Archive for the ‘Education’ Category

Give all your students an A+ and lose your job

February 4, 2014
Denis Rancourt

Denis Rancourt

Denis Rancourt is a recognised researcher and he may even be an excellent physics teacher for all I know. But he either suffers from wanting to be a “martyr” for the cause of “no competition in education” or is just plain lazy and couldn’t be bothered to go to the trouble of grading his students.

I am inclined to believe it is the latter together with a desire for the limelight.

Ottawa citizen:

Denis Rancourt has lost his bid to reclaim his job as a professor at the University of Ottawa. ….  arbitrator Claude Foisy concluded he had no reason to intervene in the university’s 2009 decision to fire Rancourt, then a tenured physics professor, for defying its orders to grade his students objectively.

The university dismissed Rancourt after he awarded A+ marks to all 23 students who completed an advanced physics course he taught in the winter of 2008. The university had earlier issued him a letter of reprimand for awarding A+ marks to virtually everyone in a first-year physics course he gave in 2007. As well, Rancourt’s dean, the late André Lalonde, gave him “clear and unequivocal direction” in March 2008 that he must not grant every student in his courses a grade of A+ based only on their attendance at class.

Rancourt, ……  testified that he’d come to believe that traditional methods of teaching and evaluating physics students were ineffective. Learning physics, he said, must be anchored in self-motivation. Key to his “student-centred” pedagogical method, he testified, was allowing students to learn free of the stress produced by the traditional method of grading and ranking.

…… Foisy noted that the university had opposed Rancourt’s evaluation method “every step of the way.” Lalonde testified that it would undermine the university’s reputation, causing it to be seen as a “Mickey Mouse university,” and was prejudicial to students graded in the traditional manner.

Foisy agreed, even accepting Lalonde’s characterization of Rancourt’s failure to objectively evaluate his students as “a form of academic fraud. This, in my opinion, is a very serious breach of his obligations as a university professor.”

Even though Rancourt was “well aware” of the university’s opposition to his method of evaluation, “he continued to defy the administration,” Foisy said. “Is the dismissal the appropriate remedy in the circumstances? The short answer is yes.”

The arbitrator rejected arguments that Rancourt’s teaching methods were protected by academic freedom, freedom of expression and his tenure status.

“Academic freedom is not so wide as to shield a professor from actions or behaviour that cannot be construed as a reasonable exercise of his responsibilities,” he said.

Foisy did uphold one of Rancourt’s grievances, ordering the university to remove any mention of a disciplinary letter dated Nov. 20, 2007, from Rancourt’s record. The letter blamed Rancourt for not having taught the content of an approved course.

But he rejected Rancourt’s demands for a written apology, monetary reparations and help in partially recovering lost time and career advancement.

joanne st lewis

joanne st lewis

Rancourt is not a stranger to controversy.  He claims that he was fired for political reasons rather than for his teaching methods, but that does not seem to have cut much ice with the arbitrator. His own blog is here and there does seem to be a touch of paranoia. In fact reading his blog suggests he is more interested in publicity through controversy than actually in teaching. He is also being sued for libel by Joanne St. Lewis a Law Professor at the University of Ottawa, after Rancourt referred to her as university president Allan Rock’s “House Negro” on his blog.

From my own experience – though not in a classroom – it was always very difficult to get my managers to objectively grade the performance of their subordinates. Poor performance ratings in a department reflected also on the manager’s own competence. And in my experience it was the goodness of the manager which determined whether he got the balance right in the application of stress to improve the performance of his subordinates or if he went over the top and caused a burn-out. But I have no doubt that performance ratings – done right – improved performance in the work place.

And I am quite sure that much of the poor performance of students reflects on the teacher’s ability to teach. An element of competition and stress is – in my experience – necessary for learning.

Which leaves me without much sympathy for Denis Rancourt.

Swedish University reprimanded for poor quality but refuses to return foreign student’s fees

November 6, 2013

In some respects the attitudes taken by Swedish Institutions today is reminiscent of the high-handed attitudes taken by old-fashioned, communist, East Block countries. Very high levels of individual freedom are coupled to a very high level of protection for institutions (and their employees) which can lead to peculiar situations at the interface.

Standards are – usually – very high but public institutions in Sweden – hospitals, schools, colleges, universities, local or national government organisations – rarely take responsibility for poor quality or negligence. The extent of accountability is normally restricted to correcting a problem once it has been identified. An individual who has suffered from the negligence – and even gross negligence  - has little recourse in law and generally gets little compensation. Damages for institutional wrongdoing are either at ridiculously low levels or completely absent. Institutional employees are highly protected and very rarely held accountable or sanctioned for their negligence or lack of quality. Blame – if wrong-doing can be proven –  is allocated to the institution as a whole which of course leads to no-one being accountable.

It is almost impossible for a lone individual to sue an institution or claim damages or get any equitable compensation for any damage suffered.

In this case it was Mälardalen University College which did not provide the promised education to a foreign student from the US. She paid a great deal of money for a 2-year course in Mathematics and Mathematical Statistics but received education which even the Swedish Higher Education Authority agreed was lacking in quality. But of course, the institution does not believe that it had any kind of contract with the student to provide any particular level of quality and feels no obligation to repay her tuition fees.

Sourced and freely translated from Sveriges Radio and Svenska Dagbladet:

Not enough chairs, not enough computers and a lecturer who could not speak Swedish or English properly. That’s what the US student paid nearly 200,000 kronor for (about $26,000). But Mälardalen University does not intend to return her money.

“I thought it would be interesting to study abroad. The program looked promising”, said Connie Dickinson .

A suitable program and being cheaper than in the United States convinced Connie Dickinson to chose to study mathematics and mathematical statistics at Mälardalen University in Sweden , where she has relatives . But it was nothing like she had imagined. “The lecturer did not spend  much time with us in the classroom. We had to share computers. There weren’t enough chairs and some students had to sit on the floor. The teacher handed out papers  and walked away and she couldn’t speak either English or Swedish. I was really surprised at the low standard”

Connie complained to the college about the problems, and even informed the Swedish Higher Education Authority UKÄ, about the shortfall in the education. UKÄ agreed that the the education lacked quality and has given the University one year to fix the problems or to discontinue the course.

But that is insufficient for  Mälardalen University to repay Connie her 183 000 SEK.

But whether it is discontinued or not, Connie attended a training course for two years that does not measure up  either for her or the Swedish Higher Education Authority.

Bjorn Magnusson , CFO at the college , claimed that it is not possible to give money back just because of a complaint about the lack of quality . “You can’t get back the tuition fee because of a complaint about the lack of quality. You pay the fee to participate in regular training. it’s not like a contract between us and an individual”. Besides dissatisfaction is subjective he says.

A broad education is vital

October 15, 2013

I got this in an email  and I wish I knew the original source.

I do like crushed asians – preferably grilled.

(h/t Nessan)

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Europe increasingly adopting English for higher education

October 11, 2013

Competition for international students is leading to Universities in continental Europe increasingly offering higher education courses in English. There has been a ten-fold increase in the number of English courses offered since 2002.

Times Higher Education reports:

Thousands of international students may be shunning the UK in favour of continental Europe, where a growing number of courses are being offered in English, a study suggests.

A total of 6,407 taught master’s programmes in the language were offered on the Continent in June this year – a 38 per cent rise on the 4,644 courses available just 18 months earlier, according to a report by the New York-based not-for-profit organisation the Institute of International Education.

That total was 10 times higher than the overall number offered in 2002, says the report, titled English-Taught Master’s Programs in Europe: A 2013 Update.

The new briefing paper published by IIE’s Center for Academic Mobility Research suggests that the number of English-taught Master’s Programs in Europe has increased significantly since 2011. The paper, English-Taught Master’s Programs in Europe: A 2013 Update”, is an update of a report published by IIE in June 2011, and provides a data-driven look at the continued growth of master’s programs in Europe taught entirely or partially in English.

Growth of English courses in Europe

Growth of English courses in Europe

In recent years, European countries in which English is not the primary language of instruction have developed an increasing number of programs taught either fully or partly in English in order to serve domestic demand for higher education in English and to attract students from around the world. …..  The authors examine the growth of English-taught master’s programs in Europe, including the total number of programs offered by country and academic discipline, their duration, and data on prospective students.

According to the report, as of June 2013 the total number of English-taught programs in Europe was 6,609, a 42 percent increase since 2011. The top host countries for English-taught Master’s programs are: Netherlands, Germany, Sweden, France, and Spain.

Growth of English courses by country and year

Growth of English courses by country and year

Israel Education Ministry bans sex education material in text books

September 3, 2013

One has to conclude that everything is circular. If you go far enough to the Right you approach the Extreme Left. If you go to the extremes of one religion you approach the extremists of another.

Ultra-orthodox Imams and Rabbis, invariably male, seem to share a similar view of women and sex and sex education.

The Orthodox religious right in Israel has just got its way in its effort to return to good old-fashioned prudery.

Haaretz reports that “Chapters on human reproduction don’t accord with state religious school system’s educational doctrine for junior high schools, says Education Ministry”.

The Education Ministry has asked textbook publishers to eliminate chapters on human reproduction, pregnancy prevention and sexually transmitted diseases from science textbooks used in state religious junior high schools as well as from their teacher manuals.

The Guardian writes:

State education in Israel is divided into religious and secular sectors for Jewish children, with separate schools for Arab children. Many ultra-Orthodox Jews send their children to segregated private schools, with strict controls on curricula, behaviour and dress. Around a quarter of Israeli children attend ultra-Orthodox schools, according to 2010 data – a figure that is steadily rising.

Anat Hoffman, executive director of the Israeli Religious Action Centre, which advocates progressive Judaism, described the education ministry’s move as a “slippery slope. When we start filtering science for modesty reasons, that in the end will hinder our ability to teach science to Israeli children,” she said. …. The move should be seen in the context of the growing influence of rightwing rabbis in Israel. “Modesty considerations are being used as a political tool to keep women ‘in their place’,” she said.

Some elements of the ultra-Orthodox community in Israel have campaigned in recent years to remove images of women from advertising hoardings, and impose gender segregation on buses and in other public spheres.

The education ministry said the changes did not cover pictures of women. “The image of women has a place and expression in school textbooks,” it said.

But what the ultra-Orthodox want in Israel is not so very different from what Hamas wants in Gaza.

Israel National News reported in June this year:

A new law passed by the Hamas government in Gaza banning co-ed schools has left many Christians fearful that their schools are in danger of closure, according to the Beirut-based Al-Akhbar daily.

The new law, which mandates gender segregation in all schools, also bans men from teaching at girls’ schools. The law will likely force Christian educational institutions to close their doors to Muslim and Christian students alike, reported the newspaper.

Mutassim Minawi, director of public relations at Gaza’s education ministry, …… argued that “the Gaza Strip’s culture is conservative and does not favor gender mixing. The majority of Palestinians in Gaza praised the law and only leftist parties criticized it.”

Several months ago, Gaza’s Hamas terrorist rulers took another step towards the implementation of strict Islamic sharia law in the region by introducing a strict dress code for female students at the Al-Aqsa University. A letter distributed to students in November stated that all students should wear “modest clothing” on campus.

Since violently taking over Gaza in 2007, Hamas has enforced a stringent interpretation of Islamic law in Gaza. The terror group has banned women and teenagers from smoking hookahs in public, ordered that women’s clothing stores are not allowed to have dressing rooms, men cannot have hairdressing salons for women and that mannequins shaped like women must be dressed in modest clothing.

No cheating!

August 28, 2013

Found at Coconuts Bangkok (via 22 words)

Designed by the students at Kasetsart University, Bangkok. Now discontinued.

Anti-cheating Hats

No cheating hats at Kasetsart University, Bangkok

Bangkok’s Kasetsart University announced today that it has decided to end the use of its anti-cheating helmets.

A photo of the horse blinder-like device was first posted on Coconuts Bangkok yesterday. Shortly thereafter the post went viral as thousands of netizens commented and shared the photo.

The university said that its agro-industry faculty students had designed the headgear as part of an ethics lesson. Natdanai Rungruangkitkrai, the course lecturer, said he seriously regretted that the issue had received such a strong negative response. He added that he had intended to teach the students about ethics and as part of the lesson he had asked them to think creatively about how to prevent cheating.

The students proposed different sets of exam papers and boxes, but they finally agreed to use A-4 paper blinders. The students said they had seen similar headsets in other countries. About 90 students agreed to the use of the blinkers and to make the hats themselves on the exam day. Asst Prof Tanaboon Sajjaanantakul, the faculty’s dean, said the device was used for a mid-term examination for a textile testing course.


What’s in an “e”? Berkley vs. Berkeley

August 12, 2013

From Copy, Shake and Paste

Everyone knows that Berkley is an excellent university in the United States. Or was that Berkeley? Whatever, if someone is sporting a degree that looks impressive, it must be from that place. 

Except when it is not.

It has come to light, as the Swiss daily paper Tages-Anzeiger noted on 9 August 2013, that the IT-boss at the University Hospital in Zürich has stepped down because of a missing ‘e’. The University of California, Berkeley, is indeed one of the top universities in the US. But it did not grant a doctoral degree to Jürgen Müller. Müller had been working on his doctorate at the University of Passau in Germany when his financing ran out.

Müller then heard about the University of Berkley, and for only $ 3000 in fees he was soon the proud owner of a sheepskin declaring him to be a “Doctor of Science”, according to the Tages-Anzeiger


…. The Tages-Anzeiger article ends with an interesting note. It seems that in March of 2013 a whistleblower tried to contact Müller’s boss about his purchased degree. Müller, as IT boss, apparently had this person on a blacklist, so that emails from him did not bounce, but were just silently destroyed. 

I suppose the University Hospital in Zürich is glad that he has resigned. The question is, where will he pop up again where people don’t know the difference one letter can make?

The University of Berkley’s rates for purchasing degrees are below. It’s best to buy your Master’s and Doctor’s degrees together and in advance!!

Buying your Berkley degree

Buying your Berkley degree

The University of Berkley is a diploma mill and the subject of many scam reports and warnings such as this one:

University of Berkley Distance Learning Accreditation Report

CAUTION: You should be aware… this college is NOT ACCREDITED by any agency recognized by the Council on Higher Education Accreditation or the US Department of Education to award degrees.
Distance learning accreditation claims include:

  • New Accrediting Partnership for Educators Worldwide (NAPEW)

You should be aware that this agency is NOT RECOGNIZED by the Council on Higher Education or the US Department of Education as a college accreditation institution. What does this mean? For you, as a consumer, this means credentials earned at this college might not meet with wide acceptance at other CHEA-accredited online colleges and might not meet with academic or employment acceptance across the USA. You should be aware that in some states and for some professions it may be illegal to use a degree from an non accredited school for employment purposes.

CAUTION: the following State Warnings apply to this online college

  • Michigan State Warning: CAUTION! The State of Michigan classifies this online college as an UNACCEPTABLE INSTITUTION for credentialing for those seeking jobs in the State’s Department of Civil Service: (Consult Michigan’s NON ACCREDITED COLLEGES/UNIVERSITIES – “Degrees from these institutions will not be accepted by the Department of Civil Service as satisfying any educational requirements indicated on job specifications”:
  • Texas State Warning: CAUTION! The State of Texas classifies this online college as an ILLEGAL SUPPLIER of educational credentials in the State of Texas (Consult: Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board Institutions Whose Degrees are Illegal to Use in Texas:

Mathematical genius?

June 4, 2013

Retraction Watch reports on the retraction of a paper by a Turkish mathematician for plagiarism. The author did not agree with the retraction.

But what struck me was the track record of this amazing Assistant Professor at Ege University.

Ahmet Yildirim Assistant Professor, Ege University, Turkey

Editorial Board Member of International Journal of Theoretical and Mathematical Physics

  • 2009       Ph.D      Applied Mathematics, Ege University (Turkey)
  • 2005       M.Sc      Applied Mathematics, Ege University (Turkey)
  • 2002       B.Sc        Mathematics, Ege University (Turkey)

Since 2007 he has a list of 279 publications!

That’s an impressive rate of about 50 publications per year. Prolific would be an understatement.

All peer reviewed no doubt.

Language is a means to an end – not an end in itself

May 22, 2013

I was reading about the new grammar and spelling tests for 11-year-olds in England. I was a little surprised though at the apparent incoherence of politicians, teachers, teachers unions and even academics about the tests, why they were necessary and what they might help achieve. For the unions, of course, testing of any kind smacks of elitism and becomes an ideological issue. Even among the language professionals there seemed to be a fundamental lack of understanding of the importance – or otherwise – of grammar and punctuation and spelling. Ideology on the one hand versus muddled “keepers of the language” on the other.

Grammar and vocabulary are dynamic – in any living language. “Correct” grammar is a consensual thing – it is subservient to what is considered “acceptable”. What is acceptable grammar is subject to change; with time and subsequent to usage. There is no such thing as an absolute “correctness” of language. Whatever is acceptable is “correct”. No rule of grammar survives if it is continuously violated. Words are continuously absorbed into a language (from science or from other languages or from changes of behaviour or of technology). Words are invented and sometimes reach a critical mass of users and survive while other invented words disappear into oblivion. Some change their meanings over time by changed usage and some die through disuse. In fact it is the fact that a language is changing which defines that it is alive.

It is only for a “dead” language – no longer subject to change by usage – where the vocabulary and grammar are fixed and sterile.

Every language seems to have its share of “keepers of the language” who try and define “correct” grammar and dictionaries of “acceptable words”, their spelling and their meaning. Grammarians and lexicologists tend to overlook the fact that they are – for a living language always – and of necessity – behind the times. They have to be. Some finite time is always needed for the compilation of  their “Grammars” and their “Dictionaries” and – for a living language – the language will have moved on. What they actually achieve is a snapshot at a particular moment time of a living and moving thing. And by the time the snapshot is available, it is already out of date.

But I do believe grammarians and lexicologists are of great value even if language itself is only a tool for communication (no doubt the primary tool for humans – but a tool nevertheless and not an end in itself). But their value lies not (as they might think) in being arbiters of what is “correct” or “incorrect” but in establishing a reference point which then allows for the proper communication of meaning by language.

The purpose of vocabulary and grammar is clarity of what is expressed by language. And this clarity depends upon the commonality of meanings ascribed to words and the rules – the grammar and punctuation –  by which they are strung together. They become important only because an unknown recipient of the language may well have to assume the meaning of the words and their structure. But they are certainly not relevant for the judging of any intrinsic “rightness” or “wrongness”.

To take liberties with grammar and with vocabulary from some established norm is always available to a user of language. But he does need to know what the norm is to be able to take such liberties in the pursuit of an improved communication. The testing then – in my view – becomes simply a tool to ensure that 11-year-olds know what the current established norms are.

“Bearing children has largely become the province of the lower classes”

May 2, 2013

The Daily Mail runs an article today about why the middle class are not breeding any more. It is not difficult to get a faint whiff of eugenics. But I can’t help feeling that some level of eugenics is not necessarily all bad as we move from natural selection to a world where artificial selection (IVF, surrogacy, sperm banks etc.) is increasing. And of course, even the availability of abortion on demand is in itself a form of selection.

  • Educated women deferring motherhood for so long they’re no longer fertile
  • Bearing children ‘has largely become the province of the lower classes’ 
  • TV historian Dr Lucy Worsley is poster girl for intentionally childless women

…. as author and demographic expert Jonathan Last observes in his controversial book What to Expect When No One’s Expecting:

‘The bearing and raising of children has largely become the province of the lower classes. It’s a kind of reverse Darwinism where the traditional markers of success make one less likely to reproduce.’

If “lower class” were a genetic trait then the middle and higher classes should fear extinction in due course. Fortunately “class” is just relative and subjective so no matter what the demographics are, distinctions of class will be introduced into any population that exists. But what is more interesting to consider is the fact that women with a higher level of education (which says nothing about native intelligence) have fewer children. This seems to be a global phenomenon. Data from 2010 in the extract below.

The full table is here. Primary School Enrollment and Total Fertility Rates, Latest Year (2000-2010)

Primary School Enrollment and Total Fertility Rates for Selected Countries, Latest Year 2000 – 2010

Rank Country

Primary School Enrollment

Total Fertility Rate


Number of children
per woman

1 Japan



2 Spain



3 Iran



4 Georgia



5 United Kingdom



181 Equitorial Guinea



182 Guinea-Bissau



183 Djibouti



184 Sudan



185 Eritrea



Note: Rankings are based on a list of 185 countries for which primary enrollment data are available.
Source: EPI from UNESCO

Fertility rates tend to be highest in the world’s least developed countries. When mortality rates decline quickly but fertility rates fail to follow, countries can find it harder to reduce poverty. Poverty, in turn, increases the likelihood of having many children, trapping families and countries in a vicious cycle. Conversely, countries that quickly slow population growth can receive a “demographic bonus”: the economic and social rewards that come from a smaller number of young dependents relative to the number of working adults.

For longer term population stability the goal is to reach replacement-level fertility, which is close to 2 children per woman in places where mortality rates are low. Industrial countries as a group have moved below this level. Some developing countries have made progress in reducing fertility, but fertility rates in the least developed countries as a group remain above 4 children per woman.

The trends with secondary education are also very clear:
Female Secondary Education and Total Fertility Rates

Of course the level of development in a country dominates and fertility rates around the world are reducing and converging. Whether this trend will continue even when all female children enjoy secondary education remains to be seen. The UK case where nearly all children do get secondary education would suggest that those with higher (university) education continue to show a declining fertility. But the real test of this hypothesis will only come when education levels around the world have equalised and fertility rates all lie around the same level.

So is the human population “dumbing down”? Not really. Education level is not intelligence. To what extent intelligence is a hereditary trait is uncertain. While it would seem that evolution should favour increasing intelligence, even this is not crystal clear. It is certainly a perception I have that “successful” people tend to be more intelligent but high intelligence does not ensure success. And success in life correlates with wealth but not so well with number of offspring.  “Success”, however we define it,  is not a genetic trait. There have been some suggestions that there may be some optimum level of intelligence for the genetic success of the species and that hunter-gatherers were actually somewhat more intelligent than we are now. Perhaps humans can be “too clever by half”!

But for some time to come, as the developing world catches up with the developed world, we can surely conclude that less-educated parents will have the higher fertility. Whatever that may mean for the long term evolution of humans, and that will be the result of the level to which we intentionally apply genetic selection.

Related: “Selection” lies in the begetting and evolution is just a result


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