of this before a single consumer has even touched the thing…

As it turns out, much of the hype and some of the criticisms are justified. The iPhone is revolutionary; it’s flawed. It’s substance; it’s style. It does things no phone has ever done before; it lacks features found even on the most basic phones.

From the same entry too, a comment points to another blog entry from The Washington Post’s Rob Pegoraro regarding how much people are taking the iPhone launch just “a little too seriously.”

In tune with the “win-some, lose-some” intonation from Pogue’s entry, Steve Atkinson’s 6 Things to Consider presents its own concise list of reasons why to get an iPhone and why wait before getting one.

The Mystery of China’s Celtic Mummies

A certain blog entry of the same title bearing the same contents from this article by the UK independent got my attention over the weekend. The same content about the discovery can be found all throughout a lot of other blogs including this Uyghur American Association page.

That is the mummies found in China are strangely, Celtic in origin as confirmed by results of DNA tests on a hundred other samples found in Xinjiang. Now that says something about how the West and East was bridged in the remote past. I guess the only thing surprising is that though the article’s nearly a year ago already, I found it interesting because it was just about the first time I heard of it. Maybe it was because it came out at a time when I was busy studying Lotus Workflow and Domino Document Manager.

It is also interesting that given that the mummies date back to about 3000 years ago, there now exists a possibility that the west may have been in contact with the east even before Marco Polo’s documented travels and that there may have been more influence between the two cultures a lot more than what is understood now.

Unearthing Ancient Egypt

Statue of Pharoah Ramses IILast weekend, I encountered three Yahoo news bits regarding archaeological discoveries in Egypt. The first one is the discovery of a 3000 year-old mummy. It was identified as a high priest to the god Amun in the southern city of Luxor, antiquities supremo Zahi Hawass told the official MENA news agency on Saturday.

The next is the discovery of what is thought to be the gold source of Egypt then. The archaeologists who found the ancient gold-processing and panning camp thought that non-Egyptians called Kushites, who ruled the region, gathered gold at the site from about 2000 B.C. to 1500 B.C. and used it to trade with Egypt.

The last discovery comes from satellites from space which reportedly have spotted an ancient Egyptian city. The large project responsible for the find aims to map as much of ancient Egypt’s archaeological sites, or “tells,” as possible before they are destroyed or covered by modern development and is led by Sarah Parcak of the University of Alabama at Birmingham. Among the sites found by the satellite includes a 1,600-year-old metropolis, another large city dating to 600 B.C. and a monastery from 400 A.D. among those sites which number at around 400. The said metropolis according to Parcak seems to be a massive regional center that traded with Greece, Turkey and Libya.